Concert Review Archive

 

Celebr8

Sean Filkins, The Tangent, Pallas, Matt Stevens, IQ, Tinyfish, Touchstone, Magenta, It Bites



Saturday & Sunday, 7th & 8th July 2012
The Hippodrome, London, The UK

Article By Alison Henderson, Tom de Val, Brian Watson and Jez Rowden

Because of the London Olympics, two of the UK’ top music festivals, Glastonbury and High Voltage were put “on ice” this year. With such gaps appearing in the music summer calendar, Jon Patrick, promoter of the House of Progression series of concerts at the Peel pub in Kingston and Geoff Banks, music manager, promoter and writer, decided to stage their own festival Celebr8 at The Hippodrome with the bands appearing mainly those who have their roots in the UK’s 80s neo-prog movement but are still touring. These were interspersed with some new names in prog – a total of nine class acts on the main stage along with several others entertaining on the acoustic stage.

The planning of this festival was not without moments of drama especially when Mars Hollow pulled out two months before it was due to take place. However, the band’s former bassist Kerry Kompost and musical partner, Matt Brown, came over from California for the occasion.

DPRP was out in force for this very special weekend of prog, so with very special thanks to Jon and Geoff for having the vision to stage this festival, let us take you through the many music highlights which resulted.

 

Saturday, 7th July 2012

Sean Filkins
By Alison Henderson

Of all the artistes appearing on the bill, there was none more thrilled to be there than Sean Filkins, the former Big Big Train vocalist, who provided one of the biggest prog delights last year through his magnificent debut album, War and Peace & Other Short Stories, which found its way into many fans’ Best of 2011 lists.

Because of the intricacies of the epic tracks on the album, it was going to be a real challenge and a half for him to get those songs learned and rehearsed to live gig standards, especially as they would be opening the festival.

The band consisted of two of Sean’s most trusted musical collaborators, John Sammes on keyboards and Geoff Webb on guitar, plus Rob Edwards on bass, Andrew Daish on drums – and 21 year old Daniel Maher on guitar.

Having had the honour of attending his final rehearsal before the festival, it was clear the songs were shaping up nicely, the band working really well together as a combination of experience and youth as per The Tangent, but more about them later.

Perhaps the one glitch was the fact the doors were late opening to the fans on the Saturday, so the audience was still filing in for the first ten minutes of his set.

However, we managed to get in just as the kettle was boiling and Jerusalem was being played in Are You Sitting Comfortably? the opening track on the album. There could only be one song which could follow that and sure enough, it was his signature piece The English Eccentric, a semi autobiographical song full of changes of direction and tempo, which got the set off to a rousing start.

Wearing an extremely decorative red shirt, his hallmark yellow boots and strumming an electric guitar, Sean certainly cut a dash onstage and was hitting his stride with that distinct powerful voice of his which sits comfortably halfway between Peter Gabriel and Jon Anderson with its texture and clarity.

Next up was Prisoner of Conscience, Pt 2, The Ordinary Man, another song based on his family, this time his paternal grandfather who served in World War Two. From John Sammes’ plaintive opening keyboard chords, the song continued to build and lift with some incredibly moving passages invoking the spirit of a man damaged by war pleading to his loved one for her continuing affection and understanding.

Hearts and minds were well and truly won over by now as the band launched into Learn How To Learn, the meditative almost semi-acoustic closing track on the album, with Sean on mandolin, Geoff Webb on acoustic guitar and then Sean changing to his effects guitar for the songs end sitar sound. But it was Daniel Maher who stole the show here with a blistering guitar solo of incredible maturity which defied both his youth and also lack of experience playing in front of such a large and knowledgeable audience.

To round off the set, Sean chose perhaps the most technically challenging of all the songs from the album, the five part Epitaph For A Mariner, which Sean told the audience was all about his great grandfather who was one of the brave lifeboat men who went out to sea off the coast of Kent in the 1890s.

This deeply personal piece began with Sean’s 12-year-old daughter Abigail singing the sailors’ hymn Eternal Father Strong to Save which melted into the most beautiful shimmering sounds of the sea for the Siren’s Song with its hypnotic atmospherics and then into Maelstrom, Sammes again whipping up a storm on his keyboards with Sean actually delivering a spoken passage before he started singing the emotionally climactic ode to his brave ancestor before it ebbed away into Sammes’ moving piano Epitaph.

It was an emotionally charged and beautifully executed performance made even more poignant by the fact Sean’s father who has been in poor health of late, was there in the audience to see him play. The band will be playing a Classic Rock Society gig in Maltby, West Yorkshire on September 1, so there is another chance ahead to experience this lovely set live.

 

The Tangent
By Jez Rowden

What?

That’s right, we heard correctly. By a stroke of genius (isn’t that right, Brian?) The Tangent opened their account/soundchecked with a prime slice of disco. It is probably unlikely that this will result in a resurgence of interest in Kool & the Gang within prog circles but The Tangent’s rendition of the classic track Celebration was apt for both the event and the nightclub venue but also went down very well with the audience. I hear that there were some disgruntled naysayers who played the “but it’s not prog!” card but from where I was standing there were smiling faces and waving arms everywhere, the whole crowd immediately on their side. Not just a tongue in cheek bit of fun, it was actually bloody good too and considering they’d only planned it the day before and had only run through it twice very impressive!

Rather than carry on with the disco theme The Tangent went on to play a storming set of “nothing but f**king epics!”, Andy Tillison lifting the Mike Portnoy/Transatlantic line to accurately describe what followed. Tillison has now produced a fantastic body of work under the banner of The Tangent and in the four songs of the set proper some lengthy surprises ensued with a heavy nod to their second album, The World That We Drive Through, in a breathtaking performance that laid waste to their lowly place on the bill.

Gone are the long distance working arrangements with the Swedish contingent and Tillison and his band of brothers finally feel like a close knit unit rather than a project or collection of disparate musicians and are going from strength to strength. Personnel changes are in The Tangent’s DNA but hopefully things have changed and will stabilise around this bunch who have been together since around the time of last year’s Summer’s End and have now gelled into a scintillating live act with chops to spare and growing confidence at every step.

Tillison himself looked to be revelling in the performance from the start and whilst he was his usual engaging and funny self the chat was kept to a minimum to let the music do the talking. Not only is he one of my favourite lyricists but he is ridiculously underrated as a keyboardist. He has a great touch and rises to the occasion in a live setting with some simply magical playing. What was missing was the slightly scatty mad prog professor bit but the show and music benefitted as a result. I’m sure that Andy would agree that he is not the best vocalist in the world but in my view he fits the songs perfectly and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The man is a treasure and it’s about time that he was recognised as such more widely.

The current quartet is a formidable unit driven along by Tony Latham at the back who was on excellent form tonight, keeping things kicking along with power, precision and deftness of touch. The youngsters, Luke Machin and Dan Mash, grow in stature by the day and are the secret weapon in this band adding so much to the music with sublime playing and musical choices that are far beyond their years. Machin’s guitar was just stunning while Mash’s influences from a number of different genres came through to add spice to the Tangent stew. Considering the illustrious musicians who have previously graced The Tangent these three more than hold their own and together are simply magnificent.

Having seen the band a number of times throughout their career this was the first occasion where “something” didn’t go wrong on stage (my favourite being Andy’s laptop rebooting to install a Windows update at Summer’s End in 2008) and they completely nailed the twists and turns of the intricate songs.

It is the bands ability to turn on a die and head off at, well, a tangent that makes them such an exciting act on record but these days live is where they do real business. They stole the day with ease from under the noses of the bigger boys and I could have listened to them for hours. The sound in the hall was wonderful and they completely nailed the set proper that began with a rollicking version of The Wiki Man from last year’s COMM. The Tangent followed up with the best version of The World That We Drive Through that I’ve ever heard them play and a sublime Where Are They Now? that Andy mentioned was their favourite piece to play. The jazziness of this track added further variety to a set that was full of contrasts. The closer was unexpected, by me at least, being a second The World That We Drive Through track, The Winning Game, complete with Burt Bacharach sing-a-long.

With the crowd going bonkers at the end The Tangent got the thanks that they deserved for a wonderful set that was exciting, captivating and worthy of a much wider following than they currently have. I have no hesitation in stating that I believe The Tangent are currently the best band in the country and deserve the credit that goes with it. I can’t wait to hear what they come up with next; The Tangent are on a roll.

Setlist The Tangent
Celebration
The Wiki Man
The World That We Drive Through
Where Are They Now?
The Winning Game
 

Pallas
By Alison Henderson

I shall make no secret of my enthusiasm for the current incarnation of Pallas which began after a good friend, who happens to be their publicist, started the pre-release PR blitz for XXV on Facebook and just about every other channel to market available. But having heard a couple of the tracks played on an online radio station, my ears pricked up immediately.

As a result, this was the fourth time I had seen them in the past two years on the strength of XXV and the live band dynamic that has been evolving since vocalist Paul Mackie joined them, their previous high point being their hugely popular opening Sunday set on High Voltage’s Prog set last year.

Health issues had dogged a couple of the band members this year but there seemed to be no sign of any creakiness as their onstage sound check comprised a kick-ass rendition of Deep Purple’s Black Night which drew great appreciation and mirth.

The Scottish fivesome then got down to the real business, launching with Fragments from their fourth album Beat The Drum, a song which provided a rousing opening overture, Ronnie Brown’s soaring keyboards creating a vibe over which layer upon layer of guitar, bass and drum were then added.

It was very much a set of two halves, divided almost equally between a well chosen selection from their back catalogue and of course, the majority of XXV.

And it was XXV’s turbocharged opener Falling Down which followed, still a volcanic eruption of a song, that goes flying off in different directions with crashing guitar and great swathes of keyboard, all anchored by an infectious chorus line which demands audience participation in the form of arm spinning movements.

Mackie, known to fans as Iggy Prog, is fast becoming one of prog’s most charismatic frontmen, being possessed with an edgy energy which makes him unpredictable and unique. His range of onstage movements and facial expressions continues to expand apace and his voice is also now a very fine-tuned and powerful instrument.

Plunging headlong into Crash and Burn gave the underrated Niall Mathewson a chance to show off his panoply of dazzling guitar flourishes, all done with a huge smile on his face.

Of all the tracks which define the character of XXV then Monster is the one and its crowd pleasing hookline and thoughtful, cutting lyrics make it a modern day prog anthem, and one which we can all sing along to.

Blazing through the equally full on Alien Messiah, the one song which almost has a touch of the prog rock opera about it, the band returned to the back catalogue starting with the emotionally charged Ghostdancers from Dreams of Men, another stunningly poignant song with a brooding beat supplied by Colin Fraser.

Always happy to inject humour into the repertoire, Mackie then expressed a desire for a drop of brandy, so when self-confessed band hanger-on Andrew Craig duly delivered during Rat Racing from their album The Wedge, he found himself detained on stage sharing microphone duties with Mr M.

Bassist Graeme Murray is the band’s beating heart and Midas Touch gave him his time to shine offering vocals during a mid track dreamy sequence in tandem with a ghostly female voice and other ethereal sounds spirited up through Brown’s keyboards.

Back to the chaotic wonders of XXV with the huge title track again with its enormous swelling chorus, Young God, the haunting beautiful Violent Sky, which showed how they are equally at home with slower, more atmospheric songs; and the final overture XXV II The Unmakers, all rounded off with the punkier Cut and Run as the finale.

This was a hugely impressive show that crackled with immense electricity from start to finish, never losing its momentum or focus. Of all the so-called neo prog bands still performing, theirs continues to be one of the most notable renaissances. The next few months will now be spent on writing the successor to XXV. Like their live shows, that will be a hard act to follow.

 

Matt Stevens
By Jez Rowden

Having reviewed a number of Matt Steven’s solo and band releases over the last few years I had been looking forward to finally getting to see him play after a number of near misses. The acoustic “stage” was an odd little corner of the back bar on the thoroughfare through to the smokers’ yard but it seems that Matt could put on a scintillating show just about anywhere. He was already playing when Pallas finished their set, such being the tight timings of a full day of top quality music. A group of 40 or so people watched as he put his guitar through its paces and looped and layered his way through a selection of his solo work from Echo, Ghost and Relic plus a track from his band The Fierce And The Dead in what was scheduled to be his last performance for a while in this format. Matt is a bundle of energy and a very humble man who seems genuinely surprised by the reception and praise he gets. His performance tonight was larger than life and a powerful exhibition of what can be done with a good deal of raw talent and the ability to make technology work for you. With jaw dropping ease he put together a well paced set that was fuelled by some quite brilliant playing that thrilled his all too small audience. He really doesn’t deserve to be tucked away on a tiny stage but no matter, at least I got to see him at last and the whole experience was well worth it. By the end of the set was clearly absolutely knackered but still happy to chat to the numerous people who offered their thanks and best wishes. I hope he continues to play solo sets occasionally whilst concentrating on The Fierce And The Dead, who are also well worth hearing. This man deserves your support.

Setlist Matt Stevens
Rusty
Burning Bandstands
Dolls House
Scapegoat
Part 2 (Fierce And The Dead song)
8.19
Big Sky
 

IQ
By Tom de Val

I still have fond if fading memories of seeing IQ perform the whole of their Subterranea album back in 1999 the London Astoria (a venue I, at least, miss), so an opportunity to see this show, possibly for the last time, was a major draw for me to make the trek to Kingston.

In order to accommodate the visuals required for the show the Hippodrome stage had been extended, although it still looked a bit of a tight fit. Things kick off pretty much on time with the familiar (to me at least!) visuals that go with the show playing out on a front screen (as a side-note, if you’ve got the album but not seen it live – the visuals are along the same lines as the various images in the CD booklet) before they fade to reveal singer Peter Nicholls, resplendent in white, singing the open lines, before the front screen was raised (visuals continued to be played out on a screen behind the band throughout the set).

From hereon in, the band put in a strong performance. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Nicholls as a singer, but his voice does convey the necessary emotion and fit the music, and he is a great live performer, here given full reign to indulge his more theatrical tendencies. With Nicholls the main visual focus in the band, the rest can get on with the job of playing the music. The playing as usual with the band was excellent; drummer Paul Cook is a reliable backbone, Tim Esau seems to have relaxed into his role as the band’s bassist after a 20-odd year absence, whilst Neil Durant made sure Martin Orford’s presence wasn’t missed. As usual it’s guitarist Mike Holmes whose superb melodic playing I focused in on; one of the most underrated players in the prog genre I feel.

Obviously the songs were pretty much played as per the album; there are some patchy tracks and instrumental filler, but songs such as the title track, Sleepless Incidental, Failsafe and the epic Narrow Margin rank amongst their best work in my opinion. In common with many concept albums I find the story a bit vague and confusing to follow, but the combination of the visuals, theatrics and playing meant this didn’t really matter.

Unfortunately there did seem to be some sound problems which I hadn’t noticed with the other acts, even from what I thought was an ideal position near the centre of the dance floor. In particular, both Peter Nicholls’ vocals and Mike Holmes’ guitar seemed low in the mix, neither cutting through as they should do. I’d also say that by necessity the show lacked the usual humour and interplay you get with a ‘standard’ IQ show, which I did miss. We got a bit of that in the encores of Frequency and The Wake, but not enough. But hey, there’s another IQ London show just before Christmas, where I’m sure we’ll get all that in abundance.

Overall, it was a strong performance by the band and a fitting way to cap the day, although I’d say The Tangent, who were magnificent earlier in the day, were the best band for me.

 

Sunday, 8th July 2012

Tiny Fish
By Brian Watson

So, then. This is Tinyfish’s last ever electric set. There are many people present, myself included, who hope this isn’t the case. Lead vocalist, and guitarist Simon Godfrey has written much about his personal battle with tinnitus and it appears it’s got the better of him. Fetchingly attired in tight fitting (OK, small) ‘Prog Princess’ tee-shirt Godfrey was on top form musically, vocally and his back-and-forths with drummer Leon Camfield were as funny as always.

The DPRP recommended The Big Red Spark provided us with a large chunk of the set, with of course appearances by narrator Robert Ramsay, complete with costume changes. Tinyfish may not have keyboards, but they’ve got the theatricality and the humour that’s often missing from a lot of live music.

A few of my favourite tunes from the excellent eponymous debut album made it into the set too – Motorville and Nine Months on Fire have always been crowd pleasers and this afternoon was no exception. Also making an appearance is The June Jar from the album of unreleased songs recorded prior to the official ‘debut’, Curious Things.

Perhaps, then, their best ever live performance? And I’ve seen a few. Whether it was or not Tinyfish are, it is to be hoped, only on ‘hiatus’, much as Simon’s brother Jem and Frost* were a while back. From the reaction of the crowd they played an absolute belter. They will be missed.

Setlist Tinyfish
The Sarcasm Never Stops
Rainland
I'm Not Crashing
Refugee
The Big Red Spark
Driving All Night
The June Jar
Nine Months On Fire
Wide Awake At Midnight
Motorville
 

Touchstone
By Alison Henderson

There was no band more surprised to find themselves on the bill as Touchstone, regarded as one of the brightest and the best of the new crop of prog bands coming through. Favourites at the Peel who got one of their big breaks at High Voltage in 2010, they had been quickly drafted in when Mars Hollow, two months before the festival was due to happen, had to withdraw due to personnel changes.

Kicking off with the highly charged crowd-pleasing Wintercoast, the band soon put their own special stamp on the show, fusing high energy rock with a softer side, provided by their winsome singer Kim Seviour, who is fast becoming prog’s Little Miss Dynamite, Brenda Lee.

Sonically, they really do pack a hefty punch, their highly watchable Moo Bass, their bass player leaving little room for subtlety in his full-on, attacking approach. Augmenting the rhythm section is another of prog’s rising stars, 21-year-old Henry Rogers, who also drums with DeeExpus, showing technical prowess well beyond his relatively young years.

They followed this with another mighty song, Joker in the Pack, full of changes in mood and shade, keyboards wizard Rob Cottingham providing gentler contrasting piano passages.

These Walls was the first track from their current highly acclaimed album, The City Sleeps, and this one allowed guitarist Adam J Hodgson to step up to the plate and create some dazzling licks of fire.

Curious Angel from their debut Dischordant Dreams album demonstrated how well Kim and Rob’s voice blend against a rock solid rhythm base.

Halfmoon Meadow was another lilting song which allowed Kim to really show off the sweet side to her very distinctive, clear pitched voice. With her flaming locks anchored in two long bunches and dressed in a slinky black dress with strappy black shoes, she skipped around the stage with great vibrance and presence as her band played on.

Moving back to The City Sleeps, When Shadows Fall proved another dramatic choice of number, its keyboard-driven intro building into a huge swathe of colourful sound bursting into a huge synthy landscape and beyond, Cottingham very much at the heart of its direction.

Into the straight rocking Zinomorph with some serious bass and drum action, the band were obviously having fun even to the point of Kim helping Adam change his guitar pedals. The City Sleeps brought the set to a climactic end, Hodgson’s highly charged guitar effects cutting like a rapier through the sound.

However, one more not so well-kept secret was yet to happen as the band swung into their finale, Tears for Fears’ classic Mad World, and were joined by Kerry Kompost, Mars Hollows’ former bass player who had so wanted to play at the festival from the outset.

Thanks to the loan of a couple of left-handed guitars courtesy of Steve Dunn from Also Eden and the addition of an acoustic stage, Kerry’s wish was granted. Never has a player let rip with so much pent up emotion and sheer joy at being able to do what he loves doing best. The audience all knew what this meant to him so gave him one of the most rapturous receptions of the weekend before he started trading licks with Adam and generally going crazy in a very proggy way. It was no more than he deserved.

And it brought the curtain down on an incredibly enjoyable Touchstone set, the first time I had seen them but hopefully, not the last.

 

Magenta
By Brian Watson

It's sod's law, I suppose. Get a bunch of DPRP reviewers at a festival, divvy up who's doing which band and still bands get missed. As Magenta turned in the performance of the day, if not the festival then it's an oversight of gargantuan proportions. Nevermind, as I was fortunate to see the entire set from a pretty good vantage point (the Hipperdrome wasn't blessed with too many, it has to be said) I'm only too happy to correct said oversight and offer up an apology on behalf of the team.

It was a hectic few days for me, as I was on roadie cum merch duties for The Tangent. The festival started on the Thursday morning for me, picking up one A Tillison esquire before a slight detour to Guy Manning's abode, to pick up an amp. From there we were Brighton bound to stop the night with Luke and Dan. An impromptu rehearsal of Celebration by Kool and the Gang on the Friday saw us heading off to Essex for rehearsals proper with Tony. Staying the night with friend of the band and former manager Ian we left pretty early on Saturday morning to get to the venue good and early to load in and set up the merch desk. Timings were already veering from those scheduled, indeed I, and a good many others missed the start of Sean Filkins' set as we queued for wristbands and the metal detector (swiftly abandoned by security once they realised we weren't drug crazed wannabe gangstas).

Now, some may have questioned the choice of Celebration but it served as a sound/level-checking tune and effectively got the festival back on track time-wise.

Saturday was, to be fair, a bit of a blur but if the Tangent were Saturday's best band then Magenta were Sunday's. By a country mile.

I've seen the band loads of times, and make an appearance on the first live DVD. I look puzzled entering the venue, preferring not to follow the rest of the queue left for some reason, instead disappearing stage right. Before hoving into view again a few seconds later as I realise my directional faux pas. What a clot.

Now it can’t have escaped your notice but I have pronounced aplenty on the merits, or otherwise, of female-fronted prog bands (FFPBs) and am firmly of the view that not only are Magenta THE best FFPB out there they are also one of the very best third-wave progressive rock bands working today. Indeed a great many FFPBs on the scene appear to my eyes, and hairy old ears, to be as progressive as Jedward. They play progressive rock festivals because there's a stage and a microphone. And an audience. They would, if given half a chance, play a rock or Goth festival if the opportunity arose, changing their bio to suit. One minute a ‘rock band’, the next a ‘progressive rock band’ etc.

Not Magenta, whose debut was the gloriously retro double album Revolutions. Now, for me, one of the main reasons for Magenta's pre-eminence has always been found in the form of Christina Booth. Or rather her voice. A truly great singer. Not a shouter, or a reedy warbler. Without the need for any airbrushed media posturing she merely needs to wear jeans and a tee shirt and lets her voice, not her 'image' do the talking.

Another reason Magenta knock the ball out of the park, performance-wise, is that they've got some bloody great songs. And bloody great musicians to play 'em. Rob Reed had total mastery of his keyboard rig and from the ear to ear smile he had throughout the performance he was having a bloody great time, too, adding background vocals and creating a huge, symphonic soundstage underpinned by a supremely tight rhythm section. Competing with Reed for widest smile, though, was Magenta's other secret weapon: the prodigiously good Chris Fry on guitar. Whilst I missed his trademark walk through the audience (which I first saw in Rotherham for the solo at the end of The White Witch) I can safely say I've never heard him play better. The band's sound was the best of the weekend and every solo, guitar fill and run was nailed with a precision that delighted the packed crowd. They were clearly having a great time, and their performance was, frankly, magisterial. No one following them on the bill stood a ghost of a chance of matching them, to be fair.

Now I'm a sucker for the older material, from Revolutions (the only album not to get a DPRP recommended review, interestingly enough) and Seven, and both albums got a look in, as did Home, Metamorphosis and the latest record, Chameleon plus the crowd-pleasing single I’m Alive. In fact the setlist matches pretty much that to be found on their upcoming live album, which is going to be available at live shows later on this year. It should come as no surprise whatsoever that it’s a record I would heartily recommend to all fans of good progressive rock music.

If further proof were needed that Magenta blew the roof off of the Hippodrome they were the only band to get an encore, with the mighty Pride, from Seven. No cover-versions, either.

All in all the set was a triumph. I watched the show at the side of Andy T, and afterwards I had a hard time convincing him that The Tangent’s set was even in the same ballpark, such was his amazement at the performance we’d just witnessed. Now, all I have to do is convince Magenta to do a tour with The Tangent (Tangenta, anyone? Or The Mangent?) and I’ll be a happy bunny indeed.

Setlist Magenta
Glitterball
Gluttony
I'm Alive
Revolutions Medley
Red
Towers of Hope
Demons
Anger
Metamorphosis
Pride
 

It Bites
By Alison Henderson

Like IQ on the Saturday night, you would be hard-pressed to find another band who encapsulated both the spirit of 80s prog in their own inimitable way and 30 years later, still command a huge and dedicated following the way It Bites do.

A recently changed line-up might have disturbed some of the purists but the It Bites ethos of making prog music at the more poppy end of the spectrum has continued first through The Tall Ships in 2008 and this year by Map of the Past, but more about that later.

While the soundchecks were being run through, I spied the set list being placed in all the strategic places around the stage including in front of guitarist/singer John Mitchell’s “ironic” carpet, only for the list to be replaced just minutes later. So there had been so set-shuffling right up until the last minute.

Straight on they came and went headlong into Ghosts and Oh My God from The Tall Ships, the former a rhythmically-driven excursion into fertile prog pop territory packed with melody and delicious musical flourishes, the latter both choppier and more mannered in its style. This really was a case of hitting the ground running and taking the audience along with you for the ride.

Then it was a trip back to the 80s and practically where it all started with All In Red, still hugely catchy and withstanding the sands of time delightfully. It is enough to send you back for a refresher course on their back catalogue and to further appreciate their influence they have had especially on fellow musicians in the ensuing years.

Confessing he was tired after dashing back from Loreley earlier in the day, where he had been on duty with one of his other “employers” Arena, Mitchell was experiencing some trouble with his sound system, which regrettably meant pausing in between the naturally segued Send No Flowers and Meadow And The Stream, two of the songs from the outstanding Map of the Past album, still currently this reviewer’s favourite of the year.

It was the next track Underneath Your Pillow from their Eat Me In St Louis album which galvanised those stood around me into action, its heady throbbing keyboard opening throwing out sonic colours before it assumes a more robust groove.

The band chemistry is now completely cemented especially between “new boy” Mitchell and keyboards wizard John Beck sitting at the helm of his keyboards command panel looking relaxed and in charge of all immediate proceedings. At one particular juncture, one of his scintillating runs sent fellow maestro, The Tangent’s Andy Tillison stood nearby into total rapture.

With regular bassist Lee Pomeroy now involved with several other projects, Frost* bass player Nathan King has been enlisted for some of the recent live shows, while at the back in the engine room, Bob Dalton remains the solid rhythmic force on which so many of the songs are constructed along with Beck’s endless inventory of magical moments.

Back to the present Map of the Past and the highly infectious Cartoon Graveyard, which Mitchell explained was the next single if only to catch the ear of the BBC Radio 2 playlist compilers. Its release also comes with a video which he explained involved the application of copious make-up, something to look out for on YouTube!

But if there is one track which defines the spirit of Map of the Past, then it is the incredibly moving The Last Escape behind which there is the most extraordinary story.

In his introduction to the song, Mitchell dedicated it to Andrew Colgan, a huge It Bites fan who loved The Tall Ships. Last year, the marine biologist who had suffered multiple sclerosis for ten years, decided last year he had had enough of his seriously diminished life and at the age of 42, went to the controversial Dignitas clinic in Zurich and was given an assisted suicide.

His story was retold in a BBC documentary last year, introduced by legendary author Terry Pratchett himself now diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease who is spearheading the campaign to make assisted suicide legal in the UK. It was this documentary which prompted Mitchell to write this song.

With just Beck’s starkly simple and beautiful piano and Mitchell’s almost painfully bittersweet vocal delivery with guitar solo to match, they delivered this song with the great emotion the story warrants.

It was one of many pivotal points as again, they then revisited their own map of the past with what they deemed one of their proggiest songs (because of its length), The Wind That Shakes The Barley again from The Tall Ships.

But it was time for another delve into the deep past with The Old Man And The Angel from Once Around The World that gives an early hint to their growing prog credentials with great vocal interplay between Mitchell and Beck. Staying with that album, Midnight came next with its huge hooky chorus line and wonderful pop-centred vibe.

In closing not just the set but Celebr8 itself, they saved the big guns for the last with Kiss Like Judas and most appropriately of all, their anthemic Calling All The Heroes, the perfect sing-along conclusion to a festival where there had been so many heroes – the brilliant bands and their superb performances, and in particular, Jon and Geoff along with all their aides for having the original vision. And of course, the fans whose friendly spirit and love of the music made this occasion the great success it was. Roll on next year!

 


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