March 6th 2004, Seven Launch Party, Cross Keys, Llantrisant
April 23rd 2004, The Point, Cardiff
April 24th 2004, Classic Rock Society, Rotherham
John Morley and Tom De Val
Seven Launch Party, Cross Keys Hotel, Wales
By John Morley
This was certainly a first for me, to be invited to an album launch party. Indeed I considered it something of an honour and a privilege to be invited by the band.
The venue was the Cross Keys Hotel in Llantrisant, just outside Cardiff in South Wales. Very easy to get to, about 10 mins from the M4 motorway.
First, a mention for the venue the Cross Keys. I have to say that this was probably more comfortable than a lot of large hotels I have stayed in. The owners Steve and Kim really made you feel welcome, and had obviously put in a lot of hard work and effort to colour the hotel a distinct shade of Magenta - posters, balloons, flyers and leaflets adorned every nook and cranny of the main bar.
When we arrived in the room, we were treated to handfuls of goodies, such as free bottles of beer, chocolates, promo CD's, a laminated "access all areas" name badge (Yeeeesssssss! Always wanted one of them.), and a very nice welcoming card from Chris Jones and his good lady wife Sheila. Chris is a long time friend of the band, and indeed is often referred to as their official No 1 fan. More about Chris' contributions to the event later.
After getting ourselves settled in, myself and my good lady Karen decided to have a short nap in the afternoon, but were soon woken up by the sweet sound of the band rehearsing - our room was actually only a few feet away from the main function room. (These sorts of noisy neighbours I could certainly live with!) This was indeed a bit of a bonus, as we were able to watch the band perform a few numbers before the main event. And they sounded spot on.
After a quick bite to eat and a shower, we changed into our something a little more comfortable, and soon it was time to go downstairs ready for the evening's entertainment. The plan was for the band to play a 1-hour set, and to then retire to the main bar where the Seven album would be played and the band members would meet and greet the invited guests.
The actual gig was in a medium sized function room, although everyone (100 or so guests ) managed to squeeze in somehow. Band area seemed actually quite large, and It was good to see keyboard player Rob Reed with 3 keyboards this time. A major bonus was a plasma screen on the back wall which displayed specially prepared images and text designed to illustrate the various deadly sins. In fact, this was used for an overture before the band came on, set to a specially prepared piece of suitably grandiose organ music, showing various images of the band over the last couple of years. This was all put together by Chris Jones, and is indicative of Chris' level of commitment to the band. In the confined of the darkened room, this actually proved quite effective and very impressive, as during the bands performance both images and text referring to the seven deadly sins showed on the screen behind them.
There was a very relaxed, friendly atmosphere here tonight, the band had the advantage of knowing most of the audience - and this loosened them up and really helped their performance. I keep saying they get better every time I see them, but it's true. Gone completely are the occasional rough edges, missed cues and slight uncertainty that is only to be expected from a new band that have not had the chance to play that many live gigs as yet. But to see how far they have come after only 10 gigs in total is quite incredible.
First track was the first track from Seven, Gluttony. Already something of a live fave, as it has been played at the last 3 or 4 gigs. Played to perfection, and not suffering in the slightest from missing the multi-tracked vocals of the original. I always feel that this forces musicians to come up with inventive ways of adapting the songs for a live environment, and Magenta are particularly good at this. In fact, live the songs have more energy and vibrancy to them, and with occasionally a more rockier edge. This was perfectly illustrated by guitarist Chris Fry dropping to his knees in true guitar hero style when playing the slide guitar solo at the end.
Envy was next, a slightly more sedate affair, but no less impressive. The quieter sections of this piece seemed to go over very well in this very intimate venue. Shame about some of the talkers in the audience, though.
Broken, the bands new single was played next. I have not really had time to familiarise myself with this one yet, but it came across extremely well live, with a very catchy and memorable chorus. Short, punchy and energetic, just what a single should be.
Pride is yet another big favourite of mine from the new album, and this version does not disappoint. A stunning vocal performance from Christina, with a wonderful, lightning fast guitar/keyboard duel between Chris Fry and Rob Reed. It was particularly good to see Rob with a couple of extra synths this time, which gave him the ability to add a lot of layers and textures to a lot of the songs, and also pull off some great solo's.
Last song is Children Of The Sun, the opening track from Revolutions. A great live favourite, with its Jethro Tull-ish flavour, alternating between delicate vocal passages and all out instrumental workouts. To say that Chris Fry and Rob Reed handle the complex guitar and keyboard sections with consummate ease is somewhat superfluous, but mention must also be made of the incredible rhythm section of Matthew "Metal Matty" Cohen on bass, Martin Rosser on lead and Rhythm guitars, and new drummer Allan Mason-Jones - one hell of a back line. I just love that "On our way home" line near the end from Rob, with Christina joining in with "Sunshine saviour" - must be one of the most perfect endings to a song ever.
And that was it, a short but perfect and perfectly played one hour set. Of course I wanted to hear more, as did everyone else. But this was a launch party, and there was other business to attend to.
To round off the proceedings there were some thank you's and well deserved presentations to members of the band from Dave Robinson of F2 records to Steve and Kim the owners of the Cross Keys, for their contributions not just to the evening in question, but for their continued support and commitment to the band. It was a particularly nice touch also to see bouquets of flowers presented to both lead singer Christina and Kim of the Cross Keys hotel.
A special presentation was in order also for Steve Reed, brother of keyboard player Rob Reed. Steve writes nearly all of the lyrics for the albums, and comes up with the concepts and stories too.
After wiping the tears from our eyes, all that was left now was to retire to the bar to listen to the new album, drink a few lemonades and mingle. And that's exactly what we did, possibly going a little overboard with the lemonades, judging by the state of my head next morning. Perhaps it was possibly the mixture of Cider, lager and free champagne rather than the lemonade that did it.
Next morning it was up early(ish), a chance to take advantage of the hotel's wonderful full English fried breakfast, said our goodbyes to the guys in the band, and off back to London.
An extremely enjoyable weekend, and an experience I will not forget.
Children Of The Sun
The Point, Cardiff, UK
By John Morley
Wonderful to be able to finally catch Magenta at a headlining gig at a decent sized venue. The venue in question was The Point in Cardiff, a small converted church.
There was definitely a buzz in the air tonight. It was very well attended, at least 200 people by my reckoning, and it was apparent that a lot of people had either read about the band in magazines and on the net, seen the posters for the gig or been given a flyer at the previous weeks Mostly Autumn concert. Kudos to the band and F2 records for taking the trouble to actively promote the gig - it certainly paid off.
A word first of all about support band Ezra, an interesting hard rocking but very tight combo also hailing from Wales. I was pleased they played the title track from the Big Smiley Sun album, and also Under The Bed. They also debuted a new track from their new album Songs From Pennsylvania which showed great promise.
Shortly afterwards Magenta took to the stage, complete with their own intro track, smoke and coloured lights. This being a headlining gig, we got all but one track from the new album Seven, and most of Revolutions too.
Standout tracks were opener Gluttony, with guitarist Chris Fry's impressive guitar pyrotechnics ; Lust (played here for the first time live), an epic, complex song both vocally and instrumentally, but performed to perfection ; Genetesis, with it's strong Yes flavour ; Pride, with that wonderful keyboard/guitar duel in the middle between Chris Fry and Rob Reed, and Anger, another new song which started off with Christina sitting on the floor and Chris Fry seated on acoustic guitar, generating a wonderful warm, intimate atmosphere.
Nice also to hear Call Me from the Broken EP, a track I am particularly fond of.
The crowd reaction was incredible. I saw lots of people taking photo's, and for the last 3 numbers, a group of people went up to the front of the stage (myself included) to clap and sing along, and the band were called back for two encores. Indeed this felt very much like a proper prog gig in a lot of respects - we had the obligatory drunk, weird dancing nutter (Who was she?), the usual crowd of annoying talkers, and even a strange incident concerning a member of the bands entourage who managed to lock themselves in an upstairs loo only to be rescued by the local police! Rock and roll!
Christina was clearly enjoying herself, and making full use of the extra stage space., and also conversing much more with the audience, clearly a sign of the bands growing confidence with live gigs.
I was impressed yet again with Rob Reed's keyboard set up, with a couple of extra keyboards that allow him to duplicate the sounds from the recorded versions of the songs with ease, and also pull off some nice synth solo's. Good to see Martin Rosser with a little more space to move around on a larger stage, and also contributing a guitar solo of his own on Anger. Martin also seemed to be using a new effects unit that allowed his to change the sound of his guitar so he could play string sections and other sorts of instruments.
It's these little touches that show that the band are dedicated to constantly making improvements to their live sound, and it's for this reason that they deserve to be much bigger.
Children Of The Sun
The White Witch
Magenta @ The Classic Rock Society, Rotherham, UK
By Tom De Val
The Classic Rock Society has long been the home of live progressive rock in the UK, providing a place to play for bands that simply couldn't get arrested elsewhere in the country during the dark days of the early to mid 90's. Things are better now, with London in particular becoming a good place to see prog, but the CRS is still number one for supporting up and coming UK rock (not exclusively prog) bands, so it's no surprise to see a quality act like Magenta grace their stage, with this being their first headlining slot in Rotherham.
For those not in the know, Magenta are the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Rob Reed (probably best known for his earlier band Cyan) and feature the wonderful vocals of one Christina. Their first album, Revolutions, was very much a studio project with Reed tackling most of the instruments, and was seen as something of a homage to the heyday of progressive rock, with Reed's love of Genesis, Yes and the likes shining through. Reed decided he wanted to make Magenta into a live proposition, and formed a six-piece band who played a number of shows in 2003, and are now embarking on gigs in support of the excellent new Seven album. Having seen the band play a fine (if short) set at the Progeny festival last year, I was keen to see a full set from them - a feeling only enforced after hearing Seven.
Before Magenta's set, we had a support slot from a fairly new British outfit called Confuzion. Whilst not prog in the purest sense, the band's music certainly encompasses a variety of genres (hence the name no doubt!), lurching from rock, jazz fusion, blues, funk and all points in between. The pace was pretty high, and some of the material worked better than others, but this was a decent set which got the band applause from an audience who were probably from a more traditional prog background, and I would say Confuzion are certainly a band to keep an eye on in the future.
There was quite a quick turnaround prior to Magenta's set, during which the hall (a leisure centre by day) had filled with probably around 100 - 120 people - not huge but an encouraging attendance none the less for a relatively unknown band (at the moment at least!). Magenta took the stage to their own instrumental overture (Opus 3, to be found on the new e.p. Broken) - probably a bit too early, as it seemed to drag on longer than they expected and the band appeared to be chomping at the bit to get started (a good sign!). Eventually, guitarist Chris Fry played the opening refrain from Seven opener Gluttony, and we were off, it being clear from the start that the audience were in for a great night - the sound was pretty good, the band themselves were on fine form and looked to be thoroughly enjoying themselves on stage, and most importantly the quality of the material never wavered.
It's immediately apparent that the band's live performance has come on leaps and bounds even from six months ago. At Progeny the band had a somewhat static formation with all the musicians (bar the drummer) forming a straight line at the front of the stage, making them look a little ill at ease (whether that was actually the case or not). Now however they seem to have the look of a much more confident unit. Bassist Matt Cohen and second guitarist Martin Rosser keep to the background, providing solid musicianship. Keyboardist Rob Reed has his keyboards set up sideways to the stage, and almost seems to act as band conductor. This leaves plenty of room for the two main focal points to strut their stuff. The first, as you might expect, is vocalist Christina; not only is she an obvious visual draw, she has a wonderful voice which fully holds the attention, and her movement and command of the stage is impressive. The second is lead guitarist Chris Fry, who not only embellishes his lead work (already impressive on the album) with some extended solo's and the like, but has plenty of stage presence himself, meaning that the band aren't reliant on just one person to carry the show from a visual perspective.
Set-wise, the bulk of the main set was taken from the new album - Gluttony, Lust and Pride are all highlights from Seven and received impeccable renditions here. Elsewhere, we had the epic Children Of The Sun from Revolutions, its 20-odd minutes just flying by, with the stellar extended instrumental section being of particular note. Wisely, the band didn't follow this by unleashing another epic but instead played a couple of shorter tracks from the Broken e.p. - the title track itself is an uptempo pop-rocker with a strong chorus, whilst Call Me is an updated version of an old Cyan song, and sees the band take things down a notch.
The band left the stage after only an hour, so I certainly expected to hear some of the longer epics from the Revolutions album in the encore. Sure enough, the first encore was Genetesis. However, the band play an abridged version here, slimming down the track to about 12 minutes. In my opinion this is a good move - the majority of songs on Seven are around this length, and benefit from being a little more concise - whereas the original Genetesis appeared sometimes (as many of the tracks on Reveolutions did) to be more a collection of fine parts than a tangible whole, the shorter length gave the song a much more 'complete' feel.
Following this fine rendition the band once again left the stage to rapturous applause, but soon returned. Initially just Chris Fry and Christina take the stage, with Chris playing an acoustic for the start of Anger, a shorter, more melancholy track from Seven. Whilst the full band eventually appear near the end of the track, it was highly unlikely that things would end on this sombre note, so it was no real surprise that the band reappeared for another 'abridged' version of a track from Revolutions, The White Witch. Whilst it's arguably the track which most shows their influences, this was my favourite from Revolutions, and one that ends on a suitably bombastic note. I did feel it perhaps worked less well in its shorter form than Genetesis, with some seemingly key sections missing - but maybe we'll hear the full version in the future (please)? Whatever, this is a minor criticism, and the band left the stage and took their final bow to huge applause.
Martin Hudson (CRS Director) appeared at the end to say that Magenta would be returning to the CRS later in the year, and based on performances like this I imagine most of the audience (myself included) will return with them. An excellent gig by a band whose star is definitely in the ascendant.
Children Of The Sun
The White Witch (abridged)