TAKE A BOW
VENUE DRILL HALL, CHEPSTOW DATE 05-07/10/2018
We’ve been to the Summer’s End Festival and Kscope’s 10th birthday party, and taken in shows by Nick Mason, Sons Of Apollo, Steve Hackett, The Pineapple Thief and many more…
What was once the annual trip to Chepstow (and previously Lydney) to spend the weekend in the company of a group of largely male prog fans of a certain age has, for those that indulge, now become a six-monthly jaunt. The first Winter’s End took place in April and so it’s just six months later that Prog finds itself back in Wales. It’s a slightly strange feeling of ‘Was I only here yesterday?’ rather than
‘Ah, Chepstow, a weekend in the company of a group of largely male prog fans of a certain age…’ And to be honest, it throws you a tad.
So too does walking into a packed Drill
Hall, not just to discover that Cliff Richard is playing here next week, but to witness probably the most diverse audience Summer’s End has seen in a while. A fairer gender split, and a few younger fans to boot. They say time moves slowly. In prog it moves slower still, but with more interesting shifts. But this represents a shift in the right direction, we’d say.
Holland’s Sky Architect start Friday’s festivities on a high, their technically complex, fluid guitar- and keyboardled songs showing a maturity that belies their relative youth. Deft changes of tempo, jazzy overtones and strong narratives, especially in the expansive Woodcutters Vile, are impressive, as is the unexpected trumpet introduced on Endless Roads.
Less impressive, to be brutally honest, are Moonparticle. It’s very rare a band comes a cropper at Summer’s End – the bill is too well curated, the crowd often too partisan – but Niko Tsonev and gang came perilously close. Heckling at Summer’s End is normally at the level of good-natured banter between artist and crowd, so when someone hollers out, “Hasn’t someone strangled that cat yet?” midway through Moonparticle’s headline slot, you know things aren’t going down too well. Singer Grog Lisee is the subject of the put-down, the Die So Fluid singer’s art-rock pretensions and voice clearly not wowing the crowd. Tsonev’s a talented guy, but live, like on record, Moonparticle lack cohesion and direction.
Norwegian dark electro proggers When Mary get Saturday underway. They look like a strange proposition for Summer’s End: former White Willow singer Trude Eidtang working banks of synths and other instruments, Christian Paulsen at her side like a demented Smeagol, thrashing away on guitar. It works though, their wonderfully melodic and occasionally dark poppy prog (or proggy pop) charming the crowd. At one point Eidtang asks the audience if they think the band are proggy enough. Thankfully we’re spared the weeklong debate that could potentially ensue and are instead left with one of the best sets of the weekend.
It’s five years since Dutch symphonic neo-proggers Silhouette last graced Summer’s End. An instrumental passage heralds their arrival, which leads into the rousing March Of Peace. They showcase songs from latest album The World Is Flat And
Other Alternative Facts, including the long and winding The Flow, and the 17-minute Symphony For A Perfect Moment. Daniël van der Weijde’s fluent guitar solos inject verve, together with Erik Laan’s elegant keyboards and his vocal harmonies with singer Brian de Graeve.
Germany’s Frequency Drift offer an interesting sound, although sadly for much of the set, Nerissa Schwarz’s often beguiling harp is too low in the mix. But that small hiccup is offset by the whirlwind performance of new singer Irini Alexia. One minute she’s jovially berating the crowd with, “Don’t make me put on my German accent,” delivered in mock overdone Teutonic tones, the next she’s waving around a massive winged cape to startling effect. If it doesn’t all completely hit the mark, it’s certainly moving in the right, cinematic direction.
A completely re-energised Landmarq deliver one of the weekend’s surprise packages. singer Tracy Hitchings’ replacement
Wolf Campen possesses a youthful, restless, sinewy presence and a powerful voice that hints at Joe Payne. Featured songs include favourites from the Damian Wilson and Hitchings eras. Turbulence proves the most challenging in the high note department, while Campen’s voice blends beautifully with keyboardist Mike Varty’s on Solitary Witness. New drummer Andy Allen shows his mettle
“LAZULI’S WELL-TUNED SET SHOWS A CONFIDENT BAND RIDING THE CREST OF THEIR WAVE.”
in the dance-along Mountains Of Anglia. The dramatic, atmospheric Lighthouse closes this significant milestone for the veteran proggers. On this showing, a promised new album next year could be something special.
It’s been seven years since Lazuli graced a Summer’s End (not to mention UK) stage for the first time, but the French quintet’s appearance as headliners for Saturday is a shining example of how and why Summer’s End works so well. Back then, few had ever heard of them. Now back for a third appearance, they’re treated like the old friends that they have become. But without the organisers of Summer’s End taking that chance back in 2011, whither might they be?
Admittedly, on tonight’s showing, Lazuli deserve to be a much bigger band than they are, and one can’t help but think that more astute management and a better understanding of promotion would give them better momentum to get to where they deserve to be. But with a well-tuned set built around latest album Saison 8 and deserved dips back into the excellent 4603 Battements and Nos Âmes
Saoules, this is a confident band riding the crest of their wave. As for that old trope that prog fandom is male dominated? Well, you can’t see a male face in the audience going back a good four or five rows!
Golden Caves, contenders for Prog’s 2018 Limelight award, are a revelation. After a nervy start, the energetic young Dutch proggers suddenly explode, the voice of dynamic singer Romy Ouwerkerk soaring high over their edgy, heavy, melodic rock, especially on killer song Hey You. Prog’s future is certainly looking very exciting.
The rather enigmatic qualities of
Kaprekar’s Constant continue to confound and delight in equal measure. This musical collective’s complex song-stories sail along on a mellow, almost ambient groove, enriched by the extraordinary blasts from VdGG legend David Jackson and his huge armoury of wind instruments. Selfdeprecating, humorous banter between songs from genial bassist Nick Jefferson and some very intricate, expressive instrumentation, especially on the moving Hallsands, are the plusses. However, vocalists Dorie Jackson and Bill Jefferson really need to part with their music stands that serve as an unconscious barrier between the band and the audience.
The jury is still out here.
There are no such barriers for New York proggers Edensong, who amiably confound some of the audience with their between-song banter about levitation and suchlike. More than once we hear utterances of “like Jethro Tull”, but really? Barry Seroff plays the flute and progland expects them to be decked out in tights and codpieces, pirouetting on one leg? Fortunately they offer a heavier and more intricate take on progressive music, and no doubt made plenty of friends on their first foray to the UK.
The appearance of bass legend John Jowitt almost threatens to upstage his ‘boss’, Tim Bowness. The Master Of Melancholy gives a masterclass in art rock and it’s soul-achingly beautiful. Steve Bingham’s mournful violin perfectly complements the nuances of Bowness’s expressive, intimate voice. Extracts from the No-Man canon include funky Time Travel In Texas, followed by All The Blue Changes, which gradually builds into a mind-melting crescendo. Bowness even tells an unexpected humorous story about Judas Priest’s Rob Halford needing a lyric crib sheet for Breaking The Law to introduce the exquisite heartbreaker Sing
To Me. It’s one of the weekend’s triumphs.
It’s been said before that the Sunday headline slot can be a thankless billing. Three full days of progging can take their toll on even the hardiest Summer’s Ender, but there’s neither any sign of flagging, nor a diminishing audience as Magenta take to the stage with Trojan from latest studio album We Are Legend. The bulk of tonight’s set comes from the band’s much-loved 2004 concept album Seven, but before that, Speechless offers a glimpse of Rob Reed’s ability to pen an excellent prog pop song, and both Colours and The Lizard King show how the band have developed from those early days.
The band are tight and having fun, Christina Booth good-naturedly chiding the audience. She’s on top vocal form too, and although the Seven material shows how close the band sailed to heroes Yes in the early days, this ranks as one of the best Magenta performances this writer has witnessed – and this writer has seen a few! Having dealt with six of the deadly sins, they return for a shimmering Pride, rounding off a thoroughly enjoyable weekend of prog in real style.
SKY ARCHITECT OPEN THE FESTIVAL WITH A BANG.DUTCH NEO HEROES SILHOUETTE. FREQUENCY DRIFT’S NERISSA SCHWARZ.
WHEN MARY’S TRUDE EIDTANG MIXES PROG AND POP WITH STYLE.
VDGG’S DAVID JACKSONLENDING HIS LUNGS TO KAPREKAR’S CONSTANT. LANDMARQ WITH NEW SINGER WOLF CAMPEN (RIGHT).“MAGENTA ARE TIGHT AND HAVING FUN – THIS IS ONE OF THE BAND’S BEST PERFORMANCES.”SINFULLY GOOD: MAGENTA REVISIT SEVEN FOR THEIR BRILLIANT HEADLINE SET.
GOLDEN CAVES: THE FUTURE OF PROG ROCK.ORCHESTRAL HEAVY PROGGERS EDENSONG. TIM BOWNESS, THE MASTER OFMELANCHOLY.