Category Archives: prog rock

Mortdelamer at Staines Hobgoblin – August 04

Finishing off a successful 9 date tour at the Hobgoblin, Staines (our favourite music venue) the Swindon based 3-piece prog-rockers “Mortdelamer”   played an amazingly invigorating and inspirational set to the happy throng. Claire (lead vocals and guitar) Joe (on bass guitar) and Sean (on drums) stormed through a set of thoroughly honed songs, properly aired and exhaustively rehearsed after days on the road.

‘Chasing Lights’ is a chiming buzz-saw wormery of textures and sub-texts. Dank themes crumble like biscuits around the molten guitars. Claire’s voice cuts through the chords and chains like acetic acid through cloth, before the number ascends into the loftiest of metal frameworks.

‘Choices’ is a gap-toothed fallen-angel of a song, distraught chords and edgy rhythms suggest a kind of corrupt architecture for Claire’s splendidly miserable vocals.

‘Mistakes’ grates like a rake dragged into a storm drain… but the kindly echoing vocal content, reminding me of Alannah Myles, lifts the song from it’s velvety sludge to a more glistening position above the shoreline.

‘Man With 2 Heads’ has a pronounced reggae beat and those other worldly vocals, before  liquid guitars leak and spill over the jaggedy moonscape. Disconcerting grinds and blinding wah-wahs add drama and potency to this outstanding track.

New song ‘Leech’ from the superb Leech E.P (I urge you to get it now) is a blues number that starts smoky in the background before becoming emblazoned with fire and ice as the composition moves on – cracking and fragmenting into explosions of pure emotion as the song reaches it’s heroic destiny.

If you like ‘Karnivool’ or ‘Skunk Anansie’ and you take your rock without sugar or cream and, preferably, bible-black, then this is definitely for you…

© Neil_Mach
August 2011



Trans Siberian Orchestra Live in London- Symphonic Crock

Back in the Seventies K-Tel released an album named ‘Classical Rock’ that was basically a well chosen selection of rock songs (such as ‘Paint it Black’ or ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ ) that had been ‘classicalized’ by a symphony orchestra. It was not a new idea, the Moody Blues had already had gentle success with the ‘Days of Future Passed’ project, and by then we had all heard melodramatic orchestrated rock by The Beatles on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

But the ‘Classical Rock’ album sold well and a few years later we got ‘Hooked on Classics’ and other similar lighter, fluffier featherweight offerings that all made a quick buck for the orchestras concerned and were fond fodder for the TV marketers’ of the day and firm favourites  of the catwalk-empires.  Over the years they re-hash these same old winning formulas – celebrating the apparent fusion of classical music and rock. But they forget (perhaps) that both genres are living and breathing beasts. Both art forms are healthy, dynamic and energetic. They both draw huge, fanatical crowds of adoring
fans – without needing any ‘help’ from each other.

But, nevertheless, we now we have the Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO) whose claim is that all this is fresh and ‘real’ and that they are bringing classics back to the audience along with a much needed lightning bolt of shock rock. These travelling showmen are already terribly successful in the U.S. and have just completed  a high profile European tour.This was their first U.K. outing. I was watching their new show ‘Beethoven’s Last Night’ at Hammersmith, London.

The narrative of the show (over-dramatically told) was that, while Beethoven was diligently working on his ‘Symphony X’ in the silence of the night, he was visited by three other-worldly characters: Mephistopheles, Fate and Twist.

And so began a Christmas-Carol type journey for poor Ludwig, who was taken back to his early years by the spirits, and forced to watch himself as a young man (missing out on lurve) and meeting Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart  on the way. He was then asked to negotiate a price for his soul in exchange for the valuable works of his life. This was the rather contrived excuse for the subsequent musical pieces upon which the show was flimsily patch worked together – including pastiches of classical ‘hits’ (the ones we all love,)  mixed and matched with the elevator-quality soft rock vibes (the ones we all loathe.)

Bringing this to life on stage were a host of classical musicians together with a small herd of choristers (huddled together for safety, away from the shifty ones with the long hair.) Sharing the expansive stage was an over-exuberant violin playing crazyman (Roddy Chong), who danced around in fits and spurts, like a firecracker.  And the handful of long-haired worthy looking guitar-men (of a certain age), were spread wide across the stage – along with a sunken drummer and a couple of keyboard wizards – to make it seem like a rock show.

The flamboyant laser and lighting effects certainly added value, and dramatic pizzazz to the production and the show was nicely paced and superbly produced. But I had this constant nauseous feeling, deep in the core of my glands and the pits of my tubes, that the whole darn thing was strangely …  corpulent.  It felt like a slightly sickening eighties style big-hair-cut act of conceit. For business-men to lap up. Along with their bitchy wives. It seemed ultimately pomped up and preened to artificial perfection. A pontificating pile of pretentious pap. But that’s just me.  Several of the worthy and the good in the West London audience stood up to vigorously applaud the efforts of these noble rock-warriors who were (supposedly) blazing a trail for modern classical symphonic rock.

The female singers – especially Patti Russo- were solid, powerful, generous and gorgeous-  full of warmth and passion.  Their ‘arias’ reminded me very much of the Meat Loaf performances of the Nineties – you know the kind of  thing- a sultry lady peering-back-over-her-shoulder in earnest – the burning unsaid passions beneath the slinky dresses -appassionato squared. But the male vocalists were less successful, straining to pull notes out of the ether, and over-egging several different puddings at once, in their efforts to come across as serious and commanding performers.

Instrumentation is the strong element of the TSO – but I even found this slightly less exciting than it should have been. The overall sound was often buzzy and cloudy. Individual elements and instruments were obscured by the bass notes and piles-and-piles of guitar chords.  And where were the flourishes and virtuoso pieces? The keyboards were accomplished (without being scintillating or dramatic) the guitar work was robust and workaday (but not fiery or feisty.) And percussion was hum-drum and rhythmic (yet neither passionate nor creative.) This troupe does not come anywhere near to the magical virtuoso performances found in bands such as ‘Dream Theater’ or ‘Rush’.  I still fondly remember Rick Wakeman playing the “Six Wives of Henry VIII” (1973) – lurking over the piano and wildly playing the keys like some kind of madly demonic dangerously possessed praying mantis – a whirl of hands, arms and blonde locks- in a confusion of colours and sound.  There were none of these moments within the TSO show.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra creator Paul O’Neill (previously of ‘Savatage’) told us that he is influenced by the “British, British, British.”  ‘E.L.P’,  ‘Pink Floyd’, ‘Queen’ and even ‘The Who’ are cited. But lots of other bands have been blurring the lines of distinction between rock music and classical music, since those early prog-gold years.  What about E.L.O.?  Or the aforementioned ‘Moody Blues’ (still going strong?)  And good classical music often turns into popular music – look at the football hits like Nessun Dorma etc. Classics don’t need to be re-hashed, re-tread, over-hyped and tinsel-treated to make them popular. And, perhaps more importantly for the rock community, we have some excellent rock/prog bands on the circuit right now who have laudable ‘classical’ aspirations- ‘Nightwish’ and ‘Within Temptation’ are two such bands that spring to mind. These bands make fresh symphonic rock and yet have mass-market youth based potential and global appeal. Even epic speed metal bands like homegrown ‘Dragonforce’ add a powerful punch of symphonic classic-sounding rock into their overall mix, and have  huge followings.  If the TSO were truly dedicated to their art they would, at the very least, have a band like ‘Dragonforce’ along with them as ‘supporting’ artists, to show off the youthful side of the genre.

Witnessing the TSO was like watching a bunch of earnest looking bankers playing a selection of TV advert backing tapes. It was like that bloody “Isa Isa baby” advert. It doesn’t make sense, but it gets into your head.  It was like having the British Airways advert being played  to you live by a group of news-readers in wigs. The hairies in the band looked like the kind of stereo-typical rockers that wouldn’t even rattle a blue-rinse Daily Mail waving Cheltenham-based lady-golfer. You know the kind of thing – long clean hair, chiselled looks, tanned skin,  long elegant coat, shiny boots, and a silver chain.

The whole look was so fabricated and so dated you might think it was a joke. In fact it really would all be vastly amusing, if it were not for one thing … this was not meant to be taken tongue-in-cheek. It was serious music. It was in your face.  It was not fun cabaret style nonsense like the Queen musical ‘We Will Rock You’.

It was just dreary.

© Neil_Mach
March 2011


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Anderson / Wakeman – Are They Just Yes-terdays Men?

On the evening of Friday 22nd October I went to see Rick Wakeman and Jon Anderson  [The Anderson-Wakeman Project] at The Anvil, Basingstoke.

I approached this concert with a feeling of some ambivalence. The whole thing about these antique rock treasures being taken out of the old trophy cupboard and dusted down saddens me. I can think of nothing worse than spending an evening fawning over some old has-been who is attempting to rekindle that long extinguished flame one more time.  And all that servile pretentiousness that is expected from the audience. All those fake nostalgic feelings. And all that hushed beatification of the noble rock luvvies – the entire experience tends to bring bile to my lips. If old rockers don’t die gracefully then, at the very least, they should be forced into exile far away – running a trout farm or something. We do not need them to come back every five minutes, trying to hit the high notes, and rambling on about how freaky everything was back in ‘73. It is undignified. And, worse still, it reminds us that we are getting old too. So, no thanks.  If we really want to hear them at their very finest then we can download their stuff onto MP3 can’t we?  We don’t need them to be standing there in the weakly quasi-living flesh, doing their absent-minded best to entertain us in some frail way do we? But, on the other hand, what if they still could still turn on the old magic? What if the gift was still there? What if they could still deliver a sting?  It is so intriguing that it is almost worth taking the risk.  But, frankly,  I was  prepared to be disappointed.

As I sat waiting patiently in the luxurious surroundings of The Anvil I couldn’t help asking myself…  Are Rick and Jon just yesterdays men? Can they still pass muster?  Culture lovers and quality music aficionados around me seemed to be asking the very same question. Then, as the lights went down, a gentle ripple of applause echoed around the venue, and the two venerable rock-gods shuffled onto the simply light stage. Jon was clutching an acoustic guitar and was dressed casually, as if he was popping up the corner shop for a pinta.  Rick strolled over to the two keyboards. And that was it. We were in the presence of two artists who can conjure up sounds, images, textures and sensations from just an old guitar and a couple of keyboards.  It was magical.

It is interesting that Jon is five years older than Rick – because he doesn’t look it.  Aged 66 (to Rick’s 61) he looks like he is in his late forties. The years have not worn away Jon’s elfin features and nor that airy-fairy posture. Neither have they worn down his amazing voice. Naturally higher than tenor, but without extending to falsetto – his voice has a lush mellow sweetness to it. At this  concert he was still perfectly pitched and the nuances of that nutty-brown Lancastrian accent were still abundantly clear. Jon seemed to be completely baffled by the whole experience of getting up on stage with his guitar and putting on a show.  A consistent theme  ( perhaps  deliberately over-emphasised  for dramatic effect ) was that Jon could not remember the text of any of the songs, nor present a concise introduction to the pieces. In fact, it seemed likely that he didn’t even know what day it was. But the audience seemed perfectly happy to let this go by, and the songs were gorgeously inspiring and wondrously created.

Rick has now become a minor celebrity outside his rock persona for being one of the regular ‘Grumpy Old Men.’ He is also an admired DJ on Planet Rock. As far as I am concerned he can never do wrong, not just because of his keyboard work for ‘Yes’ but also because of his incredible contributions to such famous songs as Bowie’s “Life on Mars?” and Cat Stevens’ re-working of the school assembly hymn “Morning Has Broken.”     I first encountered Rick’s virtuosity on ‘The Strawbs’  ‘From the Witchwood’ album (1971) and I commend to you the track “The Hangman and the Papist”.  I advise you give that a listen, to understand why I was completely blown-away by his spectacular artistry. In the Anderson-Wakeman Project,  Rick keeps things simple. Just two keyboards and a laid-back gentle attitude. Only once or twice did we experience the true greatness and extraordinary rendition of this amazing player.  And at those times he stooped over the keys like a mad praying mantis – a look of deadly concentration upon his face – as his fingers flashed out, like a predator, to take the ivories.

Rick seems, upon the surface, to be ‘of sound mind’ and the more lucid of the partnership. But it is quite clear that he adds depth and magic to the mythical and emotional dimensions of Jon’s characteristically surreal pieces- like those old favourites “I’ve Seen All Good People” and “Yours Is No Disgrace”. He is perfectly at ease in translating what seem like the ‘ramblings’ of  an imaginative mind, and turning that jamboree-bag of Jon’s thoughts into real commodities, containing sound and light. These two are a perfect creative partnership. This became even clearer as the new songs emerged from ‘The Living Tree’  and during the “Recital Part” of the show, (as Jon called it.)

Constant humorous interludes and witty interjections from the pair helped enliven the show and added a welcome lightness. Not only were these anecdotes entertaining, they were also inciteful.  According to Jon the two partners collaborate together using email and text – Rick lives in the UK whilst Jon lives in the U.S.A.   So when one has an idea, he urgently emails the other to put across the musical concept. Jon told us how he was grappling with the ideas behind ‘The Living Tree’ and he told us how he had come up with the idea after he had ‘Just come in from the garden… and trees and plants were on my mind ….  I had to contact Rick right away with my thoughts’. Rick added “It’s a good job, then, that you hadn’t just come in from the loo!”   An another occasion Jon was speaking passionately and fervently about the theme of love and how people do not love themselves enough – loving each other has to start somwhere and it ought to start with loving ones self.  Rick interjected ‘ I used to love myself …. a whole lot …. back when I was fourteen – until my dad told me to stop because it would make me go blind’.

Another interesting anecdote was shared with the audience when Jon explained how he had come up with the idea for “Roundabout” [from the 1971 Yes album Fragile ].  ‘In and around the lake – mountains come out of the sky – one mile we’ll be there and see you…’ According to Jon, the band were herded into a van to make a difficult return journey from northern Scotland back to the north of England in time for the next concert. The journey seemed to ‘go on for ever’ and the most annoying parts were the ‘roundabouts’ (circular road junctions) “I remember there seemed to be hundreds of roundabouts on the way back, and at each roundabout there was a traffic hold up – I thought we would never get to our destination.” But the icy lakes and the occasional glimpses of mountains squeezing through the cloud, helped Jon to pass the time and paint a pretty potent lyric.

The purpose of prog rock is to create an imaginary world. To move beyond what is commonplace. To travel through space and time, and reality. To represent textures, sounds and ambiguous ideas in the forms and nuances of light and shadow that make life a dream and reality a memory.

You might like your rock to be earthy and raw. You might need it to be unblemished and simple to digest at times.  But if, like me, you want to leave this tawdry planet every now-and-again and fly off in a paper glider towards those Topographic Oceans then you need bands like ‘Yes’ ( or ‘Porcupine Tree’ and ‘Spock’s Beard’ or ‘Rush’ ) and you need artists like Jon and Rick to help you break the bonds of your existence so that you can float gently away.

In the Anderson-Wakeman Project tour, Rick and Jon have managed to cut down on flamboyances, cut away excesses and shortened the conceited sojourns and the interminable jazz odysseys. This is stark, almost nude, Progressive Rock. Not quite unplugged, but almost. And without the pomposity and the over inflated egos, the audience were left with some simply attractive, carefully crafted, rock pieces. Put together with heart and soul. Yes, the lyrics are in bloom, and you need your thinking-cap on to make the most of it. But for sheer joyous escape, and flight to a better world, there is nothing better than sharing some time with Rick and Jon. I was not disappointed.

© Neil_Mach
October 2010

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The Anderson/Wakeman Project 360 Tour continues through November culminating in a visit to London’s Indigo at the O2  on 15 Nov

Monday, November 01, 2010      Colston Hall

Tuesday, November 02, 2010     Cliffs Pavilion

Saturday, November 06, 2010     Playhouse

Sunday, November 07, 2010     Concert Hall

Monday, November 08, 2010     The Sage

Thursday, November 11, 2010     Palace Theatre

Friday, November 12, 2010     The Corn Exchange

Monday, November 15, 2010     indigo2 at the O2

Mostly Autumn – O2 Shepherds Bush Empire

Sadness sells.  Just think of the dirges- (“To Live is to Die” by Metallica) the elegies (Elegie, Patti Smith) and the requiems ( Verdi’s Requiem).  Dark timbres, moody textures, melancholy notes, slow movements,  sometimes painful yet always perfectly rendered visual images – these all contribute to expressing the emotion of sadness.

Mostly Autumn know that sadness sells. They know that a walk around a lake in Cumbria is likely to fill you with a kind of joyful sadness. It is that bittersweet release that makes it so poignant. Autumn seasons are sad. The vitality and new life of spring is over. The fullness and maturity of summer is all gone. Only a future of darkness and cold is to be seen. Autumn is the saddest month because things are no more. Nor have just begun. We compare the seasons for the duration of our lives, so the ‘autumn of our  life’ can be seen as a golden age at the end of a prosperous and fruitful time, but can also be seen as harbinger of the dark days, the decline and death.

So Mostly Autumn gently turn their sweet yet mournful songs into exquisite symphonies of majesty and power for the crowd at the O2 Shepherd’s Bush.  ‘Marcia Brady’ looking golden-haired beauty Olivia Sparnenn (also ‘Breathing Space’) now ‘fronts’ the band and looks like a radiant angel in her white smock over tight black pants and long boots. She has the same kind of range and power as Christine McVie and delights with her soaring voice. Upon the stage it seems as if she can talk to the spirits (within some kind of trance) and at times I could make out what sounded very much like Sigur Rós-type ‘singing in tongues’. Maybe it is the Jórvík in her!

Big man Bryan Josh is the big daddy of the outfit. He is very much the “auteur” and director of the show -although the band probably says that it is a matter of cooperation. You get the feeling, though, that this giant haystack of a man, with his thick rubbery lead-guitar solos and thumping, crashing chords is the power-house of the band. Near to him were Andy Smith – Bass Guitars and  Gavin Griffiths – Drums – stirring up one hell of a wasp-nest of excitement and dangerous fury. On the other side of the stage were the combined talents of Iain Jennings and Anne-Marie Helder on those luscious keyboards.

Ann-Marie also played the haunting flute pieces (so reminiscent of The Moody Blues) and also came ‘out front’ for the odd ditty and jig, when the time was appropriate. Liam Davison also provided a ranging mix of guitar sounds.  All-in-all this was a big sound from a very big band- almost an orchestra – both in dimension and aspiration .

One of my favourite pieces (and you must think of the work of Mostly Autumn as ‘pieces’ in the classical sense) is “Dreaming” from the 2007 album ‘Heart Full of Sky’.  It has to be said that this has an annoying euro-pop almost Abba-esque sound to the  chorus bit it is the verse that I most enjoy – very reminiscent of May’s “The Prophet’s Song”  off  of Queen’s 1975 album ‘A Night at the Opera’.  Like many Mostly Autumn pieces, it has that evocative thin slice of spine tingling lead guitar in the middle. The focus of this perfect composition is a duet by Anne-Marie and Olivia, before returning to the lively chug of the verse. A very accomplished composition.

Many fans were saddened by Heather Findlay’s autumn departure from the band but I think that Olivia is a worthy and valuable replacement and she deserves her place at the front. She holds the fragile hearts of the audience gently and compassionately in her expressive hands, as the finale to the show – the crowd pleasing ‘Stairway to Heaven’ type masterpiece ‘Evergreen’ –  is teasingly unravelled for all to behold. This is an epic song full of grace and charm.

And maybe Heather knows what it’s like to be Evergreen ….

Oh, a little sadness . . .  but sadness sells well.  And I am sold.

© Neil_Mach
May 2010


Wishbone Ash – Live Shepherd’s Bush – May 15th

One year after their successful yet controversial 40th anniversary tour, Andy Powell’s  Wishbone Ash is back at The O2 Shepherd’s Bush to round off another UK tour. When I saw Wishbone Ash back in the day (1977) they were playing venues like Wembley (Front Page News).  These days they play the likes of The Brindley Arts Centre, Runcorn or the Farnham Maltings – worthy venues I grant you – but not quite the stadiums of yore – and their fan base is withering on the vine too – maybe the music seems somehow stuck-up and arty-farty to the new generation of gig goers. And, although there is no doubt that their work in the 1970’s was important and enjoyable, the truth is, let us not forget, that the band was never was quite everyone’s cup of tea.  Even back then in the Seventies, when I was asked for a list of my favourite bands I would always include Wishbone Ash, but often with the extra qualifier ‘And do you know …’. Rarely was the answer,  ‘Yes’.

Well I don’t know about ‘Blowin Free’ but there were more bald pates on offer at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire than at a Telly Savalas memorial convention – even flying-V man Andy Powell ( a man as bald as a B-cup man-boob) had to make mention of the apparent ‘certain age’ of the group of geriatric slap-heads surrounding the stage. He also noted that, incredibly, there was really a ‘girl’ in this sweaty, beer soaked crowd. Yes, the name ‘Wishbone Ash’ persuades those fifty-something old guys out from their doubled-glazed cozy homes faster than a DFS sale.  Away from their M&S TV dinners and their sensible slippers ….  and free at last, to singalong with their fellow “Warriors”.  And it is always a bit of puzzle to me that the ladies don’t ‘get’ Wishbone Ash.  Don’t they like soft and symphonic? The Wishbone melodies are lovely… why don’t they like them? And don’t they like lush vocals?  It is not as if the band is Slipknot you know. One woman at Shepherd’s Bush explained the problem to me,  “ Their stuff is quite complicated – you see. It is not easy to take”.   Maybe that’s it then  …. maybe Wishbone Ash is the musical equivalent of the Wisden’s Cricketers Almanack – they fulfil a man’s need for complicated structures and memory games.

Back in the day, the twin-lead symphonies were a close coupled affair evoked by Ted Turner and Andy Powell. Now It is Andy and Muddy. Muddy Manninen looks like a wigged-out blonde version of Professor Severus Snape after he has just been shocked and  jolted by one Harry’s abracadabra bolts.  He constantly looks like he is sucking a lemon whilst simultaneously being rogered by a rhinoceros-  a look also accomplished by his predecessor Ben Granfelt. [Muddy replaced Ben in 2004.] And, frankly, I know he is a good guitarist and all that, but he mucked up the solo lead break in ‘The King Will Come,’ so badly that, as far as I’m concerned, he ruined the song. Now please believe me, I am not suggesting that the piece has to be played note-perfect  at a live date. I am not asking that it comes across as a perfect studio copy – it’s just that I want the soloist to at least pay respect to the original patterns and swirls. And miserable looking Prof Snape failed to do this.

But the all round hero of the night and top guy (in my book) was bass -player quite extraordinary – Bob Skeat – who managed perfect renditions of the buoyant and brilliant bass sounds from those early masterpieces. Bob replaced founding father and superb lead vocalist/bassist Martin Turner (who now runs his own ‘Wishbone’ act and is worth catching.)  Martin Turner is credited as the man who gave ‘Argus’ both voice and spirit. He was the key songwriter for this immense album and he wrote those memorable lyrics. His bass play was astounding- and it is to Bob Skeat’s enduring credit that he pulls off those amazing twists and turns with the same dexterity and speed.

And now we have Pendragon’s drummer Joseph Crabtree on percussion- but none will ever replace Steve Upton whose legendary rolls and flares lifted the Wishbone sound from the ashes and made them soar like a Phoenix. (Just listen to the fireworks on ‘Vas Dis’ –  ‘Pilgrimage’.)

The gig started off with the formidably jazz orientated ‘Pilgim’ (Pilgrimage) the band then wandered off, without too much verve, into more jazz odyssey territory… yawn.  ‘Jail Bait’ or even better ‘Blind Eye’ would have been far more energetic and arresting curtain raisers… and the crowd would have been at one from the outset.  We didn’t really ‘get going’ as a crowd until the sublime ‘Persephone’ from ‘There’s the Rub’ – an album that sparked the remarkable talent of Laurie Wisefield.  Then we went from a perfectly acceptable ‘Sometime World’ to a disappointing version of ‘The King Will Come’.

The band didn’t go nearly far enough in capturing that unique soft and gentle country air, emotional journeys like Pilgrimage’s ‘Valediction’ or the Wishbone Four haunting songs ‘Everybody Needs a Friend’  or  ‘Sorrel’.  It’s that softness from Wishbone Ash that I really love – that remarkable luminescent quality – but the band never really created the ethereal dimension.  They just jammed and coasted along. A bit of a conceit and a bit of a session.

You really need to have to know their work before you go to see a group like this, so that you can admire the ability to ‘conjure up’ the music before your very eyes – you don’t really have the capacity to ‘learn’ a new song – so it is strictly an aficianado affair.  This is a shame, because there was a considerable group of potential new customers for the band (who had actually come up to London to see the two important and delicious-sounding support acts  – Panic Room and Mostly Autumn) and these Generation Y rockers were eager for more. And I regret to say, Wishbone Ash did not really offer up the goods.

But, as they say in rock n roll , “It’s No Easy Road.”

© Neil_Mach
May 2010

Wishbone Ash

‘Martin Turners’  Wishbone Ash:

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Kamikaze Test Pilots – Hobgoblin, Staines


Kamikaze Test Pilots

Thursday 12 March 2009 Hobgoblin Staines

Oh kudzoka kutamba !

You get the feeling that the music of the KTP did not start out as a vision, but that the sounds gradually emerged, like grubs from pupae after a long dead summer. You get the sense that the music only evolved once that stifling long sessile period had reached a natural end and once the arid ideas and dead-end formulas had been tested, retested, drained and dried. Consequently the birth of the new sound, the emergence, is a warm and finely crafted creation … and well worth the wait.

Zimbabwe born brothers ‘Beans’ and ‘Wes’ formed the band back in 2005 with Martin on bass. Jim Davies (ex Loki) was a later UK addition to the outfit with his flying V lead guitar, dreads swishing and flipping in the air, and cosmic energy pulsing through his vital sinews like a rampaging torrent. Like the name of the band, the band members are a contradiction unto themselves … the diversifying contribution from each musician creating a stylistically unique tapestry of sounds and experiences.

Most of the KTP songs start out as simple riffs played upon fibrous frets. The sounds are then built up, layer-on-layer, with generous funky chord backdrops and feverish jazzy drum accompaniments, ultimately reaching satisfying plateaus of finely produced rock and blues. The two gung-ho heroes- Beans and Wes- have a good old time smashing and thrashing. Beans provides the formidably heavy metal vocals (actually Ozzie-esque in both size and quality) and Wes pounds out those drums.

Under all that flamboyant thrashing and swirling, Jim seems tougher and more focused than the brothers, but no less intriguing. Martin is the quiet man of the band, with his black porkpie hat and dark beard, beady eyes flicking left and right. He produces a succession of thrumming bass lines and lively rumbles. Very pluckin’ good.

At the start of the gig the early sounds of KTP reminded me of Second-Coming age ‘Stone Roses’ with that heavy bluesey-rock sound predominating, interlaced with subtle jazz-funk touches. But later in the show I was reminded more of ‘System’ when the sounds developed a progressive metal edge… strange time sigs, thematic links, unorthodox sound patterns etc. Tribal rhythms and stoner rock sounds are fused with complex metal guitar-work and harmonies to become complete backdrops onto which the boys can add their richly enjoyable Africans chants.

These boys write their own songs (credits also to Gavin Creedy) and go down a storm with their (mainly) student following in Berkshire UK. The funky beats and, at times, almost jazzy licks, added to those jump blues syncopated rhythms and a ‘twin lead guitar’ approach to the breaks, mean that this band is very reminiscent of old school classic rock. Large portions of solid noise (man, this band is noisome) and spot-on harmonies add to the overall texture and quality.

I particularly appreciated a heavy and almost instrumental track ‘Kumusha’ with its insistent hooks, possibly influenced by the likes of Black Label Society and, I would even guess, Iron Maiden. It is a fine rock song with plenty of false starts, vague whaleback dwalas and promises a-plenty reminding the listener of SOAD…but with additional vocal arrangements in the Bantu language, Shona, this song a classic-rock delight.

You can pick up the Kamikaze Test Pilots new six-song EP “Into The Sun” at their gigs or off their space. Go out to see them SOON in venues around the Reading area.

© Neil_Mach

March 2009
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The Siegfried Sassoon – Staines Hob


Hobgoblin – Staines – 1st March

So we are here at The Siegfried Sassoon (named after the Great War poet) “single release party” at The Hob Staines. But the Chertsey boys haven’t got their singles with them (a mix up with the post-production). Hmmm. And the crowd in Staines is forgiving. Probably more forgiving than they ought to be. In fact, the party is still going ahead (with or without the single) and the audience is fizzing like a sherbet fountain dropped into a glass of fanta. I saw a black and white chuckle-vision dalmatian in the crowd- it may have been Cadpig or Lucky – but I didn’t see Perdita. Perhaps the significance of all this is that the Sassoon sound is fun fun fun. The diversions come as ice-cream van chimes, merry-go-round organs or squelchy stylaphone tones.  Sassoon music is not eagerly flamboyant, majestic or epic like the nu-prog royalty i.e. Dream Theatre, Beardfish or The Mars Volta. Theirs is capricious and frothy stuff.

Stylistically the sound is closer to the ‘Roine Stolt’ vehicle ‘The Flower Kings’ than many contemporary bands but there are slices of ‘Dartz’ type guitarwork garnishing the cocktail of sounds and, I think, a ‘Vines’ type vibe with grown-up ‘Craig Nicholls’ sounding vocals. The Siegfried Sassoon seem to populate the vacuum left by 70’s prog-rock masters, especially ‘Gentle Giant’ (which, like Sassoon, are sophisticated enough to have their own literary muse in their form of François Rabelais.) Unexpected compositional twists, altering subtly in each repeat, and intelligent management of the transitions, mean that Sassoon could easily be placed into the Jazz-Fusion bargain-bucket alongside their (local) buddies Cats & cats & cats but this also means that they are forever to be placed into that difficult ‘unhummable’ slot that is reserved for the clever muso-headed brain-box crowd… so the chavs in Staines aren’t as fick as you might fink!

I instantly liked the (missing) single ‘Muscle Beach’ and that clever start with a supermarket check-out sounding beep-beep ( a little like the “Tricky” Stewart of ‘ella ‘ella fame new Beyonce track ‘Single Ladies’.)  This song envelopes a rich and fairly complex affair with a graceful conclusion very reminiscent of work by ‘The Flaming Lips’. Satisfyingly zingy elasticated chords from Adam Easton were stretched far beyond their tolerance and the frequent guitar highlights from Simon Gould reminded the crowd that they were listening to one of the few properly focussed Experimental / Psychedelic / Rock bands out there right now. It’s a shame that the B side could not be played live with a female lead singer though.

The track ‘I Galactico’ sees Chris Pratt (keyboards and lead vocals) take the band into magical territory. With Jim Carroll playing nimble bass guitar and Nick Owsianka playing steadily supporting percussion augmented by drum patterns by Chris. The smug faced crowds grunted and wriggled to that one! It was a jiggly ball of fun.

The whole Sassoon effect is spacey and neo-psychedelic with multi layered experimentations (including electro-acoustics) being the norm. The show was not (in any way) slick and could have been better managed. The performances were adequate but you get the feeling this lot prefer the studios and the rehearsal rooms to a live stage.  This band has a superior musical quality but they do seem to need some better leadership and / or  management if they want to get up to the next level.  Chris mentioned that the band had T shirts and other merch with them (but, even though I had a handful of cash in my greasy mitts I couldn’t get hold of any stuff) and he told the crowd “If you want a motorhead T shirt go to Top Man – if you want our stuff – hang around”. Yeah, I get it. You have to hang around and work for Sassoon. It is ‘thinking man’s’ music and doesn’t easily fall off the shelf and into your lap. Got it.  Give ’em a whirl.

© Neil_Mach

March 2009
Ad Pontes Staines- music arts & going out IN STAINES

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