Review by Paul Quinton
Hayley Griffiths first came to the attention of Prog and Rock fans when she fronted Karnataka for several years, including recording the ‘Secrets of Angels’ album, as well as live recordings, but I think it’s fair to say she’s had a long and varied career outside rock, in theatre, dance and recording, even venturing into children’s music. Now she’s taken yet another new direction in fronting her own band, which is playing a short series of dates in 2019, including this gig at the Robin.
Her band includes former Karnataka members Jimmy Pallagrosi on drums and Cagri Tozluoglu on keys, plus guitarist Matthieu Spaeter and bassist Jordan Brown, and while I think it would be reasonable to state that they haven’t played a lot of shows before tonight, they already seem a fairly tight unit, as they showed during the opening to the show, where the band played a medley of songs from across Hayley’s career, including a reference to her time in ‘Riverdance’, before the lady herself took the stage for the opening song ‘Haunted’. I’m not sure if it was deliberate, but the opening part of the show was slightly marred by the sound having a good deal of echo, and not just on the vocals, although it became less noticeable as the set went on.
‘Haunted’ has a definite leaning toward symphonic rock, enough to encourage comparisons to the likes of Leaves Eyes and Edenbridge, more so when it’s followed by Karnataka’s most obvious move in that direction, ‘Because of You’. The line in the chorus when Hayley suddenly moves from ‘normal’ vocals to almost operatic soprano, almost instantaneously, still surprises, even when you’re expecting it. More Karnataka, in the shape of ‘Forbidden Dreams’, followed before the band began to concentrate on more original songs. ‘Aurora’ stood out thanks to a fine guitar solo from Matthieu Spaeter, but the middle of the set as a whole felt quite ballad-heavy, when a couple of changes of pace might have lifted it a little. Nonetheless, ‘Fairytale Lies’, perhaps partly because it reminded me of the mighty FM’s ‘Frozen Heart’, was very impressive, including the opening instrumental passage, and overall was one of the best things in the whole set.
The Steve Vai-reminiscent instrumental Mechanical Lives followed, before it gave way to an acoustic segment, that included a couple of covers, Queen’s ‘Only the Good Die Young’ and, harking back to Hayley’s history in Celtic music and the Riverdance shows, Christy Moore’s ‘Black is the Colour’, both of which gave her a chance to show even more of her impressive vocal range.
The band reconvened for ‘I Know My Love’, which was back to the symphonic rock, but there did seem to be a few eyebrows raised when this song gave way to a drum solo. It may be a personal thing, but these days drum solos just seem to be a run through of some standard patterns and fills, crossed with some audience participation, and it’s rare to hear anything original that doesn’t involve flame throwers, elevating or spinning drum risers or any other of a range of special effects. Jimmy Pallagrosi is a fine drummer, but in the Robin on a Sunday night, in front of around a hundred people, this did seem a little superfluous.
However, the reservations about that section of the set were quickly dispersed with the next song after the band came on stage, ‘Vanished’, which was arguably the highlight of the show, a compelling mix of all the influences shown in the music so far, and a terrific chorus. This, along with two more Karnataka songs to finish the set, ‘Poison Ivy’ and ‘Borderline’, both of which were born out of that band’s move toward a symphonic rock sound, were more than enough to show that this band has a lot of potential were they to continue in that direction.
There were two encores, ‘Parting Glass’ and ‘Feels Like Home’, but it was the last part of the main set that really left its impression on me. These are early days for the Hayley Griffiths Band, with only a handful of shows behind them debut album in production, but there was plenty of evidence that this could be the start of something very interesting indeed. It will be fascinating to see how they move forward from these first steps.