MAGENTA + Ryan Elliott @ Arlington Arts Centre, Newbury – May 21st, 2022

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Reviewed by Paul Quinton

When Magenta previously played a show at the Arlington Arts Centre, in 2019, it was to celebrate their 20th Anniversary, and they put on an elaborate production, all filmed and recorded for the Angels and Damned release. Their return to the Arts Centre this year was also filmed and recorded, but without an anniversary or the like to celebrate, this was a comparatively scaled down show. Arlington Arts Centre, a few miles from Newbury, is a fine venue, the facilities are excellent, but what it does lack is a proper stage, the ‘performance area’ being on the same level as the front row of the seats

Unlike the previous show, there was a support, Welsh singer-songwriter RYAN ELLIOTT, playing solo tonight, but also seen at some shows as a member of the Kinky Wizards alongside Magenta drummer, Jiffy Griffiths. He began his short set with a cover of Genesis’ ‘Ripples’, which he played solo, he gave it a decent shot, but some parts didn’t really suit his voice. For his own stuff he was joined by Magenta’s rhythm section, Jiffy Griffiths and Dan Nelson on bass. These songs did have something of Kinky Wizards about them, heavy and complicated guitar riffs, the bass looping around the guitar and Jiffy really showing his full range. He’s an excellent drummer who should be more widely known. Ryan’s songs are varied, almost always with smart, witty lyrics, ‘Stars Aligned’ and the cynical ‘Liability’ definitely stood out, but in this setting at least, his voice didn’t really cut through over the music. It will be interesting to hear how the production on his forthcoming album can bring his obvious ability out.

As with the 2019 show MAGENTA’s set was to be filmed for future release, and as before the basic five piece band of Christina Booth on vocals, Rob Reed on keys, Chris Fry on guitar and the rhythm section of Jiffy Griffiths and Dan Nelson, was augmented by presence of Simon Brittlebank on percussion, Katie Axelsen on flute and Karla Powell on oboe. No Peter Jones to add his unique talents this time around, instead Kite Parade’s Andy Foster provided occasional sax and backing vocal. As the show went on it became clear that the band were had decided to pass on the props, costumes and enactments of the previous show, relying on the back projections and an imaginative light show, including lasers, to enhance the music.

The first half of the band’s set had an emphasis on some of their shorter songs, opening with ‘Glitterball’, giving it a good deal more bite than it has on record, before going into ‘Speechless’ and ‘I’m Alive’, which are always a joy to hear live. The only one of their longer songs in the first half was the poignant ‘Anger’, introduced by Chris Fry’s acoustic guitar, then ’Raw’, accompanied by the video the band made at the time, which, even with its table turning twist at the end, felt a little shocking for 2022. ‘I can still taste the latex sometimes’, Christina remarked, to everyone’s amusement. This was followed by ‘Because’, the only unreleased song in the set, recorded at Real World Studios in 2021, in memory of the late Andy Goodall, a fan of the band, a genuine lover of live music and a familiar face around the Prog scene, who passed away in 2020. The first half closed with the wonderful ‘Broken’, another shorter example of the band at their very best.

The first part of the second half highlighted the band’s most recent album. Masters of Illusion, opening with ‘Bela’, which starts off lightly, but gets progressively darker as the song goes on. Christina’s performance especially on this song was sublime, bringing out the bravado and despair in the lyrics superbly. ‘Snow’ was comparatively more lively, almost funky at times, but ‘Reach for the Moon’, took us back into the dark places, with all the musicians interlocking behind Christina’s haunting vocal. It was mesmerising. After that intense passage of new music, the band relaxed a little for the stately ‘Demons’. At Arlington there is no stage as such, just a ‘performance area,’ at the same level as the front row of seats. Chris Fry soon took advantage of this, crossing the footlights to play almost in the laps of the front row, Christina appeared to be plying an imaginary theremin behind Rob Reed’s keyboards, something not many of us will have seen before. That was typical of the relaxed atmosphere at this show, Without the pressure of the enactments and production of the previous show, the band seemed more relaxed, more ‘in the moment’, so to speak, more able to enjoy the occasion. They went back to their early days for ‘The Warning’, from their first album, Revolutions, then it was sadly time for what seems to have become the traditional closer, ‘The Lizard King’. ‘I don’t have to teach you the clapping part now, do I?’ enquired Christina. Although earlier technical issues had delayed the show, there was time for an encore, another trip to the band’s early days for an eagerly received ‘Sunshine Saviour’, then a rousing ‘Pride’ with its exhilarating instrumental finale. Somehow the band had been on stage for nearly two and a half hours, and it had genuinely flown by.

This was a superb show, perhaps more enjoyable than the first one because it was more relaxed, even with the band playing at a level close to their very best, and seeming to have enormous fun while they’re doing it. Magenta are as good a prog rock band as anybody out there these days, and are blessed by one of the very best vocalists as well. They’re playing more shows in the Autumn, including one at the Robin in early November. Not to be missed.