An irregular look at the world of Progressive Rock, by Paul Quinton
It’s been a while since my last column, unfortunately sometimes Real Life gets in the way of all this Progging about. So, what’s been happening on the UK Prog scene while our attentions have been elsewhere? Well, for a start, there have been some absolutely terrific gigs. Steve Hackett’s Genesis Revisited show at Symphony Hall, Rush being their usual stupendous selves at the LG Arena and Riverside’s phenomenal set at The Assembly in Leamington all stand out and while the conditions in the venue for the inaugural HRH Prog made it that much harder to enjoy the music, there were still some fine performances.
One thing I particularly wanted to do when I started this column was to concentrate on the ‘grassroots’ scene in the UK, and highlight some of the fine new progressive rock being made these days, but there are times when it becomes a little frustrating. Someone asked me a while back if I was going to review the ‘Stabbing a Dead Horse Tour’, a triple band bill, featuring The Fierce and The Dead, Knifeworld and Trojan Horse. While it’s exactly the sort of tour Timeless Wavelengths would normally push for all we were worth, the fact that there was no Midlands date on the tour did cause a certain pursing of the lips. We asked via Facebook why they missed the Midlands out and were told that they couldn’t find anyone to promote it. To be honest, when you consider the huge success of the Touchstone/Reasoning tour last October, which was organised and promoted by the bands themselves, as well as the way other bands have come together to co-promote tours and individual gigs, I wonder exactly what the Stabbing… tour was looking for.
This ‘avoiding’ of The Midlands is something that’s come up a few times in the past, and unfortunately it looks like something that’s not going to go away. Jon Anderson played a mere two dates in the UK, Manchester and London, on his tour this year, as did Steven Wilson, although the latter subsequently put that right by adding some more dates in the Autumn, including one at Wolverhampton Civic on October 17th, Frank Zappa’s guitarist Mike Kenneally, while playing a slightly longer tour, still managed to miss out the Midlands completely, and a nice-looking bill of Enochian Theory, The Algorithm and Tesseract also managed not to find the space between Manchester and Bristol in their atlases. There’s also the case of Threshold, who played not one, but two separate London dates, three months apart, as their sole contribution to the UK live scene in the first half of 2013. All this becomes even more surprising when you consider that we are supposedly fortunate enough to have the country’s best venue in the Midlands, at least according to the ‘Prog’ magazine poll, in which The Robin claimed the prize, even forcing last year’s winner, The Peel in Kingston on Thames, down into third place. Hearty congratulations to Mike Hamblett and all the Robin of course, along with loud cries of ‘Keep Up the Good Work’. Here’s to many more great nights of music there in the future.
OK, let’s put away the soapbox for this month and look at the other things that are happening. Going back to Touchstone, their new album, ‘Oceans Of Time,’ is imminent and to promote it they’re going to be touring on another juicy double bill, this time with the Von Hertzen Brothers, whose most recent album ‘Nine Lives’ is deservedly nominated for ‘Album Of The Year’ in the Prog Awards. The tour reaches The Robin (of course!) on October 27th and should be an absolutely cracking show. I must also mention Touchstone’s Rob Cottingham, who solo album ‘Captain Blue’ has been released this year, and a very nice record it is too. He’s chosen to use guest musicians, rather than fall back on his Touchstone band-mates, and with contributions from (bows head respectfully) Steve Hackett and the wonderful Heather Findlay, it’s well worth checking out.
Touchstone and the Von Hertzens both played the inaugural HRH Prog Festival in April, which, apart from the limitations of the venue (as Midlands Rocks described in our review), was a highly successful and enjoyable weekend with some fine, fine music, so I’m pleased that there is to be another, although the organisers have, probably wisely, decided to use a different venue. The experiment of using the Magna Centre in Rotherham was not a success and as the standard HRH festivals are usually held at an out of season holiday camp, which appears to work really well, for HRH Prog 2, we’ll be off the Hafan Y Mor Holiday Park in North Wales on March 20-23 next year. Early names on the bill include Fish, Focus and The Hawklords with plenty more to come.
The only other prog festival between now and the end of 2013 that we’re aware of is the longstanding Summer’s End Festival on October 4-6. Taking place at its traditional home in Lydney in Gloucestershire, it’s usually a very relaxed and friendly event. This year’s highlights include the return of the French band Lazuli, who caused a considerable stir on their last visit to these shores, as well as Focus, Landmarq and DeeExpus, plus Ravens and Lullabies, the collaboration between Gordon Giltrap and Oliver Wakeman. This might not be the biggest or most prestigious festival out there, but it’s a well-run event, put together for the love of the music. Always an enjoyable weekend, without exception.
Line-up changes in some of Timeless Wavelength’s favourite bands have been a bit of a trend in recent weeks. Earlier in the year, Panic Room announced a parting of the ways with guitarist and founder member Paul Davies. While their recent dates had Morpheus Rising’s Pete Harwood on guitar, the band are currently recording their first album with local Swansea musician Adam O’Sullivan filling Davies’ role, and we should get the chance to see him action, as well as hearing the new material, when the band play their now traditional Christmas show at The Robin on December 1st.
Panic Room’s Anne Marie Helder has also been involved in Mostly Autumn for the last few years, contributing flute, keyboards, guitar and backing vocals, alongside fellow Roomie Gavin Griffiths on drums, but it was a bit of a surprise to hear that both Anne-Marie and Gavin had given up their role in The Mostlies owing to the weight of their various other commitments. Alex Cromarty from Heather Findlay’s band will fill in in the rhythm section, while multi-instrumentalist Hannah Hird, last seen accompanying Ellie Goulding, will have the formidable task of stepping in for Anne Marie.
Meanwhile, Timeless Wavelengths faves The Reasoning are also going through some changes, as the estimable keyboard wizard Tony Turrell has decided to leave the band. A replacement is already lined up in the form of Robert Gerrard, who may be familiar to some of you thanks to his work in Think Floyd and Reckless Heart, and he’s also worked with former Karnataka singer Lisa Fury in the duo Spiral Skies. The band are currently in the process of writing and recording their fifth album, which is due in early 2014.
On a sadder note, we were disappointed to hear that Stolen Earth had decided to disband. Their debut album ‘A Far Cry From Home’ ’was well worth a listen, and they were a highly enjoyable live band. Singer Heidi Widdop has now announced her involvement in a new band, Cloud Atlas, and it will be interesting to hear her distinctive voice in a new project.
Away from all this to-ing and fro-ing, and looking forward to the live scene over the next few months, there’s some very tasty stuff on the horizon. As well as the aforementioned Mr. Wilson bringing his ‘The Raven That Refused To Sing’ tour to the Civic, October also brings the reformed Camel to the Midlands. Having been put on hiatus due to Andy Latimer’s long illness, they’re celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the ‘Snow Goose’ album, which they’ll play in full on the tour, along with more songs from the band’s lengthy history (and if ‘Lady Fantasy’ isn’t one of those, this column will be having something to say.) The band will be at the Wulfrun in Wolverhampton on October 20th.. Looking further ahead, I’m sure a lot of people will be looking forward the return of the mighty Dream Theater. Their second album with drummer Mike Mangini, imaginatively titled ‘Dream Theater’, is imminent, and the band will be making another visit to Wolverhampton Civic on their World Tour next year.
The Robin is also living up to its reputation with some highly attractive shows over the autumn. Following the welcome return of Magenta on September 1st, promoting their new album ‘The 27 Club’, Sweden’s Moon Safari play on September 15th, supported by the ever reliable Also Eden, The Hawklords are due on October 9th, followed by fellow veterans Focus on the 14th and the aforementioned Touchstone/Von Hertzen Brothers bill on the 27th. Should be something for everyone there.
Finally this time around, a sign of the increased profile Prog seems to be enjoying these days. In one of our earlier columns, we mentioned the sterling job Shaun Geraghty does with his Prog Mill programme on Stafford Hospital Radio (available to listen on the Interweb here). Now some of the big boys are getting in on the act. Planet Rock, no less, now also available on FM radio on 105.2 in the West Midlands as well as DAB, now have their own Prog show. ‘One Man And His Prog’, hosted by Darren Reddick, begins at midnight on Sunday nights and is repeated on Thursday nights. The programme only lasts an hour, but plays a nice mix of old and new, as does The Prog Magazine show on Team Rock Radio. This is a 2 hour show starting at 6 on Sunday evenings. Team Rock are part of the group that recently bought out the Classic Rock publications, and some of their presenters are quite well-known music journalists, such as Phil Wilding who hosts the Prog Show.
And that’s it for this time around, and in the immortal words of Geddy Lee, ‘we hope to see you again sometime down the road.’