Review by Paul Quinton photos by Russ Powney
The original Trinity Live concept was for a tour featuring three of the very best bands on the current UK Prog scene; Magenta, Touchstone and The Reasoning. Unfortunately the plans were set back when Magenta’s lead singer, Christina Booth was diagnosed with breast cancer last Autumn, and obviously there was no way she could commit to tour while undergoing treatment. However, the bands weren’t ready to let the concept go, and with a date still booked at The Assembly, the idea was born to turn the event into a charity show, incorporating the original bands, along with others, as well as an auction and raffle, all proceeds going to cancer charities. The idea soon took off, sponsorship was obtained from Prog magazine, and some quite amazing stuff began to be pledged for the auction.
So, on one of the warmest days of the year, a healthy representation of the UK’s Progerati gathered at the Assembly for what turned out to be, overall, one of the most memorable shows I’ve seen for a while. Pleasingly there was a decent sized queue outside the venue when the doors opened, ready for the opening act on the bill; former Pallas frontman ALAN REED, with an acoustic set. Having to play so early in the day was probably a disadvantage for him, although someone always has to go first, and the background noise of people entering the hall, ordering the first one of the day, as well as the now sadly habitual hum of conversation can’t have helped matters. Each time I’ve seen him since he left Pallas, it’s been in this acoustic format, and it would be really good to hear him play with a proper band again. Nonetheless, it’s always good to hear that terrific voice live.
After that it was the turn of MATT STEVENS to entertain the crowd. As well as his role in the Fierce And The Dead, he also has a flourishing solo career with his solo guitar work, in which he constructs multi-layered melodic pieces by looping several different guitar parts. It’s fascinating to listen to, creating some highly complex yet elegant pieces of work, but to be frank it’s not that visually exciting. His album Lucid develops his method with the aid of several guest musicians, but playing solo there’s often not enough happening on stage to prevent the audience from becoming distracted.
The published running order meant that Heather Findlay was due up next, but as her stated start time passed, and Magenta began to set up, it was clear that something had changed. Eventually it was announced that she had been delayed by traffic, and that Magenta would now be starting earlier than planned. When Trinity Live as a charity event was originally being put together, it was intended that the band’s Rob Reed and Chris Fry would play their own set, but to the delight of everyone, Christina announced that she wanted to perform and that this would be a proper MAGENTA set. Under the circumstances it should be the case that treating this as a normal festival set seems superfluous, but it has to be said that the band slipped back into being a live unit with ease.
Opening with a brief instrumental that sounded uncommonly like Yes’ ‘Cinema’, Christina entered to a huge cheer and proceeded to show everyone present that she remains one of the best front persons on the UK circuit. The band chose an interesting set list, with a single nod to their last album, in the form of ‘The Lizard King’, and two songs from their Seven album, which, if the original Trinity’ idea had come to fruition, they would have played in its entirety. The two songs they did play, ‘Gluttony’ and set closer ‘Pride’ are two of the most popular songs on the album, but I wonder how coincidental it is that they also include some lyrics that are fairly life-affirming and talk about positivity in the face of adversity.
The fourth song they played was a cover, a duet between Christina and Alan Reed, of Peter Gabriel’s ‘Don’t Give Up’. The relevance of the song was obvious, and this turned out to be one of the most moving and emotional moments I’ve ever seen on a stage. I don’t have to say that it was quite beautifully sung, and played, but it visibly and profoundly affected everyone present. Reed himself was almost breaking down by the end of the song, and when they reached the line about having friends, and Christina gestured as if to embrace everyone in the crowd, even now, writing this review a few days after the event, it’s still possible to feel moved by the emotion of the moment. As well as the band as a whole played, and indeed everyone else on the bill, it’s that single performance that will be the abiding memory of the first Trinity Live.
HEATHER FINDLAY had finally made it to The Assembly, with a rumour circling the hall that she’d changed into her stage gear in the car. Her appearance came shortly after the news of her role in a new project, entitled Mantra Vega, with such luminaries as Dave Kerzner (Sound Of Contact) and Dave Kilminster (Asia, Roger Waters) which would have been something of a coup had the Trinity team been able to arrange their debut appearance, but as it was, this was a necessarily shortened set, accompanied by her longstanding musical collaborator, Chris Johnson. For various reasons, she hasn’t done much live work in the last couple of years, but you wouldn’t have guessed from today’s performance, because her voice sounded absolutely terrific in this setting. No doubt employing the principle of giving the people what they want, her set was built almost entirely around her time in Mostly Autumn, with no dips into her work away from that band, but she largely chose songs that the Mostlies haven’t performed since she left, which meant a welcome chance to hear fine songs like ‘Gaze’, ‘Blue Light’ and an almost ethereally beautiful ‘Silver Glass’. The set ended far too quickly, but it was great to hear her singing again, and the sooner this is a regular occurrence the better.
It was pleasing that the Trinity team gave a young, local band a slot on the bill at an event such as this, something I think all festivals, regardless of size or duration, should feel compelled to do. Tonight it was a chance for LOST IN VEGAS to show their stuff. Although they had clear prog-metal overtones, they were a lot heavier than the rest of the bill and often ventured into a more modern rock territory. It was good that the crowd gave them a chance, which isn’t something that would happen in the majority of similar events, and I think a lot were impressed by what the band had to offer. Definitely worth watching out for.
THE REASONING had been off the road for a while, in fact since their spot at HRH Prog in April 2013, their only previous show had been a warm-up in support to Lifesigns a week before Trinity Live. In the interim, they’d undergone a line-up change with Robert Gerrard replacing Tony Turrell on keyboards, and freshened up the vocal department by adding the fresh-faced Sebastian Flynn-Goze. The previous week had obviously served to loosen some of the rust, as this was a far smoother and confident performance, with the band beginning to fire on all cylinders. It was obvious the band were thrilled to be back playing live, as they tackled their set with some gusto, and there were a lot of smiles and banter on stage. The extra singer allowed them to make a welcome trip into the back catalogue for the epic ‘A Musing Dream’, with guitarist Keith Hawkins also excelling, and the band generated the first community singing of the day with set-closer ‘Aching Hunger’, with the band joined by Moo from Touchstone to help conduct the choir. The set drew from most parts of their back catalogue, and the hour they were onstage passed by in what seemed like a flash. A new album is due in the Autumn, along with a much anticipated string of dates around the country, including the Robin, and the reception they received at this show suggests there will be a lot of people glad to see them back in action.
After The Reasoning finished their set, bassist Matt Cohen returned to help conduct the raffle. A lot of people had donated some very nice prizes, and even if the more enticing items were kept back for the auction later, a raffle that can include donations from the likes of Magnum, Deep Purple, Peter Gabriel, The Darkness, Marillion and Gordon Giltrap, as well as from Trinity participants Touchstone and The Reasoning, is a little special. The organisers have yet to announce how much the day as a whole raised, but there were an awful lot of tickets in the barrel from which the winners were drawn.
The raffle out of the way, it was time for TOUCHSTONE’S set. The set list was a little more ambitious than some of the other on the day, with two new songs in the set, as well as featuring their last album, ‘Oceans Of Time’, heavily. Musically the band were in good form, and although he’s still not 100%, it was good to see their popular bassist Moo back in action. There are still reservations about the newer material because of Rob Cottingham’s comparatively lesser contribution on vocal and keyboards compared to their older stuff, and while Kim Seviour works really hard at presentation, it never looks entirely natural, which detracts from the overall performance slightly. It was an oddly structured set, although they played the first encore of the day, with what was apparently the main set ending after a mere forty minutes, it probably wasn’t entirely spontaneous, as Moo and drummer Henry Rogers didn’t even bother leaving the stage. As Kim said, ‘the lamest encore ever’. It was also nearly as long as the main set, featuring the 12-minute ‘Wintercoast’, and an extended jam on their cover of ‘Mad World’, which included guest player John Mitchell from Arena on guitar. The band are preparing to release their new live DVD, ‘Live Inside Outside’ and will return to the Robin in June as part of a brief tour to promote it.
After Touchstone’s set, there was an obvious air of anticipation around the hall as preparations for the auction took place. Although it was to have been conducted by Prog magazine editor Jerry Ewing, in the end it was Ben from the Assembly staff, aided and abetted, if that’s the right phrase, by Matt and Rachel from The Reasoning. With lots ranging from a lifetime pass to the Summers End Festival to signed items from the mighty Rush, personally donated by Geddy Lee, and including donations from The Pineapple Thief, Pendragon, Steve Hackett, Yes, Steven Wilson, Flying Colours, Rodney Matthews and Marillion, it wasn’t surprising when sealed bids were announced, although bidding from the floor was pleasingly brisk. The big money went on the Rush items, a signed DVD and assorted promotional material, and Steven Wilson’s donation of a signed special edition of his Insurgentes album, but the real entertainment came when the manager of Flying Colours, clearly impressed by what was happening, came on stage to add some extra items to their donation, and when Rodney Matthews himself helped conduct the bidding for his signed lithographs. All in all, the auction raised nearly £2000 for the causes, a tribute to everyone who took part.
So finally to headliners ARENA, who these days are almost a something of a Prog supergroup, with Paul Manzi (ex IQ), John Mitchell (It Bites, Frost*), Mick Pointer (Marillion) and Clive Nolan (Pendragon, Caamora, Nolan/Wakeman) representing a fair cross section of the cream of UK prog over the last couple of decades. For all the undoubted quality on the rest of the bill, Arena certainly looked the part of headliners, with a more confidence and swagger than we’d seen the rest of the day. Vocalist Paul Manzi in particular looked every inch the frontman, but John Mitchell also looked be enjoying himself and revelling in the occasion. They gave us a selection of songs from across their career, including a majestic ‘Crack In The Ice,’ hinted at how well their new album was coming along along and generally brought the whole event to a highly satisfying close.
Overall, this wasn’t only one of the most enjoyable and fulfilling gigs I’ve been to for quite a while, but as far as events built around Progressive rock, or however you want to describe it, I can’t remember a better day out. While the circumstances weren’t the best, everything about it, the bands, the music, the organisation, the atmosphere, whichever facet you look at, everything seemed to fall into place and make it a thoroughly memorable day, and straight into my ‘Gigs of The Year’ shortlist. So successful was it, the Trinity team have already announced Trinity Live II, to be held in May 2015. If it’s anywhere near as good as this, it will be the first essential date in next year’s diary. If anyone still feels moved to giving to the respective charities, the Just Giving site will be accepting donations for a while yet.