Saturday, 19 November 2011

13th November 2011: Opeth & Pain of Salvation: O2 Academy, Brixton

And so we come to yet another of the many gigs which Karin and I have booked in a huge ticket grabbing frenzy some months ago. Is it me, or is just about everyone on tour most of the time now? Not that I'm complaining- it's just that eventually you run out of money, or (as in this evening's case), you book so many gigs in a short space of time that by the time the latter ones come around, you can't be bothered to go any more. I remember the good old days when I bought a ticket for one gig a year and then spent the next 10 months waiting for it to come round. It was like Christmas, only with fewer sprouts.

Case in point, I'm actually starting to blog this from my phone, whilst sitting on a train on my way to another gig. This is the only way I can keep up. Such are the trials of the modern music fan.

Anyway, as we've already established, I'm ever so slightly gigged out, and Karin and I have also spent a very nice day walking about in Greenwich with my sister Helen, at the end of which I nod off on the sofa. This is hardly the correct start to a rocktastic evening.

But the tickets have been bought, and there's the small matter of getting Karin to her much-anticipated first Pain of Salvation gig, so there's no way we're going home. Arriving at the Brixton Academy (another O2 buyout), we are amused beyond belief to note that the "O2 Priority Queue" is actually longer than the other, non corporate sellout queue. We chuckle mightily for 25 minutes while we watch the other poor saps disappearing round the corner into what is by now a never ending line of gig goers.

And then it becomes apparent that we are standing in the ticket collection only queue. We briefly contemplate waiting and getting to the front of this line and then playing dumb and seeing if they will let us in anyway, but decide it's not worth the risk, so we wearily head round to the other queue, which is for both O2 priority customers and regular ones. So, huge priority those lucky O2 customers got, then.

By now the snake of long haired, black clothed metallers is stretching all the way down the long side of the venue, and indeed when we turn the corner, we realise that it also stretches along the short end and round the next corner too. We are just considering carrying on round yet another corner and getting back in the ticket collection queue when we eventually find the end and take our place between a bunch of hardcore metal fans and a guy who seems to be completely stoned, who when we apologise for pushing in front of him, says "It's ok man, I just want to chill."

In actual fact, things don't turn out too badly- we're inside within 30 minutes and manage to get a reasonable standing spot thanks to the eminently sensible architect who decided that if several thousand people were going to stand on the floor and watch something at the other end of the room, it might help to angle the floor downwards. Full marks that man. Or woman, let's not be sexist.

Of course, they didn't also think that it might not be the world's best idea to put the only toilets right at the front of the venue either side of the stage, thereby forcing you to barge your way through the entire crowd to go and relieve yourself of the £2.95 bottle of water they've sold you earlier. Oh well, can't think of everything.

We're not standing there long when the lights dim and some weird troll-like voices start singing in Swedish. Most people look bemused but Karin starts giggling and then pockets of the audience also start to guffaw loudly... Apparently the troll people are calling us all the names under the sun, and there are all kinds of weird jokes about mustard gas and things, which I'm sure make sense if you only get 2 hours of Daylight in winter. When the singing stops, there's slightly bemused applause and then Pain of Salvation kick off their set.

Pain of Salvation started out life as a Prog Metal band creating bizarre concept albums about all kinds of topics from the history of the world to war, sex, and the environment. Wikipedia says that "Their sound is characterised by powerful, accentuated guitar work, broad vocal range, abrupt switching between heavy and calm passages, intense syncopation, and polyrhythmic experimentation." - and I definitely don't disagree with that, up until the last couple of years. Their last two albums, 'Road Salt One' and 'Road Salt Two', whilst again being concept albums, have toned down both the prog and the metal to the point that they are now have a more blues rock-ish sound and focus more on conventional song structures. One of their new songs, Road Salt, was very nearly Sweden's entry to last year's Eurovision song contest. Yes, really.

With the new sound comes a new look. Frontman and PoS mastermind Daniel Gildenlöw is now almost unrecognisable from the 6th form computer nerd who some of you may have seen playing in the shadows on Transatlantic's 'Live In Europe' DVD from 2001.

Mr Gildenlöw, with what Karin describes as "his Bon Jovi hair"

These days, Daniel looks every inch the rock star and parades around the stage like he really believes it, which, when you can sing like he can, I think you're entitled to do. With an incredible range and power, he's a truly impressive vocalist whether he's belting out a rocker like 'Linoleum' or going back to the more introspective growling of the haunting 'Ashes', one of their early classics. With great hair comes great confidence, apparently, as he tries to work up the crowd a bit by getting us to cheer for something, rating our efforts according to the country he thinks we've surpassed in our loudness. Our first attempt warrants a "Good evening, Sweden", but unfortunately we never really make it beyond "Hello, Germany!"

Not that the rest of the band are shy and retiring, oh no. The second guitarist, for instance, rips off his shirt after a couple of numbers and flings his dreadlocks around whilst jumping on and off the speakers. 

Semi-naked dreadlock guy not pictured.
With the majority of the set being taken from the two Road Salt albums, there's not much for the hardcore metallers present to get their teeth into, with the possible exception of the always-excellent 'Fandango' from my favourite PoS album, 'Remedy Lane'. This may explain, but definitely does not excuse, the constant chattter of Opeth fans throughout the entire gig, even prompting Daniel to whisper "Shhhhhhh" whilst trying to kick off a quiet number.

And, with barely any warning at all, the band finish one number and then they're suddenly leaving the stage, almost at if they're not ready to stop playing but someone has pulled the plug. I do hope this isn't the case - as they've definitely not been playing long enough for my liking, and UK gigs are a huge rarity. Hopefully they'll be back for a headline slot next year some time.

And so to Opeth. I've actually been concerned about this evening's gig because I am not the world's biggest fan of metal, and Opeth are most definitely a metal band with proper thrashing and 'Cookie Monster' vocals and everything. Or are they? This year's 'Heritage' album definitely sees the band moving away from this overtly metal sound in favour of a more retro, prog feel with proper vocals, mellotrons and acoustic guitars (influenced partly, I'm sure, by frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt working with Steven Wilson.)

It should come as no surprise, then, that this evening's gig, where the band play the vast majority of 'Heritage', is a much more sedate affair than previous tours - however, a surprise it does seem to be to much of the crowd. 

We've retreated slightly by now, fearing a proper moshpit. Sadly such a thing never happens.

They kick off with a couple of tracks from the new album, including opener 'The Devil's Orchard' and people seem to be enjoying it, but after a while I hear a few people shout "Louder!", and the level of chat starts to escalate. Things get back on track with a song from 1999's 'Still Life' album, which goes down well, and things start to get a bit more metal (still no growling or moshing, though). Unfortunately the man with the world's biggest hair decides to come and stand right in front of me at this point, and I have no choice but to walk away and find a spot right out of the action, for fear of punching him in his annoyingly coiffed head. 

After a couple more tracks from 'Heritage', there's a quite rocking song which I do enjoy but for some reason the band insert a drum solo into it which goes on for ages, and as Karin points out, he's not Neil Peart. Once this is over, the band decide to take it down a notch, stools come out, and there's an acoustic interlude. I have to hand it to Mikael Åkerfeldt and his sense of humour - as soon as the acoustic guitar comes out, he starts strumming the chords to George Michael's 'Faith' and somehow gets the entire crowd singing along with him. "I only played a couple of chords - you knew all the words!" he ribs us when we all collapse in fits of giggles.

All together now... "Kum-ba-yah my lord..."

Evidently this section of the gig completely befuddles the Opeth fans because their chatter goes into overdrive. At one point (during a rather nice song which Mike introduces as being from a video game soundtrack from 1994), Karin actually feels moved to go over and ask some guys to shut up so she can hear the band playing, at which point they get angry and I end up stepping in to tell them to back off (not that I actually need to for her sake, I just feel I want to, since I don't think I've ever defended any woman's honour in my life and I think it's about time.)

This puts me in an even worse mood than giant afro-man and, at this point, the band could play Boney M songs for the rest of the night and I probably wouldn't notice. There are a couple more from 'Heritage', which are enjoyable enough, and then Karin's favourite Opeth track, 'A Fair Judgement' from 2002's 'Deliverance' album, which most definitely gets the crowd going at last, but by the time this is over, we're ready to head to the back of the hall, from where we watch a little bit of 'Haxprocess' from 'Heritage' and decide to go and beat the rush for the tube.

On the way to the station, I notice a few other Opeth fans doing the same thing, and they all seem a bit subdued. "I was a bit disappointed", says one. Honestly, so was I. Whilst I'm not really a metal person, I've been looking forward to seeing what it's like to be in amongst the crowd at a metal gig when the band are really going for it - and those moments have been quite few and far between this evening. I can't help wondering whether, in picking all 'clean vocals' tracks from their catalogue to go with the feel of the new material, they've denied themselves the chance to play some of their best songs. 

And I was really intrigued to see Mikael doing this kind of thing live and up close, even if I'd only have stood about 3 minutes of it before running, screaming, for my Phil Collins albums.

Monday, 14 November 2011

11th November 2011: David Cross Band - The Peel, Kingston

Okay, I know it's only been a couple of days since I posted my last review, but back in real life, by Friday night it's been a full 11 days since my last gig. Things are so bad that I'm starting to get withdrawal symptoms - accompanied an uncontrollable urge to pogo around my living room.

Luckily, Facebook comes to the rescue and reminds me that just around the corner at the wonderful Peel in Kingston, there's a night of fabulous entertainment awaiting us, as there so often is. I like to tell people that proximity to the Peel was not a factor in moving to our current location, but that's a big lie which I'm sure nobody believes. Still, at least we only visit the main venue and not the dodgy place around the back, of which sometimes we are afforded a tantalising glimpse whilst ordering drinks in the bar.

It being a Friday, Karin and I have to work, and in addition we both end up working late, so unfortunately dinner takes precedence over seeing support band Credo, who we've seen at the Summer's End festival a few weeks previously in any case. After a bit of umming and ahhing, the chosen venue is Byron burger restaurant, primarily because they promise 'Proper Burgers' - although I'm not entirely sure that they ever explain what their competitors do which is such a crime against burger propriety. Perhaps they use Fairy liquid as relish, or make their buns out of tungsten. To be fair, it actually does knock spots off our local Gourmet Burger Kitchen, so perhaps they have a point.

After such a heavy dinner, a walk up to the Peel is well needed, and besides, it's always fun to watch the transformation of affluent Kingston into the more down-to-earth suburb of Norbiton as one passes the local landmarks of the Fighting Cocks pub, the upturned telephone boxes outside Wilkinsons, and the bizarre fish sculpture by the side of the road, which someone has helpfully designated as the entry point to Norbiton by manoeuvring an empty can of Special Brew into its jaws.

Once we arrive at the venue, we meet up with some familiar faces including James Allen with lady friend in tow - he tries his best to pretend that he doesn't know any of us prog nerds, but gets accosted and interrogated as soon as she nips to the bar. We're also pleased to see that he's brought his notebook because, as Karin points out, rather like trees falling in forests, if James isn't there to take notes at a gig, it probably doesn't happen.

And so, relatively quickly for me, we come to the music! The David Cross Band is a band led by David Cross (no, really), a superb Electric Violinist who played with King Crimson for several years in the 1970s and contributed to three of their most seminal albums, 'Larks Tongues in Aspic', 'Starless and Bible Black', and 'Red'. I wasn't actually aware that he had a band at all, however Frost* drummer and all-round percussion maestro Craig Blundell has been their drummer for a good few years now, so when he posts to Facebook that there'll be a one-off UK gig following a European tour, we immediately decide to go and check it out.

I'm not familiar with David's solo work at all, so have no idea what to expect. Will he have had a falling out with Robert Fripp along the way and refuse to play anything from his KC days? (There seems to be around a 80% chance of this having happened to any given King Crimson member, from what I gather.) Will the solo stuff be of interest to a Crimson fan? Will Blunders do his infamous demonstration of jazz drumming at any point?

Oh yeah, there's going to be more rubbish iPhone photography here -
mostly because this seems to have been the least photographed Peel gig
 of all time. Not one digital SLR down at the front - what's that all about?

The band takes the stage and David starts off the show by himself, with what sounds like some kind of classical violin piece that I can't quite place, but then it segues into something rather darker and the rest of the band joins in - and several jaws drop in unison. It's a unique setup as far as I know - dark, heavy rock music, sometimes with riffs approaching metal, but with electric violin taking the place (for the most part) of where a lead guitarist would normally be widdling away. And he doesn't just play the violin in a conventional fashion, no, he also makes it sound like lead guitar, then like something more electronic, and then like a radio being tuned in. Then he's frantically sawing away at it like a man possessed. I'd like to see Nigel Kennedy try that.

As for the rest of the band, there's some seriously meaty riffing from guitarist Paul Clark, wonderful keyboard textures from Alex Hall, and some very impressive navigation around a 6 (yes, six!) string bass guitar by Mick Paul. On vocals, Jinian Wilde, who looks so much like my ex's dad that I do a double take when he walks on stage and wonder if he's come along to do some soldering on a defective piece of kit - but as soon as he opens his mouth to sing, the sheer power of his voice on the extremely challenging material makes me forget all about this. Until now, apparrently. All in all, a very impressive band.

And I know I shouldn't, but I have to single out Craig Blundell on drums as particularly impressive (and not just because there's a good chance he might read this.) Having been utterly blown away by his ability to play electro / drum and bass-ish beats live at last year's Frost* gigs, I cannot believe that he can also play riffs which verge on metal, jazz-prog sections in what he describes as "time signatures within time signatures", and out-Bruford Bruford in the "hitting everything in sight and still keeping perfect time" stakes. I'm often tempted to book him for a drum lesson, except that I feel like it'd be rather like asking Jenson Button to take me out in a Micra with L-plates on.

Blunders in a rare shot where his face is not being sliced
 in two by the emmental cymbal (yes, it's really full of holes.)

So, that's the band, but what use is a band of great musicians without anything good to play? Yes, Dream Theater, I'm looking at you. (I mean 'Dream Theater, I'm looking at you'. I'm not looking at Yes. Apart from perhaps that rubbish 'Tormato' album. That was pants.) Luckily, the David Cross band appear to have rather a lot of good music up their collective sleeves. 

Whilst doing some Googling for this review, I came across this review of David's last album by Robert Fripp (oh, so apparently they are still talking, what are the chances?):

"Good album! It continues a line of the work we did together in 1973 that no-one else has quite followed."

This is exactly what I was about to say, so thanks, Bob, for stealing my thunder. I'm actually struck by almost exactly the same thought during the gig - that this is what King Crimson might sound like now if they'd carried on with the same line-up after the 'Red' album rather than breaking up and getting back together in the 80s with the (admittedly awesome) Talking Heads-ish 'Discipline'. There are plenty of angular, metallic riffs of the kind familiar from 'Red', or 'Larks' Tongues in Aspic', and then there are the slower, more melodic numbers which are a little reminiscent of tracks like 'Fallen Angel'. 

I'm afraid I really can't tell you what they play, except that one of the tracks is, brilliantly, called 'Spiderboy' which makes me immediately think both of Spiderpig, and of this clip from Father Ted. And neither of these are bad things, obviously. 

And many of the songs are introduced as being from the new album, so that immediately goes on the mental wishlist (to be moved to the real wishlist once it actually exists.) 

But, I suspect the highlight for many, judging by the way some people's crazy 7/8 dancing ramps up at these points, are the 3 King Crimson tracks which we get treated to. 'Exiles' from the 'Larks' Tongues' album is a song which David announces that the band have turned into their own over the years, and judging by tonight's performance he's not wrong. An ambient-electronic type opening introduces the song before it gets into more familiar territory, and then an extended instrumental jam outtro also takes it to new places. I later find this performance of it from Italy 4 years ago, which is similar albeit not as good (no Blundell, you see.)

The gig ends in style with a fairly straight rendition of 'Starless' from 'Red', but then who needs to mess with a song this good? Once again, the entire band impresses, and the track ends with an amazing instrumental freakout before they leave the stage to huge applause.

Bizarrely enough, half the audience seem to have forgotten about the concept of encores because they immediately head for the exit after the band leave the stage, but those lucky ones who stick around are treated to a blistering rendition of '21st Century Schizoid Man', which is completely unexpected given that it's a track from before Mr Cross's stint in Crimson. But who cares about that, it's another tour de force from the entire band, and there's even more prog-dancing, furious riffing and Spiderpigging. OK, maybe not the Spiderpigging.

After the gig, there's just time to visit Nellie at the Merch Desk, then a quick chat with Mr Blundell during which Karin apologises for the conduct of her entire country (or something like that) and I tell him I thought his T-shirt was Darth Vader playing a digeridoo. I wish it had been- that would be a great T-shirt.

Disappearing off into the night, we find the gig was so blistering that the door to the bar has steamed up, and someone has decided to graffiti it with semi-slanderous mist-writing about Peel doorman George. 

So Karin decides to finish it off nicely.

It's a thoroughly enjoyable evening and a great reminder of why it's sometimes worth taking a punt on something you don't know that much about. I honestly hope the Peel continues to support live music by putting on the variety of acts that they do, and I hope its clientèle continue to support it in this way. Because if it ever disappears, I know I'll miss it. Especially its cuddly lovely doorman.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

31st October 2011: Steven Wilson - 02 Shepherds Bush Empire

And so to the last of 4 gigs in what is quite possibly the best extended weekend of live music I've ever experienced. In the interests of getting this one written up before I go to my next gig this Friday night, maybe we'll just cut right to it on this occasion (and besides, nobody needs to hear about our drive back down the M40 from Stratford, or the afternoon I spent cleaning the bathroom. But if you want to, feel free to leave me a comment and I'll get right on it.)

The last gig I have lined up for my musical marathon is the last night of Steven Wilson's first solo tour, at the Shepherds Bush Empire in London. (Oh, alright, the 02 Shepherds Bush Empire - *spit*) 

Karin and I arrive an hour or so before doors open, since the only tickets I've been able to get are in the vertigo-inducing level 3 balcony and from previous experience I know that we really don't want to be stuck at the back of this without a seat. It proves to be a wise choice, as the queue soon builds up behind us, full of people with similar previous tales of woe. Demand for the gig tickets is evidently quite high, as the normally furtive ticket touts are brazenly walking up and down the queue, pestering us for spares. I'm about to tell yet another one to sod off when I suddenly recognise a familiar beard and notice that he's trying to thrust something into my hand rather than take away my precious ticket - why, it's Matt Stevens and his bundle of flyers!

I always feel sorry for poor old Matt, he frequently seems to be outside gigs that I go to rather than inside them, and I half want to buy him a ticket (and maybe a warm meal and a cup of tea), but he explains that tonight he has to get in and out because not only is his wife about to give birth to his first born any minute, but their cat has also gone missing and he needs to go out in search of poor kitty when he gets home. (Luckily, I find out a few days later that Alfie has returned safe and well. No such luck for baby Stevens #1, who is at the time of writing still incarcerated.)  It's a very quick chat, as he needs to be earning his living rather than wasting his time chatting to people who've already bought everything he's ever produced, but it's always nice to see Matt out there doing his thing, making new converts.

At last, the doors are opened (thank Christ, I can hear you all say) and we run up the 13 flights of stairs to our seats as quickly as humanly possible. Which is honestly not very quickly, given that I haven't been to the gym for a few days, and the fact that the climb seems to be overtaking the 'Death Arrete' route up Snowdon as my most challenging piece of mountaineering to date. We jostle for a good 3rd row centre spot, put our knees up around our ears, and get ready for the evening's entertainment.

This is not the Death Arrete. In fact I can't find reference to one
anywhere on the internet. I'm starting to suspect that our 6th form teachers
 were deliberately trying to scare the crap out of us.

Now, in the interests of disclosure I should probably mention that I'm a huge fan of Steven Wilson in all (well, most) of his guises, so the likelihood of this review being completely impartial is fairly tiny. So if that bothers you, well, go and read some YouTube comments - those guys hate everything. Yup, I've been a fan of Steven's since buying the Porcupine Tree album 'Lightbulb Sun' in 2000 (from Our Price Records in Ramsgate - remember them? *Sigh*), and since then I've collected all the PT albums, seen them live 4 times (nothing compared to Karin's 17), and also got into Blackfield and No-Man, seeing them both live this year.

So, with 'Grace for Drowning', Steven's second solo album, easily landing in my top 3 albums of 2011, it's a fairly good bet that I'm going to enjoy this gig. For his first solo tour, it would have been easy for Steven to play a few solo tracks, and then please the crowd with some Porcupine Tree and No-Man songs, but we've already been warned via his Facebook page that this will not be happening - and this is probably a wise decision. 'Grace for Drowning' and 2008's 'Insurgentes' are quite different in many ways to the Porcupine Tree sound, and both set out a very particular sound and image which Steven seems to want to stick to for the whole evening. Even down to the support act, which, if we're being honest, is a curtain. Ok, I put that on my Facebook for a cheap laugh, but allow me to elaborate a little.

Another one of my quality gig photos. To be fair, it was very dark in there.

At 8pm on the dot, the lights go down and everyone is quiet, expecting a support band - or maybe the gig itself to start. A curtain across the front of the stage is lit up with a projection of what looks like a dimly lit church, with several ghostly looking figures sitting facing away from the audience. Meanwhile, a low drone starts playing. A few minutes later, when the exact same image and the exact same drone are still playing, people start chatting amongst themselves and wondering what's going on. Then, without warning, after about 10 minutes, the scene on the screen changes, and there's another ghostly figure standing on a beach staring out to sea - except that this time, if you're playing close attention, it's a video, with waves breaking on the beach and the figure's robe blowing in the wind. And every 10 minutes or so, the scene changes again, whilst the drone changes almost imperceptibly until you suddenly notice that some very subtle beats have been added, or a harmony note up high somewhere. It later becomes apparent that the music accompanying the projections is Steven's new Bass Communion album 'Cenotaph' - and you have to hand it to him, releasing yet another new album from another different project so soon after 'Grace for Drowning'.

I have to confess for the sake of honesty, that Bass Communion really isn't my kind of thing at all. The full album is 77 minutes long, and I'm not sure if we sit there looking at the projections for this long, but it starts to feel a bit like it. files Bass Communion into the categories of 'Noise', 'Ambient' and 'Drone' and I think this is fair enough. The albums get great reviews and ratings from those who are fans, so I should really leave comment to those more in the know about this genre of music than me - but when the lady behind us says to her husband "This music is doing my head in," I feel unqualified to turn round and call her a philistine.

Anyway, just as people are starting to get fidgety, the current scene on the curtain gets interesting - a view of the shoreline as seen through the window of a house by the beach suddenly comes to life, as a figure all in black approaches the window, gradually getting closer and closer. And suddenly the past hour seems like a well thought-out Halloween trick, as this is genuinely creepy - the indistinct figure gets closer and closer until it's almost entirely blocking the window and the screen is about to go completely black, when...

A thunderous drum hit scares us all to death and, at the precise same second, the stage lights go on, the curtain becomes completely translucent, and there's Marco Minnemann already at his drum kit, kicking off a furious groove. It seems a bit early for a drum solo, but soon enough we notice Nick Beggs on bass at the bottom left of the stage, joining in the riff, and he's gradually joined one by one by the rest of the band as the music builds up steam until Steven himself finally takes centre stage on guitar to lead them all into furious instrumental workout 'No Twilight Within the Courts of the Sun' from 'Insurgentes'. A fairly impressive opening, it has to be said - and I'm completely on board with this gig right from the off.

The "curtain", by the way, is still up at the front of the stage, and it's being used to incredible effect. I've often heard the story about how in the very early days of Genesis they played some gigs behind a transparent gauze and did clever things with UV lighting, and I'd never been able to figure out exactly how that would work. But now I get it - and then some. Sometimes images are projected onto it so that you can only faintly see the band through the curtain, sometimes the images completely drop away at key points in the music and then the lights focus on one member of the band, the gauze meaning that the others are completely hidden from view. There are even large landing lights on the stage which sometimes illuminate the players from behind and cast giant silhouettes on the screen itself. It's visually astounding, and I can only hope that one of these shows gets filmed for a Blu-ray because if my description fails to do it justice, my abysmal iPhone photos are even worse.

The gauze leads to a strangely exciting atmosphere where the band are completely cut off from the audience, and this is heightened even further when what seems like a disembodied ghostly voice announces the second track, "I am the collector..." - and the song 'Index' from 'Grace for Drowning' follows, with some of the bizarre imagery from the video being projected onto the curtain. I'm just starting to wonder whether they can sustain an entire gig like this when, during a particularly intense section of 'Sectarian', the curtain suddenly drops to the floor in time with a loud thud, and the crowd go absolutely bananas.

Fun though the effects using the curtain were, we can now see the band in full action and it's well worth it (making up for the fact that we now can't see any of the projections from our heavenly seats once they move to the back screen on the stage.) Steven has assembled an absolutely crack team of musicians to play his music, even if none of them are exactly obvious choices. On drums, Marco Minneman, a German drummer now living in California, who's chiefly known for work with metal bands and was in the frame to replace Mike Portnoy in Dream Theater. On bass and Chapman Stick, Nick Beggs of superbly-mulleted 80's band Kajagoogoo, but famous to prog fans for having joined Steve Hackett's touring band and been probably the only man ever to play the Summer's End festival in a dress.

This evening he is fairly tamely coiffured, preferring long blonde pigtails.

On keyboards, a late addition to the group (after Level 42 drummer Gary Husband has to pull out due to ill health) - Adam Holzman, son of Elektra Records founder Jac Holzman, and a member of Miles Davis's band for 5 years. On sax, flute, clarinet and anything else blowable, as well as keyboards, Theo Travis - perhaps the most obvious band choice since the man is a woodwind genius who has played with Steven many times before, and frankly, who else would you call? (I hope this is sufficient sucking up to make up for my review of his solo spot supporting No-Man...) Finally, on guitars, laser guitars and sitar-sounding guitars, Aziz Ibrahim, who's a renowned session musician who's played with the Stone Roses, Simply Red (yes, really) and Steve Hogarth of Marillion.

It sounds like a combination of musicians that really shouldn't work, and what's more, if you tried to put together the list of their previous engagements to guess what this evening's music might sound like - well, you'd have to imagine a prog/jazz/metal/synthpop/alternative/world music type thing. Funnily enough, that's almost exactly what we get. Many of the heavier sections from tracks like 'Sectarian' and 'Raider II' seem to have been heavily influenced by Steven's labour of love remixing King Crimson's catalogue, and the jazzier bits by his remixes of Caravan and Jethro Tull. Then there's 'Index' which is surely the best song Depeche Mode have never recorded, 'Postcard' which is the indie anthem Coldplay and Snow Patrol wish they could write, and then some of the haunting Mexican-inspired tracks from the first album like 'Veneno Para Las Hadas'.

Ooh, pretty. It's almost like a proper photo and everything.

The entire band are absolutely stunning, but Marco Minnemann particularly is a revelation, as if a drum machine could do metal riffs, and play with feeling. Not only does he play the sequenced drum parts from 'No Part of Me' exactly as they are on the album, but he also plays some of the most thunderous fills during the heavier bits which actually cause nearly everyone around me to look at their neighbour and say 'Blimey'. (or something less British.) At one point, a particularly good 30 second section causes the whole crowd to erupt into spontaneous applause, upon which he grins, shrugs, and carries on playing.

And what of the main man himself, the star of the show? Well, he's keen to insist that he's just the conductor of this group, and to a certain extent he has a point, as this music would just not sound the same without the guys he's assembled. But, sitting at his writing desk-come-keyboard at the front and centre of the stage for a good part of the evening, his vocals are as powerful as I've heard, he also plays most of the guitar solos, and what's more he genuinely seems to be having a great time up there. After the curtain comes down, there's some good audience banter, as he ribs Classic Rock journalist Jerry Ewing during one of the breaks. "Have all four of your dates stood you up, Jerry?", he asks, pointing out to the audience that there are 4 spare seats in the front row if anyone wants to come down and sit next to Mr Ewing. I don't actually see anyone do it, but I'm sure it's nothing personal.

The high point of the set comes when Steven announces that they're about to play a very long song and that it might not work very well. (What is it with these genius musicians and their self-deprecation? See also Neil Hannon, the night before.) Starting quietly with just Steven on piano and vocals and Adam on keys, Raider II achieves the pretty impressive feat of having the entire of the Empire silent for the first few minutes, surely an absolute first for a rock gig. Over the next 20 minutes, we're then treated to jazz-ish freakouts, introspective, brooding sections, and enormous metal riffs, during which the strobing landing lights on the stage shine directly into the eyes of us balcony dwellers, nearly inducing something along the lines of a acid trip (I imagine. We've already established I'm a good boy.)

When the track comes to its thunderous conclusion, there's a spontaneous standing ovation, and the band in turn take their bows, each getting the applause they thoroughly deserve. Which, oddly enough, is nearly the name of the encore track, 'Get All You Deserve', which starts again with just Steven on voice and Theo on keys, but gradually building up into a hypnotic instrumental jam. With Steven leaving the stage halfway through to leave the band doing their thing, we assume that's the last we've seen of him, but then he returns a little later wearing the gas mask from the front cover of 'Insurgentes'.

A final striking image from an evening which has been utterly true to the visions of both Mr. Wilson and his right hand man, photographer / director Lasse Hoile, it's ripped off for the last bows to reveal a beaming Steven underneath, seemingly humbled by the audience's appreciation and proud of what he's created.

And so, my weekend of gigs concludes as it began. On a weekday. No, seriously, it ends with a gig which completely exceeds all my expectations and makes me wish I could see it all over again rightaway. To see one of these is exciting enough, but 3 in one weekend is more than my little brain can cope with. I need a bit of a rest (and there's the small matter of some work to attend to.) Besides, if I go to many more gigs, I will literally not have time to do anything else but write blogs about them and that might just make me go a little insane, quite apart from losing me all my Facebook friends.

Steven Wilson Setlist:

No Twilight Within the Courts of the Sun
Deform to Form a Star
Remainder the Black Dog
Harmony Korine
Like Dust I Have Cleared from my Eye
No Part of Me
Veneno Para Las Hadas
Raider II
Get All You Deserve

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

30th October 2011: The Divine Comedy - Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon Avon

After gigs on both Thursday and Friday nights, I decide it's time to award myself a day off - besides which there's nothing on Saturday that I want to see. (No, stop the presses, I've just noticed that Hanson were playing at the Indigo2 - if only I'd known!)

Not all of these are girls.

In actual fact, I think a day's rest is called for in order to be able to fully enjoy what I know is going to be an amazing gig by Neil Hannon (aka the Divine Comedy) at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon. I've been looking forward to this for months, having managed to bag front row seats, and with various things to celebrate including my birthday, I've booked Karin and I into a nice hotel for the weekend. 

As an aside, the Arden Hotel is highly recommended if you're ever after a nice weekend away, although if you do splash out for one of the really nice rooms like we did, make sure you make better use of it than sitting around watching "Man Vs. Food" (awesome though this is) and eating Haribo you got free in the street whilst drinking Pepsi Max from Poundland. Actually, to be fair, we did have an amazing afternoon tea at Henley Street tea rooms in town, although I'm not sure we'll ever be allowed back there after Karin filled out their questionnaire and threatened to deduct points from their score for the moderately creepy photos of Prince Philip all over the walls.

This is for two people, I promise you.

At some point I'll do a blog about the furthest distances I've ever traveled to get to a gig, but I think this one will be a hands-down winner for the shortest. With the tickets saying 7.30 start, we're sitting in our room at 7.15 wondering whether it's too early to get going, and when we eventually do saunter the 50 yards across the street, we arrive in our seats without too much time to wait before the concert begins. We spend this time looking around at all the people who are braver than us and have turned up in Shakespearean dress, before analysing our seats and wondering if we might be a little too close given that we're not overly fussed about seeing inside Neil's nose.

After not too long, a couple of chaps saunter onto the stage, one dressed down in checked shirt and jeans and another who's obviously decided that the occasion demands a bit more formality so is in a rather natty suit. The checked shirt guy is James Walbourne- as it turns out an excellent singer-songwriter who, according to his bio, has played with the Pogues, The Pretenders and a whole raft of other talented artists ranging from Saint Etienne to Death in Vegas. I don't catch the name of the other fellow, but HE HAS A DOUBLE BASS. With a bow and everything. I'm immediately sold. 

All your double bass are belong to us.

For 30 minutes, the pair have us absolutely mesmerised while they play songs from James's new album 'The Hill', which seems like a must-buy. Not being an expert in these things, I'm reliably informed that the songs they're playing would mostly fall into the category of 'Bluegrass' although to me they are in a previously undiscovered genre which I shall call 'country-ish music that isn't utterly shit.'  

I don't know if it's the theatre setting (which James describes as "the weirdest gig of the year"), or just the quality of the performance, but the audience are absolutely silent as the two guys run through their set, which includes what seems to start out as a heartfelt love song before then veering off into rather more creepy territory when he murders the subject of his love, and a song dedicated to an ex, entitled 'Cocaine Eyes'. No lack of dark humour here tonight, then.

I say we were absolutely silent, but there's certainly no lack of applause and cheering between songs so I hope they get the idea that we were all fairly impressed. The set ends with a cover of an Edwyn Collins song and then James shuffles off, letting us know that we can buy his CD outside but only if we're quick because he needs to go and catch a train back home. Rock and roll.

The lights come up and many people head off to the bar, but we spend our time befriending a ladybird which is crawling along the edge of the stage. I'd like to say at this point that the tiny ladybird walking slowly along the enormous stage makes me realise how small and insignificant we all are in the scheme of time and the universe's grand plan. But really, it's more like "Teehee... A ladybird!!"

And so to the main event. I've seen The Divine Comedy live 6 times between 1996 and 1999, in guises ranging from a 5-piece rock band to a full symphony orchestra, but despite keeping up with the albums I haven't seen them (him) since then - partially because I've not been sure how Neil by himself could do justice to some of the songs which rely heavily on lush orchestration, and yes, the odd moment of full-on rock. But, having heard last year's 'Live at Somerset House' live album and enjoyed it a lot, I've decided that it's about time to give him another shot.

The lights dim and from the wings emerges a hunched over figure who hobbles onstage in costume and across to the piano to wish us good evening. Yes, Neil has made good on his promise to dress up as his favourite Shakespearean character, and here he is as, um... the one with the hump on his back. You know the one. (I'm ashamed to admit that I cannot identify quite who he's supposed to be at the time, although the embarrassment only lasts until Neil tells us all that he got a 'U' in A-level English and also knows little about Shakespeare, at which point I feel redeemed.)

I'm sorry, this genuinely is the best photo of Neil
 as Richard III I could manage.

Even more chances for literary redemption are soon offered, as Neil tells us that he's gone back through his entire catalogue looking for songs with Shakespearean quotes in them and is going to play all 3 of them during the course of the evening, inviting us to prove how clever we are by shouting "THE BARD" when the lines appear. At this, he launches into 'Bath' from 1994's superlative Promenade album, an odd opening song when shorn of its chamber-esque opening but good fun nonetheless. During the song comes our first opportunity to yell at Neil when a Shakespearean line crops up, but the crowd needs a little warming up still and Neil has to slow right down, pause and look expectant before we all start yelling "THE BARD!"

Part of the reason for our reticence is that the combination of acoustic music, Neil's soaring baritone and the beautiful and intimate venue means that everyone is completely captivated. As he moves through the evening, he switches every few songs from piano to guitar and mixes things up with songs from all the Divine Comedy albums (except, oddly , Liberation). There are dramatic story-telling epics like 'The Plough', moving ballads like 'A Lady of a Certain Age', indie rockers like obscure B-side 'Get Me To a Monastery', and what can only be described as jaunty Flanders & Swann-esque comedy songs about the state of the economy ('The Complete Banker'). And throughout all of these, the crowd is completely silent, creating a unique and magical atmosphere- except when we're told to sing, or heckle. 

My best 'Up-nose' shot.
Ah yes, the heckling! First Neil invites everyone to shout out requests between songs ("Not that I'm going to play any of them, mind you...") and then some banter breaks out. "Do you remember my hair in that video? [Everybody Knows...] God it was awful." Not as bad as your beard, I offer up in response. "Actually I had a beard until yesterday, but I shaved it off because I heard you wouldn't like it." And not only is Neil heckled by the crowd, but halfway through 'Perfect Lovesong', a hooded figure appears at the back of the stage, and moves quietly, scythe in hand, towards Neil from behind, as if making to decapitate him... He gets closer and closer as the song reaches its high point at the key change, and then... he shifts the capo on Neil's guitar so that he can play the rest of the song in the right key. The audience collapses in fits of giggles (as does Neil, nearly.)

The Richard III costume disappears little by little - first the hump/ blanket is removed from the jacket because it's genuinely impeding his ability to play the piano, and then at half-time, the outfit is removed entirely in favour of the evening's second sharp suit, which is accompanied by a rather fetching bowler hat for the performance of 'Complete Banker'. The hat is subsequently removed and placed on top of a topical prop which remains on the piano for the rest of the show like a macabre good luck mascot.

You see how blurry this is? Just imagine how bad it'll be
when you click on it. Best not to, eh?

Throughout, Neil remains in good humour (possibly to do with the tankards of wine he's consuming), and is far too self-deprecating about his piano and guitar playing for someone with his ridiculous amounts of talent. He warns us when he's about to mess up his piano parts, and even makes a big deal about his hands being too sweaty from nerves to play 'Something for the Weekend' properly on his guitar. Of course, he then plays it perfectly. He's even modest about his success when, upon starting to play 'National Express', he tells us all, "Yes, I wrote this one too. Good job too, or I'd be homeless." I do hope he's joking.

But for all the humour in catchy little ditties like the one about the bus, and the superb 'I Like' (Sample lyric: "I like your car, you curse like a trooper / During a hard reversing manoeuvre"), the evening is at its best when Neil ditches the comedy and goes straight for the heart. And nowhere is this done better than in the run of 4 songs from 'Promenade' which closes the main set. Settling down at the piano to start the haunting 'Neptune's Daughter', he takes us off into the fantasy world inhabited by the two lovers of the album's story and if it's true anywhere in the set that you can hear a pin drop, it's here. After the raucous 'Drinking Song', which works surprisingly well with piano and voice only, I'm not ashamed* to say that I start quietly weeping during the closing medley of 'Ten Seconds to Midnight' and 'Tonight We Fly', with their themes of the passage of time and mortality, all the while somehow being strangely uplifted. Somehow the closing lines get me every time:

"And when we die,
Will we be that disappointed or sad?
If heaven doesn't exist, what will we have missed?
This life is the best we've ever had."

*okay, I am slightly ashamed.

One of the best albums ever. Fact.

After such an amazing end to the main set, there's no chance we're letting Neil go anywhere without an encore, so after several minutes of standing ovation, he comes back on to listen to (and ignore) more requests - except this time, he decides he will play one of them, 'My Lovely Horse' from the Eurovision episode of Father Ted. Of all the songs in the set to be reinvented for this evening, this has to be the most changed- in Neil's hands this evening it becomes a rather touching piano ballad about a man who seems to be genuinely in love with his horse.

Continuing the silly theme is 'Can You Stand Upon One Leg?', which seems to me to be a homage to the songs from 70s/80s children's programmes Playschool and Playaway, which I remember vividly from my childhood, dancing around the living room with my parents to the songs on Vinyl LP. It's possible I'm the only one who remembers this and it's not intentional, but it is uncanny. Now, having heard last year's live album, I'm aware that at one point Neil asks the audience if they can tell a funny joke and hands out the microphone to the front row - as a result, every time I've heard a joke since buying the gig tickets I've thought, "Must remember that". Of course, as soon as the song starts, my mind goes completely blank, so I spend the whole of the first few verses internally dying and sending "notmenotmenotme" vibes up to the stage - but as luck would have it, someone up in the balcony is desperate to tell his joke and starts telling it before a microphone can get to him. 

"What goes ooooo? A cow with no lips."

Much, much better than anything I would have thought of in 15 seconds. The evening concludes again with a song which encompasses everything Neil is about - wit, emotion, intellect and humour. 'Our Mutual Friend' is an amazing song when accompanied by an orchestra and no less powerful in this stripped down version. 

Another standing ovation is richly deserved, and then a couple more songs are played on guitar, but eventually it becomes apparent that either Neil's run out of songs or he's had one tankard too many, so the evening comes to a close.

I'm left extremely glad we've come along - Karin hasn't really heard any of Neil's music before this evening, but has had a great time and appears to be something of a convert. And as for me, I'm reminded of exactly why The Divine Comedy were my favourite band during my university years. When we get back to the hotel, I'm immediately on my iTunes, listening to some of the songs again, talking incessantly about which bits were funny and which made me cry. 

Yes, I would love to see Neil back with the old band, or with a new band, or with an orchestra again, but I'm very glad to have seen this incarnation of The Divine Comedy. Great songs are great songs, however you play them, and I'm extremely happy that Neil's out there getting the credit he deserves for being one of the best songwriters of our times.

This photo is completely out of place. But I had nowhere else to put it and I was so pleased with myself for taking it that I had to include it somewhere. Let's have it be the last thing you remember about this blog, rather than the over-the-top gushing of the last few paragraphs. Cheers.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

28th October 2011: Mostly Autumn & It Bites, O2 Academy, Islington

So, after the excesses of the previous night, I'm sitting there at work in the afternoon when I suddenly get a text from my friend Bob asking me if I'm coming to the It Bites gig that evening. Now, it's been in my gig calendar for months but I haven't got round to buying any tickets yet. I text him back to say I've had a pretty heavy night the night before and that I'm not sure I'll be much fun, at which he probes me for information, and upon discovering I've been at an electro gig and dancing the night away he says "So, what you're saying is, you were E'd up?"

When, half an hour later, I manage to stop laughing at the idea of me on anything harder than M&S extra strong teabags, I decide that I've had such a good time the night before that to stay in watching Dave all night will be a failure of the highest order and mark the point at which I officially become Old and Past It. I therefore buy myself a ticket, and when I'm finally done working for the day I put on my best prog gig outfit of black t-shirt with band logo, Tesco jeans and hiking boot/trainer-type things, and head off towards Islington.

I'm halfway there and attempting to change tubes at Bank (always a bad idea), when I swipe my Oyster card on the ticket gate and I get the dreaded 'Seek Assistance' message (aka the 'You are a cretin who can't use a ticket gate' telling-off.) Trying several more times, I eventually have to speak to someone and he explains to me that I am indeed a cretin who has somehow failed to swipe his Oyster card twice along the way and has therefore already paid £15 for the journey halfway to the gig (nearly as much as the gig ticket.) "What you have to do, you see, is swipe in and swipe out..." Yes, I know, I say, I thought I had done. "Ahh, but you didn't swipe in, did you?" Yes, I did try but evidently it didn't work. "Yeah, well if you make sure you swipe in, then you won't pay so much." I sigh, and follow his directions to the ticket office to get someone to sort me out. "Ahh, you see, what you should have done was swipe in AND swipe out", says the ticket office man. Oh right, I say, deciding that a lecture is probably no more than I deserve.

Maybe I'd have got a more sensible conversation out of this ticket inspector.

Suitably warned about the dangers of not swiping in (the government should definitely make one of those scary 70's-style Public Information films about this), I'm eventually on my way. Unfortunately, it's 10 minutes past Mostly Autumn's scheduled stage time when I finally get to Islington so I decide to skip meeting Bob, Rob, Paul and various other single-syllabled friends in the pub and head straight for the venue.

But wait, who's this handing out flyers outside the venue like some kind of prog-Big Issue seller? Why, it's Matt Stevens, wearing a Burning Shed T-shirt in case we haven't heard that he's now hit the big time and been picked up by the country's premier distributor and online emporium for discerning lovers of quality music. A quick chat about Matt's music, useless record label bosses, and why on earth Lou Reed and Metallica thought this was a good idea delays me even further but it's time well spent.

I will confess right now that I'm not overly fussed about seeing prog-ish / folk-ish band Mostly Autumn. But this is to my shame - I've never actually heard a note of their music, all I know is that they won pretty much all the prizes at this year's Classic Rock Society awards and that I thought some other bands might have deserved a look in. I'm kind of expecting the venue to be half-empty, but no, it's absolutely rammed when I get in there, and the front few rows are full of guys craning their necks to get a better look at the band.  

The reason for this may be somewhere in this (terrible) photo.

I get myself a beer and take my place to have a listen to the band, and blow me down, they're actually rather good. I'm struck by a few things - firstly that Bryan Josh is a damn fine guitar player, and knows how to pen a good tune or two. Okay, so he looks, plays and sings a lot like David Gilmour - but that's no bad thing in my book. Secondly, he really seems to believe in his music and get involved in it emotionally - the last track that they play is touchingly dedicated to his father and almost brings a lump to the throat. Thirdly, they have musicians with real talent, notably Anne-Marie Helder, who stands quietly in the corner all night singing backing vocals and playing keyboards, but suddenly appears out of nowhere during one song to play the most incredible flute solo I've ever witnessed at a gig (ok, so it doesn't have much competition, but still.) 

The third thing is that Olivia Sparnenn (the lady dressed in what a friend of mine once described as a 'spray-on dress') can actually sing, mighty powerfully and with real soul. 
This confuses my whole understanding of the current UK prog scene. I have been known to make disparaging comments about 'Totty Prog' bands and how I perceive that they cover up for their shortcomings as songwriters by getting young ladies in short skirts to entice us ageing prog fans along to gigs (and, of course, nothing could be further from the truth.) But dammit, on this showing, the songs are good, the musicianship is amazing, the singing is powerful AND the skirts are short. I'm confused.

When the set reaches a suitably climactic ending and the band leave to tumultuous applause, I decide that I will definitely be doing some more research into Mostly Autumn, via their merch desk- but I suddenly notice that, contrary to the usual rush to the front after the first band have played, it's suddenly emptying out (I guess John Mitchell needs to start wearing those skirts), so I quickly take my chance and plant myself in the front row dead centre.

And after a short break, It Bites take to the stage. I strongly suspect that anyone who's read this far will know who It Bites are, but just in case there's someone out there who reads this blog only because they enjoy my wonderful way with words (hello Mum), It Bites are what I shall call a Prog-Pop band, famous for a couple of subversively progressive hits such as "Calling All the Heroes" in the 80's, but who split up in the very early 90s never to be heard from again. Until... in 2007, the band (minus their platinum blonde frontman Francis Dunnery), reformed to play some gigs with the supremely talented John Mitchell from Frost*, Kino, The Urbane, Arena et al. taking over on lead vocals and guitars. This was followed up by an excellent new album in 2008 and many gigs, of which I have been to so many, that to me this is the band line-up as it should be.

And now they're back, promoting a new double A-side single, and they come out dressed in their trademark all-white outfits and launch straight into the, um, second A-side, "Wallflower". This is the first time I've heard this song and it seems like an odd choice for an opener initially, as it starts in rather gentle fashion, but then like all good prog songs, explodes into a rifftastic second section which has everyone furiously nodding along and behaving generally like people having a splendid time at a prog gig. 

All in white, all in white you are...

A couple of songs from The Tall Ships have everyone singing along in full voice, not least of all the rest of the band who pull off some pretty amazing harmonies. And then John Mitchell asks if we'd all like to go back to the 80's... well, of course we would. Every time I've seen It Bites, the old stuff has gone down extremely well - and with good reason. The current frontman is every bit as much of a star as his predecessor, hitting the high notes consistently with amazing power, all the while playing some extremely complex guitar parts without seemingly being too taxed by the whole affair. Not only that, but he doesn't just reproduce what has gone before, he takes the songs and makes them his own to the point that you forget there was ever anyone else singing them - except when he makes a point out of it by changing the lyrics to 'Underneath Your Pillow' to "Johnnie doesn't mind if the ladies don't want him..." This last song has always been one of my most favourite It Bites songs and seeing it performed live for the first time is a definite highlight of the set.

A 12" picture disc. This is all you need to know about how awesome this band and song are.

The rest of the band are no slouches, either. Original keyboard player and major songwriter John Beck is his usual enigmatic self on stage, although unusually he is not wearing any kind of hat - but by pulling off the classic solo to 'Screaming on the Beaches' in suitably impressive style, he proves that the headgear is not the source of his powers. The rhythm section, too, of original drummer Bob Dalton and superb bass player Lee Pomeroy ( of the Take That touring band - yes really) are the best I've heard them, driving the band along with their pounding beats and getting the crowd jumping up and down. 

But wait, something's wrong. It's not the band, it's not the music, it's not even the lack of short skirts on stage. No, it's the fact that having got completely wedged in in the front row, I am essentially all by myself and unable to meet up with my friends - fun, but not what an It Bites gig is all about. So about 45 minutes in, I decide to fight my way back to what is quite literally the last row of the entire venue (via the bar), where I locate Bob, Paul, Nellie, Rob and several other people including a chap by the name of Jem from a little band named Frost* who I may have mentioned once or twice if anyone's been paying attention. 

Safely ensconced amongst the IB hardcore, the rest of the evening goes exactly to plan - bellowing along to all the songs with beer in hand and having a great time with friends. Somewhere, several kilometres away down the wind tunnel that is the Islington Academy, the band seem to be having a fantastic time on stage too, and genuinely appreciating the amazing reception they're getting from the crowd on this, the last night of their tour.

With a 10pm curfew so that the venue can kick us all out for Propaganda - The UK's best Indie Night (actually, this sounds pretty good to me), the set is short but sweet and they leave us all wanting more. What's more, the anticipation is set for the new album to come, which, if the two new songs they play are anything to go by, is going to be one of the highlights of 2012. John Mitchell told me on Twitter that it's "amazing, obviously", so that's now a confirmed fact and not just my opinion.

So, as the venue clears, I stick around for a chat with some friends but my heart's not in it, having been at work until 3am on Wednesday and out on E's dancing until midnight the night before. Various pub sessions are proposed but I decide to slope back to Surbiton for an early night, although I later discover through the wonders of social networking that several of my friends ended up in the pub with the band until the wee small hours. Ho hum.

As I walk back alone to the tube, hundreds of vibrant young things are exiting the station in Halloween costumes, off on their way to start their night out. For the second time in two days I'm reminded of my increasing age but I'm not unduly worried. I've had two great nights in a row, and besides, I have to drive to Stratford-Upon-Avon in the morning for the next gig in this amazing weekend line-up.