Monday, 19 December 2011

PART 1: 16th December 2011: Frost* Christmas 2011 AGM - The Peel, Kingston-Upon-Thames


In 2008, an up-and-coming prog band called Frost* had a little Christmas gig at the Peel in Kingston, at which an hour and a half of top drawer modern prog was played, the audience sang along to every keyboard and guitar part, one fan ended up on the stage helping a magician out of a straitjacket, another got the chance to step up and sing 'I Wish it Could Be Christmas Everyday' when the lead vocalist lost his voice, and everyone got a free Santa hat and Frost*erisk shaped biscuits. Lasting friendships were forged between fellow fans meeting for the first time (and even with some of the band), copious amounts of beer were consumed, and there was nowhere to eat after the gig had ended, leading to the legendary Great Curry Hunt of '08. Oh, and I met my girlfriend for the first time.

"You want me to put my hand where?"

Add to this the superlative live album 'The Philadelphia Experiment', and a series of gigs in late 2010 which demonstrated that the band had finally found the incredible live form to go with their groundbreaking studio work and onstage japery. Then chuck into the mix the announcement, at the start of 2011, of what seemed to be an indefinite band hiatus, causing much disappointment in the prog community. 

It's hardly surprising then, that with the sudden surprise announcement of what may as well be a Frost* reunion gig, at the scene of their famous 2008 triumph, that tickets sell out within 48 hours, a record for the Peel. Yeah, ok, the capacity of the Peel is only 250 people (or however many people Twang can squeeze in through the doors - visibility of the stage and oxygen for all optional), but considering a lot of bands on the scene play to fewer than 50 people after months of promotion, it's pretty good going.

To say this gig is hugely anticipated would be a little bit of an understatement, especially amongst those of us who were there 3 years ago and felt like we became part of something wonderful that night. 'Welcome to the family', indeed. In the event, a level of anticipation is created which probably couldn't be lived up to even if Jem came out on stage riding Tony Banks like a camel and played his entire repertoire backwards while Robert Fripp juggled Mellotrons. But still, they give it a go.

We have to pick up this story with the pre-show fun and frolics - Frost* gigs are never just about the music and tonight is definitely no exception. Despite living less than 2 miles from the Peel and bragging to everyone about how I'll just walk down when everyone else gets there, I'd like to confess that I do decide to hop on a bus, which turns out to be an awful decision because it's 5.30pm and funnily enough the traffic is moving nowhere. Luckily the bus driver senses my extreme frustration and opens the door to let me off, so I hop out about a quarter of a mile later and continue on foot. It's annoying, but it does take me past the Fighting Cocks pub, scene of the first big Frost*ie gathering back in 2008 and place of meeting said other half. I peer in through the window out of curiosity and, lo and behold there are some stray Frost*ies inside drinking in the heady atmosphere of vomit and goths.

Such a romantic place to meet one's life partner - if we ever get married,
 we are DEFINITELY having the reception here.

Rounding them up, we move on to the bar of the Peel itself (the proper one, not the 'other one' - you Peel regulars know what I mean). This is the pre-arranged meeting point pre-gig, partially because we're lazy and partially because we all love The Peel so much and fear so strongly for its closure that we want our bar money to help keep it open. No, that's actually not a joke, I wake up in cold sweats some nights dreaming that the Peel's shut down and I've had to up sticks and move to Bilston to be near all the prog (*shudder*).

Anyway, upon arrival I come across pretty much every person I've ever met at a gig, and some new ones besides, there's lots of chatting to be done but unfortunately there are so many people to do it with that I don't feel like I get the chance to talk to anyone for more than 5 minutes. It's like speed dating, prog-style. A sushi belt of friends rolling past. Oh, and who's this? It's new dad Matt Stevens, allowed out for good behaviour- and not only that, but he's inside the venue, he has a ticket for the gig AND he's coming out for drinks afterwards. Evidently sales of 'Relic' are doing pretty well.

Go, on, go and buy a copy now, help a new dad pay for his curry.

Matt has some kind words to say about this blog, which is exciting enough, but to be expected since he's in just about every entry somewhere. But what really makes my night is when someone who I haven't met before comes up to me, asks if I'm James (I am), and tells me he likes it so much he's stayed up one night reading all the entries. Hits on the page are one thing, and I've been getting a few of those, but they don't tell you whether someone actually likes it or if they just read the first three paragraphs and give up when I still haven't made it to the gig. So, thanks Adam, you made my night!

So, speaking of not having made it to the gig yet, perhaps we ought to move into the gig venue itself - or in true Peel style, get asked to leave the building completely, queue up outside in the cold for half an hour and then get let back in again in a different order. Seriously, this is one of the quirky things you have to love about the Peel. Luckily, I've brought my bag outside with me which contains the gingerbread cookies Karin has baked for the occasion, and they get passed down the queue to keep everyone entertained.

This man came all the way from Norway just to pull this face for us. Brilliant. L-R: Tim (Mouse), Espen (E.S.)

Once inside, there's a mad dash for the front, which is usually quite unnecessary, but as I've been to sold out Peel gigs before and value my ribs staying intact, I judge that on this occasion it's absolutely essential. And so it proves to be, as within 10 minutes or so the main room is pretty much full and the only way to get in and out is to hurl yourself at the nearest person and hope they decide to merge organs with their neighbour to let you pass. 

Four Frost*ies make creative use of our respective heights. L-R -  Sarah (Ash),
 Karin (Philadelphia), Me (LivingForever), Pete (Pedro)

Once in position, we don't have long to wait before the evening's first act, the intriguingly named Twats in Hats. Two gentlemen take the stage in top hats, politely bid each other welcome ("Hello twat." "Why, hello twat!"), and then launch into a cover of 'Wires' by Athlete. But of course, it's Frost* members Jem Godfrey and John Mitchell, playing a selection of "sparsely rehearsed" covers on guitar and keys, and sharing the sometimes beautiful and sometimes downright disturbing vocal duties.

"Don't you want me, baby?" Nah, you're alright thanks.

It's hard to tell whether they're playing a selection of songs they love, taking the mickey out of songs they don't, or possibly a mixture of both, but in the course of the next 30 minutes we get to hear tracks from Duran Duran ("That Birmingham band"), Nik Kershaw, and even the Human League. "Don't You Want Me" starts with John Mitchell taking the Phil Oakey part before Jem delivers the Susan Sulley lines in a kind of gruff Phil Mitchell-esque cab driver voice ("Yeah, I *was* working as a waitress in a cocktail bar. *That* much is true.")- putting all kinds of horrific images in my mind which I suspect won't be leaving any time soon. Cheers, Jem.

In amongst the covers, there's time for trademark Mitchell-Godfrey banter (sample: "She only *seems* to have an Invisible Touch? You're not even sure?"), and a couple of their own songs which encourage huge crowd singalongs, particularly the epic 'Losers' Day Parade' from the Kino album 'Picture' which is always a welcome addition to the set whenever Jem and John get together. Even more welcome is the 'Jingle Bells' riff which creeps in towards the end. Nicely done, chaps.

Twats Without Hats. They should definitely have played Safety Dance.

It's a typically Frost*y start to the evening, as anyone who's been to a gig before knows that their shows are always as much about the humour as the music (perhaps even more, on occasions), and it gets us nicely warmed up. Literally, as it happens. By the end of this mini-set, things are starting to get rather humid in the main room and that's only the beginning. 


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