Monday, 19 December 2011

PART 2: 16th December 2011: Frost* Christmas 2011 AGM - The Peel, Kingston-Upon-Thames

Continued from here. So pop and read that, if you didn't already. Or read it again - it really is the gift that keeps on giving. Much like a Cheese Naan.

So, yeah, the band this blog was supposed to be about. I'm going to go assume that if you're reading this, you know something about Frost*, either because that's how I know you, or because I've gone on about them at tedious length - but just in case you weren't listening, Frost* are the brainchild of keyboard whizz, Ivor Novello-winning songwriter and top 10 hit maker Jem Godfrey - best-known tracks 'Whole Again' by Atomic Kitten and 'That's My Goal', chosen as the winner's song for X Factor legend Shane Ward. You know, Shane Ward. The one who won the X Factor. No, the other one. No, not the cricketer. 

Shagging Liz Hurley - that's his goal. That and the
perfect teeth / skin colour contrast. Well, one out of two ain't bad. 

Frost* started as a result of Jem's desire to do something a bit different to the day job, which is how I come to be here this evening, fan though I obviously am of Shane and the Kittens. Frost* is essentially prog, yes, but prog in the sense that they try different sounds and aren't afraid to mix things up, rather than trying to write entire albums which sound like one Yes track from 1971. It's in many ways a melting pot of Jem's interests, influences, and ear for great and inventive production, culminating in the most recent one-off Frost* track, The Dividing Line, which somehow manages to sound like both King Crimson and Pendulum at the same time and is the best thing they've done so far.

"You, you are my little friend."

Since it basically started out as messing about in the studio and wasn't intended to be a "proper" band, Frost* has gone through some line-up changes over the years, but It Bites frontman, Arena guitarist and flipping successful record producer John Mitchell has been there through all of them, with his trademark soaring guitar solos and prize-winning gurns.

"Knew I shouldn't have had that curry before the gig."

There were two new boys in 2009/10, key ingredients to Frost* becoming a proper live band, and much-welcomed returns tonight. Firstly, Nathan King on bass (which lights up with pretty red LEDs and everything), brother of Mark, and currently guitarist for Level 42, who provides some tight and funky low end (no slapping though.) 

"Dum du-du dum du-du... Wossat? We're not doing Lessons in Love tonight?"

And then on drums, Craig Blundell, who will be familiar to regular blog readers since I spent a whole post raving about his insanely varied drumming skills whilst playing with the David Cross band.

Craig, in particular, was an absolute revelation when he was first wheeled out last year, being perhaps the only drummer around with the requisite experience of playing electronic and drum & bass music as well as the bizarre time signatures and pounding fills demanded by the discerning prog fan. The perfect ingredient to make the live Frost* as tight and fresh sounding as the studio projects, I also can't wait to hear what he will bring to the next album.

Blunders really needs to do something about that holey cymbal
 lodged in his forehead. That's two gigs in a row now.

The last Frost* gig before the hiatus was being recorded for a DVD at the end of a week's tour, and it was absolutely revelatory to me, as it was the first time that I saw just how good Frost* would be if they were able to do this full-time. The right band were in place, the practice was there, and everything completely gelled on that night (or was it the bottle of red I consumed to protect myself against the -14 degree cold in Derby?)

Other people thought it lacked the fun and atmosphere of a proper Frost* gig, but I (never one for hyperbole) declared afterwards that I felt like I'd just witnessed Seconds Out being recorded. 

Tonight, the balance is firmly tilted back towards the fun and atmosphere, which, to be fair, is probably where it should be at Christmas - but that's not to say that the band are sloppy either, the line-up is still the best that Frost* have had and there are still utterly gobsmacking moments of musicianship.

No comedy intro this year (in fact no little audio jokes at all - and no Peter Gabriel puppet. Or was it Phil Collins? They look the same these days...), but the band come on stage to 'Winter Wonderland' which is suitably festive. Oh, and a huge cheer. We might be a little excited to have them back.

The first song is 'Wonderland' (see what they did there?), which is a nice addition to the set since last year - Jem handles most of the vocals but hands over to Nathan for those testicularly-challenging high notes which super-human vocalist Dec Burke used to belt out. It's rather good, and it's followed up by 'No Me No You' from the 'Milliontown' album which I seem to recall Jem saying had been rehearsed previously but never played as it didn't really work live. I'm not convinced that it even works live now, to be honest, but nobody cares because it's an ace little song from the more straight-ahead rock side of the Frost* bag of tricks, and it gives Jem an opportunity to play with some cool vocal effects. 

But even better than that, there's a section of the song with noises which sound like a cross between brass stabs and elephants being castrated, and this is the perfect opportunity for John and Nathan to put the 'mas' in Frost*mas, so out come the party blowers (or, that's what I wrote down - what are they actually called? Party blowers sounds slightly wrong on several levels now I think of it.) which are blown in time with the castrated elephants (nope, I'm not making this sound any less wrong.)

EDIT - Video of said incident from John (RacingHippo) - cheers, sir!

Nathan and John blow their castrated elephants.

Up next is the electro'd-up 'Pocket Sun' we first heard on last year's tour, which is right up my street and I hereby request more of this sort of thing on the next album, please Mr. Godfrey Sir, if it's not too much trouble. After all, you have Drum 'n' bass-technobot Mr Blundell on board now (even if you do think he's "dressed like a chav".) Being one of the more frantic songs of the set, the band pause for breath afterwards and beg for some towels up on the stage to mop up the tsunami of sweat which the sub-tropical Norbiton climate is causing in the room. I later spot Jem wiping his face with what appears to be one of those beer towels from the bar in an old pub- is that really the best the Peel can manage? I bet Fish got a proper towel when he played here.

It's a good time to take a break anyway, and, it being Frost*mas, it's time to hand out some Christmas attire, which unfortunately is about a million miles away from the cuddly Santa hats of 3 years ago. Instead, we're all handed creepy Santa masks which we're ordered to put on, making us look like members of some odd cult (oh, hang on, we're prog fans, we already are). Mine lasts about thirty seconds before I realise I'm suffocating even more than I was already - but no matter, the mask doubles up as a handy fan, so all is good. Some people persevere longer than others, but I eventually have to ask Karin (in front of me) to move hers off the back of her head, as no matter how much I tell myself it's just a piece of plastic, it does look a lot like a beardy man with no eyes is staring deep into my very soul for the next few songs.

Don't try and tell me this isn't freaking you out.

Maybe it's Santaphobia, or maybe it's just the intense heat and lack of room to move, but the next couple of songs kind of wash over me and I find myself clapping distractedly after each one - they're well played and they're great songs, but I'm seriously flagging by this point. Things perk up when I hear the familiar opening strains of 'Black Light Machine', for me, like so many others, the first Frost* song I heard and a long-time favourite - Mr Mitchell nails that guitar solo in spectacular fashion, Jem's trademark Sonic the Hedgehog meets Duke's Travels keyboard solos are as life-affirming as ever, and Messrs Blundell, Godfrey and King (everyone's favourite prog lawyers) play all the choppy studio trickery bits impressively tightly. 

But the audience aren't keeping up their side of the bargain, nobody jumps up and down to the keyboard solos (usually my job, but on this occasion I'd likely take various people's limbs off in the process), I don't hear much widdly-widdly singing of keyboard parts, and worst of all, there's no Big Banana. Where did it go? Are things that tight in the venue that there's no room to squeeze in a big banana between two Frost*ies? No matter, there are beaming faces, huge cheers, and as much clapping as is physically possible when the passage of your elbows is limited by the ribs of your neighbour (not a lot, frankly.)

Pretty soon, Jem announces that they've come to the last song. "Oh no it isn't!" shouts some wag at the back of the room. (Ok, I'm just jealous that I didn't think of it myself.) But, BUT, it's aforementioned masterpiece and mental electro-prog showcase 'The Dividing Line', which is a final opportunity for the band to show why they're a cut above much of what passes for prog these days. And they do in quite spectacular fashion, absolutely nailing the complex time signature shifts, and blasting through the Pendulum-esque sections which get me so worked up that I decide it's time to attempt a bit of a jump about, something which comes to an abrupt end when I headbutt Karin (no mean feat given that she's about 3 feet shorter than me.)

At one point, Craig Blundell plays an absolutely blinding section ending in a fill which shouldn't be possible with fewer than 5 arms, and it's so impressive that even the rest of the band turn round to giggle at him, whilst Karin opines that such ridiculous playing is probably illegal in several parts of the world. The band aren't the only ones with massive  grins - I'm beaming from ear to ear - but it's great to see that they're having fun playing together, and I do start to come round to the way of thinking that demands a little more silliness out of a Frost* gig. And is it just me, or do they actually sing 'You are all lions?' instead of 'You are all liars?'. I do so hope it's not just wishful thinking.

And that's it, they're off, perhaps to the sauna to cool down a bit before the encores. And encores there are- without too much waiting they're back to tear through live favourite and the song I still think would be a hit single for Jem's day job, 'The Other Me', which segues rather neatly into the joyous closing minutes of early Frost* epic 'Milliontown'. Finally, the front row start to bounce around a bit and there's widdly singing (ok, maybe it's just me.) All's well that ends well, in fact it ends even weller than if they'd played the entirety of the song, frankly, since I think there'll be a few melted puddles of person left at the end of the night if it goes on much longer.

They return to the stage quickly, but it's just for Jem to tell us that they really don't know any more music (literally?), to tell us they'll be back in the new year, and for them all to lap up the well-deserved applause. Was it technically as good as the last time I saw them? Of course not, but it was never going to be on a couple of days' rehearsal. There's enough of what we saw from them last time out to remind us just how good they can, and will be, but most importantly there's enough fun going on up there on stage to suggest that Jem hasn't completely lost all the enjoyment he once got from Frost* (which seemed to be the danger earlier this year.) I think we can expect big things from them in 2012.

With the end of the gig upon us, a happy bunch of Frost*ies gather back in the bar to deconstruct the evening's events and catch up a bit more. After grabbing a Crabbies Ginger beer (truly the drink of real men), I wander back into the main venue where Craig's out and about, chatting to the fans - and I take the opportunity to rave again about the David Cross gig. God knows what he thinks of me by this point. And then I spy, blutacked to the wall, our fallen comrades who couldn't be here this evening through illness or, in all honesty, not being bothered to hop on a plane from the States (tsk.)

L-R: Roger (Rog), Mike (Landslug)

L-R: Paul (Brom), A.J (gr8gonzo)

Eventually a couple of people (ok, just Keith D) indicate to me that they're getting a bit hungry, and I suddenly flip back into organisation mode and am reminded that about a month ago I rashly volunteered to organise an aftershow curry for 30-odd fellow fans. Given that experience taught us in 2008 that there was nowhere open after gigs, I've paid a hundred quid to the nearest Indian restaurant (Kingston's Mehrish) to stay open until 2am, collected people's orders over the internet, plugged them all into a masterpiece of Excel wizardry, and phoned them all in to the restaurant the night before. That was fun, I can tell you. Ever called for a takeaway? Remember how long it takes to get in one simple order? Exactly. At one point the poor girl asks me if all 30 of us are really coming at the same time and everyone is really having a completely different main course. Yes, I say, helpfully. "Oh", she says, having a silent breakdown on the other end of the phone.

But it's eventually done, and now all that remains is to get 30 people in varying states of inebriation to leave the gig venue and walk half a mile down the road. All looks like it's about to go off smoothly when with impeccable timing, the rest of the band emerge from backstage and start chatting to people. With half the curry party desperate for a poppadom and the other half desperate to chat to the twats in hats, I eventually give up on herding this group of feral cats, and stick around to say hello quickly to the band before running off down the road, leaving the stragglers to follow on later. Unfortunately our poor Norwegian friend E.S. gets left behind somewhere along the line and manages to completely miss the entire thing, but 29 of the 30 attendees do eventually set foot in the restaurant so to my mind that's a big win. 

"The Fishtank Table" - Clockwise from front left, Matt Stevens, Thea (theasigma)'s hair
, Rob's head, Alison (Purrdey), James A, Debbie, John (UncleBulgaria), Sarah (Ash)

To their immense credit, the restaurant do their bit to perfection, having poppdadoms ready when we arrive, bringing out the starters within minutes of getting there, all freshly cooked and very tasty - and then somehow serving us all our mains (all 29 different ones) within about 5 minutes of each other (and only forgetting one or two, which are swiftly brought out upon asking.) They're all freshly cooked and taste absolutely delicious - and I don't think that's just the beer talking. It's just what we need and it's all laid on within an hour of the gig ending.

"The It Bites Table" - Clockwise from front left, RussHD, Julie (DueyC),
  Susie, Rob, Mrs Fogeyspasm  (possibly not her real name), Andrew (Fogeyspasm),
 Dena (Dena), Paul (The legendary Vit P, designer of all our T-shirts this evening.)

If you'd asked me who would cock up this evening's curry proceedings, I'd have put money on the restaurant, but nope, they can't be blamed for the utter chaos which ensues when the bill arrives. Thinking I'm ever so clever, I've added up the prices for everyone's dishes so that there isn't a mad scramble for calculators at 2am. But I've failed to put poppadoms or chutney on there, or account for a tip, AND every single dish is about a pound more expensive than the takeaway menu. Oops. 

"The Frost* Forum Table" - Clockwise from front left: John (RacingHippo), Mrs Sawtooth,
  Keith  D,  Gary (Sawtooth), Mikey, Mark (TrapeziumArtist)

The money comes in and we have about £150 less than we should have. But people have already left and it's looking like I can wave goodbye to my deposit. Someone cleverer than me (probably the astrophysicist on my left) works out that if everyone chucks in another fiver we will be all square, so we all do so, but somehow we're still even down on the actual bill amount and there's no tip. So then various valiant souls stick their hands in their pockets yet again and throw in even more money. At this point, my brain is completely befuddled by Cobra and however many times I try to count the money already perfectly well counted by the mostly sober Karin, I still can't figure out how much is missing. 

The "Miscellaneous" Table - Clockwise from front left: Karin (Philadelphia,) Tim (Mouse),
 Andrew (BigBlackShed), Mrs Dr BlowThingsUp, Rob (Dr BlowThingsUp)

Everyone's still standing there expectantly, waiting for me as the curry commander to lead us all out of this mess, but it's really not happening, so I nobly surrender to the gods of mathematics and tell everyone to sod off home so that I can pay the bill and go home to bed - at this point I'm so knackered I don't really care if my curry does cost me £120. This decision, whilst getting everyone home a bit earlier, does also accidentally make me look like a huge martyr to the cause, and I'm sure several people leave under the impression that I'm going to end up massively out of pocket.

I should therefore probably confess that as soon as everyone leaves, the waiter brings the 4 of us who are still there a tray of whiskies (the spirits, not the cat food), and after downing one, I do another slow count and everything finally falls into place, with the bill covered, a reasonable tip in place, and my £100 deposit firmly back in my wallet. I think I just lost the ability to count - sorry everyone.

With black cab hailed back to Surbiton, I reflect on the evening and decide that in general it's been a very different night to the one 3 years ago, but just as enjoyable. There was music, there was beer, there were old friends and new, and there was, after 3 years' wait, curry. Hopefully we'll get a chance to do it all again next year. I'll happily supply the AGM minutes again - but someone else can definitely organise dinner.


Twats in Hats

Wires (Athlete cover)
Somebody Loves You (Nik Kershaw cover)
Ordinary World (Duran Duran cover)
The Forget You Song (Frost* cover)
Don't You Want Me (Human League cover)
Losers' Day Parade (Kino cover)


Winter Wonderland intro tape
No Me No You
Pocket Sun
Dear Dead Days
Falling Down
Black Light Machine
The Dividing Line


The Other Me
Milliontown ending (last 10 minutes or so - instrumental only)


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