Tuesday, 4 September 2012

8th July 2012: Celebr8 Festival (Day Two) - The Hippodrome, Kingston

Oh, hello. I knew there was something I was supposed to be doing. I have a sneaking suspicion that this is now about as relevant as a review of Bergerac, but literally three people asked me where it was so I thought I'd better. It'll probably be rubbish though. I wouldn't waste your time on it.

Do you remember back as far as July? Pre-Olympics, when we were all bitter and cynical and sneered at everything and everyone, and took every opportunity to disparage everything our country stood for? Well, back in those hazy, crazy days before we discovered that sport could unite rather than divide us, two noble men were on a crusade to cheer us all up. That they were trying to achieve this through the medium of Progressive Rock music was brave enough, but that they chose to facilitate it by means of shoehorning 600 of us into a sticky Kingston nightclub in the middle of July surely puts them in line for next year's honours list along with Uber-Lord Coe and Sir Wiggo.

Come with me, then, as I transport you back to a simpler time, when a "Mobot" was something gentlemen used to trim their facial accoutrements, and none of us had seen David Cameron and Boris Johnson dancing to the Spice Girls.

Haha! Now you've all seen it. Bad luck.

Like the day before it, the 8th of July begins with sore heads and a general lack of desire to move, but the three of us are made of stern stuff and are soon up and about and getting ready to face another day of quality proggage. However, we can't eat our Rice Krispies in silence, so I take the opportunity to let Mr. Lawrie sit in the Sweet Spot (not the sweat spot, as I just accidentally typed), whilst his favourite album of all time plays in 5.1 Surround. And then, when we're done with "Have a Cheeky Christmas", we decide we'll give "Wish You Were Here" a little spin too. 

In all seriousness, this vies for highlight of the weekend, as the little scamp sits there with a broad grin for the entire duration, only stopping to look shocked at certain bits he's never heard before, or jumping up and yelling out, a bit like Father Jack (or maybe I'm not remembering it properly - it was a long time ago). Regardless, I've rarely seen anyone get so immersed in music and it reminds me of a glorious time when there were fewer distractions and I'd actually sit and listen to an album instead of having it on in the background whilst watching TV, surfing on my laptop and texting at the same time. Or blogging, mostly.

There's no time to dilly-dally, though, as we once again need to deliver our guest to his Evil Merch Overlord before doors open, so we briskly make our way out and retrace our steps from last night in rather drier fashion. Stepping over the residue of last night's food accident, we hop on the bus and are soon back at our new favourite venue.

Amazing how dissolved those fries are, isn't it? I'm not convinced potato is meant to do that.

Having got the measure of the security at the Hippodrome the night before ("What's that you say, you're the roadie for Gandalf's Scrotum? Ok then..."), I decide that we'll try to deliver Tim right to the desk - and sure enough, we manage to sneak in through the doors and hide away at the back of the venue without anyone noticing apart from Twang and Geoff, who seem glad of another pair of hands and soon put us to work fetching and carrying.

Gee, thanks for the photo, James Allen. No, really.

In this fashion, we manage to avoid the queue chaos of yesterday, we get to watch Dec Burke taking a soundcheck, and we manage a bit of hanging about and catching up with Bob and Jacqui (of the famous Leamington Curry Incident), who are also inside, sipping coffees emblazoned with their new nicknames of 'Stinky' and 'Normal'. Nobody seems sure which is which.

Come on, it does look like 'Stinky'. If you squint.

We're also there for the arrival of various musicians, including bassist Paul Worwood and his wife 'Helen Tinyfish' (yeah, I can see why she didn't want to give up that maiden name), as well as Simon Godfrey, who announces his presence by creeping up behind me and pinching my arse, as is customary at these things (or that's what he keeps telling me, anyway. That, and to keep it our little secret.)

Not only does our subterfuge afford us such Rock and Roll opportunities as mentioned above, but it's also rather handy for getting a nice spot. Having learned yesterday that good spots, once found, are to be guarded with one's life, we decide to take our places right in front of the stage before the doors even open, and we're therefore in prime position when people start flooding in and eventually MC Bert (in da house) introduces...

Thanks again to Mike Evans for the 'proper' photos here!

Dec Burke Band

...who absolutely storm the place with by far and away the best performance I've ever seen from them. Yep, this is, I think, the fourth time I've seen the ex-Darwin's Radio / Frost* frontman's solo band (if you can have such a thing), but frankly it may as well be the first. Right from the off, something new clicks into place - perhaps it's new boy Steve Woodcock on Bass duties, or perhaps it's Dec's sparkly new in-ear monitors, but they tear through many great tracks from "Destroy All Monsters" and "Paradigms and Storylines", bringing them to life in spectacular fashion. 

All vocal demons from their last gig are completely banished, and Dec nails the high notes with ease, commanding the audience but still finding time for those epic guitar battles with his right-hand man Hywel Bennett. Paddy Darlington keeps those pounding electronic beats coming, giving something of a Depeche Mode vibe to a couple of the tracks, and drummer Tim Churchman (now freed from his TV role as Dr. House) proves, as always, why he's in such great demand on the scene.

There's even time for a Darwin's Radio track ('Breathe it In'), which slots in so nicely to the rest of the set that I don't even twig it's not a solo song until someone else mentions it later. I love every minute, and so do many others, judging by the queues afterwards at Dec's Merch stall, manned (sorry, womanned) by the lovely Catherine. I'm chuffed to bits for Dec and can't wait to see what he does next (new album in the planning phase, folks...)

Unfortunately, I don't make it to Dec's Merch stand, or to any other Merch stand, for that matter, nor do I make it to the acoustic stage on this occasion to see Matt Stevens, who by all accounts has performed musical CPR on his guitar after last night's exertions and is back to entertain those who missed him yesterday.

No, on this occasion, I am most definitely not losing my spot, because it's time for the (probably maybe) very last full gig by...


... and this has to be experienced from the front row. In addition, hanging about at the main stage whilst more devoted music lovers are lost in acoustic-y goodness means that we get to witness the band soundchecking - normally a very drab affair, but then there's nothing drab about Tinyfish (apart from bass player Paul's khaki trousers perhaps.)

Thus we are around to witness in-band fighting (surely the real reason for the gig hiatus), as drummer Leon, and then lead guitarist Jim beg for less of singer Simon in their monitors - followed by what fellow fan Pedro describes as "clown sex", as Leon tests the odd sounds on his drum pads, shouting "More! MOOORRE! LOUDER!" between each squeak and honk whilst glaring at the poor soundman like a death row executioner.

And then, the fashion moment of the entire weekend, as Simon takes to the stage in one of Nellie's fabulous 'Prog Princess' T-shirts, which of course is far too small and keeps riding up until roadie Andy R runs over to sort it out, proving yet again that there's nothing that gaffer tape can't fix.

Eventually the band stop laughing for long enough to play something, and at this point I put my phone away, I stop thinking about what I'm going to write in my review, and I just listen. (In fact I manage to do this for the rest of the day, which is a refreshing change, although it does mean that anything you get from this point on is entirely a result of my 7-week old memory...)

I'm not convinced that the world needs another full Tinyfish review from me (you can check out a proper one here and an improper one here), but I can't let this set go entirely without comment.

As I mentioned in Friday's review, Simon has intended for this gig to be a little more professional and serious, and it is (to a degree). The playing of the songs is utterly faultless  - the best I've heard them, and the sound from the Peel desk guy Tim is amongst the best I've ever heard at a live gig. It's so astonishingly good that I hope and pray after a couple of songs that someone's plugged a laptop into the desk to record it (they haven't.) 

The band give definitive renditions of the highlights of the Big Red Spark album, including the title track, lit in beautiful red (see what they did there?), spoken-word-nutter Rob Ramsay auditioning for a part in Friday night's Punto incident during 'Refugee', and another blistering guitar solo from Jim during 'Wide Awake at Midnight'. And no Tinyfish gig would be complete without some of the classic early tracks like 'Motorville'.

It's a classy way to go out, all round, but that's not to say that it's boring and humourless, oh no. Although Simon's trademark changing of lyrics to take the piss out of audience members is not in evidence this afternoon, there's a touching moment where during 'Wide Awake at Midnight' he sings "You are tired of me..." before quickly interjecting "no you're not!" - no, we really aren't. There's also the opportunity for some physical comedy as Simon tries to act out Rob's monologue through the medium of mime, prompting death glares from Rob before a resigned grimace takes over when Simon decides to plant a smacker right on his cheek.

But it's during 'Nine Months on Fire' that perhaps my favourite Tinyfish moment of all time occurs. Always a favourite track in any case, the band are delicately making their way through the quiet acoustic section in the middle when Leon appears to be fiddling about with something on his kit. Leon being a fiddly kind of person, this doesn't attract much attention until the loud section kicks in with its thundering toms, and clouds of what appear to be smoke rise into the air with every beat (and Leon being the drummer that he is, there are a lot of beats...)

Appropriate and well planned stage effect, or clinically insane drummer's idea of a practical joke? It looks like the former until Jim, who has his back to Leon, suddenly sniffs something afoot and turns round to see what the heck is going on, before a gigantic chuckle and an exasperated and weary headshake as he spies yet another drummer prank. (You can even check this out on video here.)

The set draws to a close with 'Motorville', the first track from their first album, and now the last track to be played live. Allowing myself to become briefly distracted for a moment I take a look around the venue - every floor spot, every staircase, every balcony position (including those two storeys up behind the stage in the VIP area), is absolutely rammed with people completely engaged with the amazing music and the crazy, one of a kind band who've produced it. It's a fitting way to leave the live arena.

As the final song draws to a close, we expect a cheeky smile, a joke, or a wave from Simon, but instead he tears off his guitar, flings it to the ground, and disappears moodily off stage, leaving it to forlornly feed back as the rest of the band follow him. What a closing statement - a 'fuck you' to the frustrations Simon feels at having to stop gigging at the height of their success?

I'm welling up slightly at this most unexpected end to their last gig, and marvelling at the poignancy of it all, when they all come bounding back on stage with Simon leaping about like a puppy with his tongue hanging out, waving and sticking his fingers up - and I know that all is right with the world again. I suspect we shall see them live again in some guise, but if not, it's been a fitting way to end.

After all this excitement, I desperately need a break (and to be honest, I'm not sure I can cope with hanging about and dissecting what we've just seen with my fellow fans just yet) so Karin and I slope off quietly for a bit of lunch.

Unfortunately, this means that...


... become the second casualty of the no-lunch-break schedule. Hopefully they aren't too hurt by this since I've seen them live 4 times now - and in any case we do manage to catch the very end of their set when they're joined on stage for a cover of Tears for Fears' "Mad World" by Kerry Chicione, bounding about like a mad person and showing why he will be so sorely missed in Mars Hollow.

On this showing, the boys (and gal) are rocking as hard (and as loud) as ever and I look forward to seeing them again soon.

After an afternoon of standing up, there's nothing better than heading to the acoustic stage for...

Kerry Chicione and Matt Brown (again)

... and it's at this point that the beauty of this acoustic stage really becomes apparent, as we head for the sofas at the side of the bar and flop out completely whilst basking in the summery glow of the guys' songs. 

I've no idea what they play today, but it's just as much fun as yesterday, and it's exactly what's needed for a warm Sunday afternoon ahead of the full prog onslaught that is...


... who have a little bit to prove for me this evening. I first saw them at Summer's End in 2008 and was utterly blown away by the energy coming off the stage - the music itself was (and indeed still is) absolutely first-rate prog, channelling everyone from Yes to Mike Oldfield - but the sheer joy being experienced by everyone in the band set them head and shoulders from most of what I saw that weekend. Fast forward to Summer's End 2011, and I was a little less enthusiastic. With a couple of very new (and very young) band members, I felt they were still finding their way a little, with the new guys looking a little worried on stage. 

(I think I was so confused by the new and very young additions to the band that I may even have compared them to a prog Von Trapp family, with Christina Booth as the scatty governess, Rob Reed as the serious father and Chris Fry as 'Cool Uncle Chris' - but luckily that was only in a post on the Tinyfish forum, which nobody reads anyway...)

Altogether now, "Eidelweiss..."

Anyway, everything changes as soon as I hear the opening notes of 'Glitterball' from last year's "Chameleon" album, and the packed venue goes crazy for the band. Youngsters Dan Nelson on bass and Steve Roberts on drums exude confidence from the off, and look utterly relaxed and at home with the music. Guitarist Chris Fry gurns as he is supposed to, singer Christina Booth is mesmerising in centre stage, and even main man and keyboard whizz Rob Reed raises the odd sardonic eyebrow in approval at the proceedings.

All thoughts of lonely goatherds banished, I'm taken away on a prog adventure in Magenta's own inimitable style. Short, concise, almost indie-ish numbers like 'I'm Alive' and passionate, intense tracks like 'Red' (lit in, um, red - see what they did there?) nestle alongside retro-prog monoliths from the 'Revolutions' album - amusingly including the section from 'Man the Machine' which contains the lyric "Internet and Email, let us worship you and praise", delivered by Christina directly at uber-fan Pedro - either recognising the importance of their internet fan base, or... a giant flaming coincidence. 

I also take a glance to my right during this track and spot Tangent main man Andy Tillison looking directly over Rob Reed's shoulder from the gallery next to the stage, whilst what can only be described as "rocking out" to one of his keyboard solos. It's great to see some of the weekend's musicians hanging around to support and enjoy the other bands, and he's not the only one.

90 minutes pass in a flash and highlights are many - Chris Fry's face throughout the entire gig being one of them, but I'll pick out two - first up, 'Demons', with its epic instrumental section, which features Chris jumping up on his stack for maximum axe-wielding rock godness...

... and secondly, tonight's longest track - the title track from 2008's "Metamorphosis" album (my favourite of theirs - no I know you don't care), where the entire band comes together to give one of the performances of the festival, the new guys prove why they're absolutely the right fit, and everyone has as much fun as one can have whilst playing a song about a serial killer.

It's the last song of the set, or is it? They disappear offstage seemingly for good until Bob comes back on to whip up another cheer from the crowd and, frankly, demand that they come back on and carry on playing. (He tells me later that the encore is all his doing, although it seems very well rehearsed, so I'm not convinced.) But a quick lap of honour with 'Pride' from the "Seven" album, and it really is all over.

Frankly, the first two sets today would have been enough excitement for one day, but having already had 3 and a bit superb full electric sets and a lovely acoustic one, I'm seriously starting to flag by the time the Magenta-high wears off a little. I'm just about to go and find somewhere to sit down and watch the always-excellent Alan Reed at the Acoustic Stage, when I notice that a nice gap's opened up down at the front and that there's a prime opportunity to get in pole position for the festival closing set, so I sadly choose to forgo Alan's set but hear great things about it, and if it's anything like as good as the ones I've seen previously I know I'll have missed out. If you're an idiot like me, make sure you get yourself down to the Peel on the 15th of September and check him out (again)!

Soundchecks are evidently less of an occasion to piss about if you're...

It Bites

... but then, if you're It Bites, you've had several top 40 singles in your nearly 30-year history, and you have people (well, Paddy Darlington, in his third role of the weekend) to do that kind of thing for you.

Yep, It Bites are that rarest of creatures, a prog band who've broken through to the charts, albeit playing what frontman John Mitchell describes tonight as "Cheesy 80's pop", but I prefer to think of as intelligent pop/rock music with a progressive slant. He almost has a point though, in that tonight's set is weighted slightly in favour of 'The Hits', from early anthem 'All in Red' (see if you can guess what colour lights the lighting team go for), to fan-favourite tracks from the comeback album "The Tall Ships" like 'Ghosts' and 'Oh My God' (tonight's opener, which sees Paddy leaping over the front barrier quicker than an Olympic hurdler to try to fix a dodgy cable on founder member and keyboard legend John Beck's rig).

All this means there's less time than I'd personally like for the amazing new concept album 'Map of the Past', of which I slightly expect them to play the entirety - but the highlight of the set comes with a medley of 'Send No Flowers' and 'Meadow and the Stream', the latter being perhaps the most overtly proggy song on the album (in a 7/8, "yeah this is a bit like Cinema Show isn't it but nobody will notice" kind of way).

We also get latest single 'Cartoon Graveyard', a song which they're trying to get onto Radio 2 as we speak - although this only seems possible by editing it down to 4 minutes which surely means missing all the best bits. The new album also provides the day's most emotional moments when John Mitchell dedicates the haunting 'Last Escape' to one of the participants in Terry Pratchett's 'Choosing to Die' documentary, who was a big fan of the band.

Not that there's any lack of prog really, as the main set finishes with the one-two of 'The Wind That Shakes the Barley' and 'Old Man and The Angel' - both fan favourite singalong tracks. And surely this is the point of tonight - it's a closing night headline festival set, designed to give everyone a feel-good, singalong ending to the weekend. It Bites deliver in absolute spades.

As the set closes and once again I glance around at the balconies rammed with people singing along to top 10 hit 'Calling All The Heroes', there's a bit of a spine tingle.

Twang and Geoff have absolutely pulled it off - a weekend of superb, superb music, something for everyone's tastes (not to mention a flipping bucketload for mine), and a place for people to meet other fans of this odd music we call progtacular - assuming we can actually make it across the toffee-coated floors to get to them, that is.


When it's all over, there are literally hundreds of people to wish farewell and to exchange Facebook details with, but we're not really in any rush to go anywhere, so it gets to the stage where we are once again in the venue after hours, getting in the way of actual important work. A bit of light roadie-ing takes up some time and then we get the chance to have a chat with some people who really are supposed to be there.

We're standing talking to Jim and Paul from Tinyfish when Andy Tillison comes over to congratulate the band on a wonderful gig - praise indeed. He chats to Jim for a little bit and then turns to me. "And you, I'm sure you were in Tinyfish too?" Ah, no, I say sadly, unfortunately not, I'm just a big fan. "Well, cheers anyway!", he says and shakes my hand before walking off out of the door, leaving poor Paul pondering why it's always the bass player's fate to be forgotten. (Even now I'm going back through this review making sure I did actually put his name in somewhere other than here...)

Looks like I did, but I forgot to include a picture.
No wonder Andy was confused. Here he is.
Have you seen this bass player?

It's another fantastic moment to add to the weekend's list, and it probably signifies that I've been a hanger on for too long, so it's time to head home. In fact, everyone else has had the same idea so we actually end up being the last ones standing outside on the pavement with Twang, whilst some young Scandinavian girls try to chat him up (for some reason he doesn't appear to be interested, perhaps it all seems like too much hassle after the weekend he's had...)

And bizarrely enough, this tale ends exactly(ish) where it began - with me sitting opposite Twang on a bus, talking about Celebr8. I ask him how I think it went.

"You know what mate, at the end of the day, everybody said it wouldn't fucking work, they said it couldn't be done. And it did - everyone's been fucking impressed with the way it's gone..."

Everyone's absolutely fucking right. Celebr8 has been an unmitigated success down to the hard graft of Twang and Geoff and Bob and Nellie, and everyone else who gave up their time to make it work - their efforts being rewarded with an event to remember, and one which is destined to become an event on the prog calendar that no fan will want to miss.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to practice my vocals for the next Tinyfish tour...