Sunday, 13 October 2013

5th October 2013: Summer's End Festival, Day Two - Lydney, Gloucestershire

For some reason I can't quite place (perhaps see yesterday), I wake up feeling a bit worse than I would like - it's one of those 'manflu or hangover?' moments. Still, there's only one way to decide - a 7km run usually sorts out the men from the boys, and so it proves today, as I do circuits round Lydney and power past people in festival T-shirts on their way to or from breakfast. Hello, and sorry, if I nearly mowed you down in my wake - or, more likely, tutted loudly as I dodged round you on the pavement.

Nicely de-beered, there's just time for a quick breakfast at one of Lydney's many caffs, this time it's the Bridge Cafe (where somehow I manage to avoid getting fired) whose BLT is heartily recommended, as is their Chocolate Tiffin, which they even wrap up for me in a little bit of foil to take away, as if they were packing their only child off to prog camp.

Doors are a little late, setting the tone for the rest of the day, but soon enough I catch up with my fellow giggers again and we're inside, waiting for...


...who are young and vibrant enough to look like they'll be worth a watch, apart from having someone's Grandad on bass. As it happens, they're good fun, and can certainly play, but put a lot of effort into a set which manages to tick every box on the 'prog cliche' bingo card before the end of the first song. Guitar/keyboard duel - check... Quiet bit...  bass pedals and mellotron choir - check... Keyboard player plays a solo with one hand in the air- HOUSE!

The second song is called 'Far Away' and unfortunately I start to wish that that's exactly where I was, and perhaps so do the band, after the singer shouts "ARE YOU READY?!!" to stony silence from the crowd. As the set progresses, he starts to have some tuning issues and it's at this point that I reach the critical "I would rather be outside" point, so I take a little breather out by the war memorial, where I'm gradually joined by more and more people - each time the door opens, another unfortunately missed note echoing out into the Forest of Dean air and making the assembled throng wince.

They even have a song called 'Grendel Dreams'...
Photo: James Allen

Still, a decent sized crowd enjoy the whole set, and it's not easy to open a festival, so full marks for trying. Trying is something that...

... don't really have to do at all, entertaining the room for over an hour without doing anything more flashy than playing a load of songs. SONGS! At a prog festival -whatever next? Actually Jump profess to being bemused as to why they keep being asked to play at prog related events, and I can see their point, their highly melodic, storytelling material being more on the Mike Rutherford end of the prog songwriting scale than Mike Portnoy. 

Having said that, although magnetic front man John Dexter-Jones is a visually a good cross between "MORRISSEY!" (c James Allen, 2013) and Billy Bragg, his mannerisms and poignant story-telling (see 'Bethesda') certainly recall Fish at his more angry moments, and there's a touch of Steve Thorne here and there in the material. Actually, the entire band are spot on, giving the music room to breathe instead of slathering it in overblown solos and other trimmings, but it's John who's the clear focal point, prowling up and down the stage staring menacingly at members of the crowd or freaking out with every limb of his body during 'Get Used to the Taste'.

Never knowingly uncontroversial, he even tells a fine Princess Di story near the end of the set, before we're all encouraged to become windscreen wipers for 'Staring at the Rain', which is a mighty excellent song even if we do all look like tits. The set's over way too quickly, but it's been the most refreshing hour of the weekend so far.

'Tom Sawyer' starts playing on the PA, presumably in case we have prog withdrawal symptoms, and I simultaneously scare and impress Rick and Rob with my note-perfect Geddy Lee impersonation. 

"Are you starting a Bee Gees tribute?", says Rob.

Back outside, via Nellie, who is now selling Jump CDs (which come highly recommended), I break out the emergency tiffin, which attracts all the killer wasps left in Lydney, causing me to freak out and take a bite out of the foil along with the biscuit-y goodness. But there's no time to worry about that, because...


... have just taken to the stage, with their hybrid of heavy-ish riffs, space rock and Jethro Tull-style flute-prog. Actually I'm really impressed by the way the lead singer plays flute with such attack and percussive-ness - not as impressed as I am by the fact that they have John Peel from the 70's on the drums, though.

They've come all the way from Finland today, and wow the crowd with their interesting material, their enthusiasm and their array of bizarre equipment, including what Rob suggests might be a Tricorder, which the singer brandishes about in the middle of the second song, pointing it here and there, in a confused fashion, like a man looking for the source of a radiation leak. Neither of us can figure out what he's actually doing, but it's entertaining to watch anyway.

Photo: James Allen

Sadly my feet start complaining towards the end of the band's set, so I drag some willing accomplices off in search of food, thereby missing Overhead's cover of '21st Century Schizoid Man', which by all accounts is mind-blowingly good. Not so smug about that lengthy run now.


Curry fun, and we have the Kings Tandoori Restaurant to ourselves for the majority of our meal, largely because it's not actually open yet - we've just wandered in through a side door they've accidentally left open, and they're too polite to send us packing.

What's less fun is the 20-odd minute loop of Daft Punk's 'Get Lucky' which they use to try to get rid of us like Guantanamo noise torture. When this stops, we all breathe a shared sigh of relief, until a Kenny G CD goes on. "PUT DAFT PUNK BACK ON!", nobody has the guts to shout. Still, the food is delicious, even if all the biryanis come with a free omelette on top for no obvious reason.

Mmm, a curry and a fry-up all at once!
Photo: James Allen

We make it back to the hall to find that the Big Big Train draught beer is all gone, which is clearly the crisis of the weekend - but never mind, there are still some bottles left, and we're in plenty of time for...

Ravens and Lullabies

...or, Oliver Wakeman and Gordon Giltrap, as they're otherwise known. (Or Oliver Wakeman and his prog-metal stand-up comedy show, with a bemused guy looking slightly like Snuffleuphagus from Sesame Street, quietly strumming some acoustic guitar in the corner.)

Photo: James Allen

It's an interesting, and very varied show - with a 'first half' consisting mostly of some proper 'rawwwk' material from Oliver's albums, and why not, when you've got Threshold's rhythm section on hand to provide all your awesomeness-related needs? There's also the small matter of Arena vocalist Paul Manzi, who belts out numbers in proper rock god mode when required (including one about "Elizabethan Pirates...") and then manages to sound quite like Phil Collins on the 'Follow You Follow Me'- esque 'Anyone Can Fly'. 

Photo: James Allen

Eventually, Gordon Giltrap is allowed to speak, thanks the band for letting him come along under the 'Care in the Community' programme, and introduces a few tracks from his solo career, including the excellent 'Roots' from his 'Fear of the Dark' album. There's then a very interesting solo looping instrumental, which he describes as "a cross between Boyzone and Mike Oldfield", with 'keyboard' and 'bass' parts building up from the guitar, followed by some Oldfield-esque solos, true to his word.  There's no cover of 'Father and Son', though, so not sure where the Boyzone bit comes in. He doesn't even do a comedy Father Ted accent.

So far, so engaging. But then, things take a bit of a turn. Oliver comes back on, and the two of them start on an acoustic set of songs from the 'Ravens and Lullabies' album, which sounds like a nice idea on paper but in reality is so ridiculously mellow that there's no option but to slide into the nearest comfy chair in the bar and get a spot of shut eye. Eventually I find myself at a table with 5 or 6 of my best gig buddies, all 'sort-of-listening' to the chillout sounds whilst having a chat about how amazing Lazuli are going to be, why Internet forums are dying a death, and why being a primary school teacher is, like, well easy. 

Photo: James Allen

When the rest of the band do eventually come back on, and with the gig nudging over the two-hour mark, it's hard to summon up the requisite effort to move from my comfy position, but I eventually manage it when they announce the final song, which turns out to be the bona fide top 40 hit single 'Heart Song', which is actually a cracking piece of music, and leads me to believe that I might be far more of a Gordon Giltrap fan than an Oliver Wakeman fan. Even if Oli does really, really, look, sound, and tell bad jokes like his dad.

Photo: James Allen

With the set concluded, and the day now running over an hour behind, co-organiser Lambsie takes to the mike to announce that there'll be a break before the next band, and they're not going to kick us out but could we possibly get away from the stage so that they can set up? A request which is studiously ignored by all the slightly scary Giltrap fans in matching 2005 Tour T-Shirts, who hang about getting in the way until it's apparent that Gordon has gone, at which point they disappear as swiftly as they arrived, completely missing...


... which is probably the biggest case in history of 'Your Loss', as anyone knows who was at Summer's End in 2011, or the Night of the Prog Festival in 2012, or, in fact, anywhere in the world where 5 men dressed as medieval-futuristic blacksmiths took to the stage and kicked seven shades of shit out of your very soul.

All Lazuli Photos by 'Cambot' James Allen

In fact, it's probably fair to say that my entire attendance at this weekend is down to my fundamental need never to ever miss a single note these guys play in this country - and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Taking to the stage to the sound of distorted French Horn isn't your typical opening, and first song 'L'arbre' builds into a massive bass drum and marimba rhythm from percussionist Vincent Barnavol, whilst guitarist Gédéric Byar strums moodily, and Leode player Claude Leonetti (who invented the instrument after an accident left him unable to play a normal guitar), comes over all Shankar with some eastern-sounding guitar/violin screeching. 

As if they didn't already seem interesting enough, they don't have a bass player in the conventional sense - no, they leave this job to be performed by Keyboard player Romain Thorel, who apparently doesn't have enough to do just playing synth lines, so splits his brain (and his keyboard) in half, churning out thunderous and funky basslines with his left hand seemingly on autopilot. He also has his keyboard at the jauntiest angle I've ever seen on stage, which makes it fascinatingly easy to watch what his fingers are doing at all times. (Hang on, maybe that's the idea -what a bighead.)

Singer Dominique Leonetti, though, is one of the real stars of the band, with note-perfect and spine-chilling vocals cutting right through the world-rock sound his colleagues are hammering out with alarming ease. His English may be limited, as he constantly reminds us, apologising throughout, but he's a mesmerising frontman, acting out every word with his body, to the extent that nobody cares what he's on about (which is handy, since even those of us with a reasonable grasp of French are struggling.)

With nobody able to figure out a word of what's going on, the set relies even more than usual on the music, and by golly does it work. Someone tells me on Sunday they've never seen a room full of prog fans dancing before, but there's something so primal, so fundamentally electric about every song, that you just can't help but want to move - even if you really shouldn't. Grooves build up under heavy rock riffs, with influences from all over the world, and even a touch of skittery electronica, and the band are so perfectly tight you would swear they were miming if you couldn't feel the vibrations from the drum kit in your chest with every beat. Added to that, they're one of the most exciting bands that you will ever watch - feeling every note, being completely in sync with one another and sharing little sneaky grins across the stage when they think nobody's looking.

Song after amazing song goes by, including the incredible 'On Nous Ment Comme On Respire', where Dominique tries some Gabriel-esque stage trickery with a little hand-held light (an effect which works once the lighting guy figures out what he's trying to do), and 'Quinze Heures Quarante' which goes on a little improv excursion. It certainly isn't twenty to 4 by the time they're done. Then there's a brand new song, which is so much of a work in progress that Gédéric needs a screwdriver with which to play his guitar - and then comes the most technical display we've seen so far, as Romain is allowed a keyboard solo, which takes a turn from Chopin-esque piano brilliance to a drum n'bass left hand accompaniment to some curiously Frost*y glitchy synth trickery.

It's a good job there's no curfew, as it means the band get to play their full set, which goes on way past midnight, before coming to a close with the superlative 'Naif' at around 12:30. But wait, they've had a quick chat with Lambsie and there's just time for one more little thing - with a bit of "To me, to you...", the marimba gets shunted out to centre stage, and the entire band take their places around it to perform a little ditty called '9 Hands Around The Marimba', in which they all manage to play the same instrument at once. This must be quite a feat of coordination, especially since they all build in plenty of time to poke each other with the beaters when they're not playing, or slap each other on the arse. Ahh, those crazy French.

With the gig over, the hall starts to empty out, and a few people step up to try to have a chat with the brave members of the band who've stepped down off the stage into the pit of tired and emotional music fans. This works to varying degrees, until a couple of us get really brave and crack out the school-level French. 

"Ahhh, everyone here speaks French!", says Dominique, in French, after I try to tell him how "magnifique" they are. "Oui, un peu...", I say, with crushing false modesty, before going on to explain how he should stop apologising for his English because none of us care. "Everybody understands the language of music...",  I finish up, with more deep philosophy than my beer intake would suggest possible. "Ahh, you are most welcome to come again!", he smiles as I shake his hand and bid him farewell, smug mode well and truly activated.

It's now nearly 1am, the hall is nearly empty and I suddenly realise that nobody is there to witness my Gallic awesomeness, so I hop back across the road to the Bates Motel and try to sleep, the sound of 5 Frenchmen making a wonderful racket swirling round and round in my head.

Next time: I discover that "dere's more to Lydney dan dis", yodel my head off to Focus, see some Big Big Train songs live, and get propositioned in a restaurant toilet.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

4th October 2013: Summer's End Festival Day One- Lydney, Gloucestershire

Cripes, it's been a long time since I wrote a gig review. It's also been a long time since anyone used the word 'Cripes', but we'll ignore that for now. I wonder if I can still do it, let's see...

Angular riffing... spectacular fashion... heart-rending melodies... (chronic overuse of brackets)... Yep, still got it. Ok, it's time for:

It's Friday night, and I'm heading down to 'Sort-of-Wales', as I describe it to anyone who asks. 'Sort-of-Wales' in that to get there, you have to go to Wales, turn right, and drive for 10 minutes - that's Welsh enough for me.

Summer may be ending, but someone has forgotten to tell Freyr, the Norse god of weather - as bright evening sunshine lights up my entire journey down to the Forest of Dean. Luckily though, the organisers did remember to inform Stellr, the Norse god of cheap lager, who's turned up as he does, year upon year, to drink his entire yearly allowance of alcohol before most of us have had breakfast. (And discharge even more over other people's shoes.)

Not that I can talk, really. My Friday evening will have to be summed up thus, I'm afraid...

Right, I'm here, oh look, Unto Us are playing, cool, I liked them last time I saw them. Huw's got a good voice hasn't he? I'm a bit thirsty, perhaps I'll go and get a... 


 they have the Big Big Train beer ! I HAVE to try some of that. Ooh, looks chocolatey. Not my normal tipple but let's give it a... oh yes. Oh yes oh yes, that's lovely. Mmmmm - oh, hang on, there's a band on...

Mmmm, everything looks better through a pint of Big Big Train...

Yeah, they're still pretty good. They should probably make an album for people to buy. Oh they're done, now where are my friends? Ah, look, there's Rob from Tinyfish... and Rob from the Tinyfish forum... And Rick, and Chris... I really have a lot of single-syllabled friends, don't I? Another beer? Well, go on then, why not... It's Friday night - better let my remaining hair down...

Oh, Haze have started... pretty similar set to the other week at The Peel, except that one of them's wearing a wizard's hat. Sure, why not, it is a prog festival. I'm going to get that opening song with its 'fiddly-diddly-dee' motif stuck in my head for ANOTHER 3 weeks, aren't I? ... erm, hang on, why has the second flautist got a baby strapped to her front? No, I'm imagining things, aren't I? Nobody is that desperate for childcare. Oh, no, she really has. Ok.

Come to think of it, why stop at two flautists? May as well get another one in training...
Photo: James Allen

... My beer's empty, where's the bar, oh look there's Rob again...just have a quick chat, oh, Haze have finished. Well, that was fun. Think I'll just go out to the foyer and take a look at the merch on sale, oh hi Nellie, what's that, you'd like to remove the entire contents of my wallet? Sure, why not?

Aha, Sylvan have started, sounding pretty good, let's go and have a look... via the lovely people at the bar, of course...

Photo: James Allen

.. Yeah, I like this! Heavy-ish but melodic, good fun music, really tight band, oooh what's this, another giant merch table right next to where I'm standing? Just have a quick browse through the CDs between songs... OH MY GOD THIS IS PROG MUSIC SHOPPING HEAVEN, I must have this... and this... and these... ok that'll do... these please...HOW MUCH??!!!? But that's all the money I brought with me - oh well, there's a cashpoint at Tesco's... really shouldn't come to this stall when I'm hammered, will I never learn?

Ooh, another really good Sylvan song, I'm going to have to check them out when I... wow, I'm hungry. I don't think I've ever been so hungry in my entire life... must... leave... now.... find food... what's that, Rob? You want to make sure I don't fall under a bus? Probably a good idea (not that there are any buses round here except the special prog bus...) SHIT. It's 11:30. Nothing's going to be open, is it... WHY DO I DO THIS EVERY YEAR?? DAMN YOU LYDNEY, Y U NO HAVE FACILITIES... - ah! The curry place! That's open! Thank you kind sir, yes I would love one of your fine curries - what's that? No, I think I'd better take it away and get back to the band, actually... erm, do you have a fork? Cheers!

Right, back at the venue, there must be somewhere I can sit and eat this and still watch the band... orrrr, not. Actually this really smells, should probably go outside somewhere.... mind you, my hotel's just over the road isn't it... I'll eat this and come back... LOVELY, WONDERFUL, LIFE-GIVING CURRY.... ahhhhh, sweet nectar of the gods.... wow, I'm full. And drunk. And tired... might just sit down for a minzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

"Thank you, you've been a wonderful audience - especially you, drunk-shopping-curry-guy..."

Next time: I drink less beer, and pay some actual attention to bands including the mighty Lazuli, and the 'differently-mighty' Gordon Giltrap.