Summer's End Festival
Season's End, Threshold, Overvibe, Abarax, Quidam, Magenta, IQ, G.L.O.W., Thieves Kitchen, Abel Ganz, Frost*, The Tangent
26th - 28th September 2008
Lydney Town Hall, Gloucestershire, UK
Article & Live Photos By Jez Rowden
This was the fourth event under the Summer's End banner, the first since returning to its original home in Lydney on the banks of the River Severn. After a couple of successful years at The Robin in Bilston the festival has returned south bigger and better than ever. I attended in 2006 and thoroughly enjoyed myself, seeing some great bands in the process but this weekend was something really special and it will hopefully continue in the same venue for years to come. Over the three days a dozen bands from across Europe performed to a supportive and enthusiastic audience of about 300. I couldn't get to the gig on Friday so this review will consider the Saturday and Sunday performances.
The format was the same for both days: three bands in the afternoon, an hour and a half break, special guests and then another long break before the headliner. The afternoon was great with short change overs between the bands and it was nice to have a break before the evening session. The second break was a bit long after already having had a good amount of time to get something to eat but with the focus being on giving the bands as much time as necessary to set up and sound check this was understandable and the result was well worth the time and effort. During the long breaks the hall was cleared and this led to a few issues that will be mentioned later.
After delays in opening the doors on Saturday the first band of the day, Overvibe, eventually hit the stage at about 2 o'clock, the singer having been stuck in traffic. Apparently this wasn't the reason for the delay but it looked like he'd just rushed into the building and straight onto the stage. The band looked ill at ease and a little unsure of themselves, the sound being far from good and where I was standing it was way too loud totally clouding any definition. I recognized some of the material from their MySpace which I'd enjoyed on first hearing but it just didn't really work on the day. They seemed under-rehearsed but settled down a bit over the next couple of songs. The band certainly have some good material, particularly Black Neon and Ascension Song, but it needs more proficient presentation to win over a crowd of new listeners and I found them very disappointing. I expect that on their day they are a good band and were certainly different to anyone else on the bill, a modern sound offering elements of Muse and Radiohead. Singer/guitarist Si Aljewicz is certainly an interesting talent with a good voice. The audience were supportive and gave them a good reception but most people I spoke to weren't keen.
Next up after a short break was Abarax from Germany. They had been due to play last year but had to cancel so it was good to see them finally make it. Immediately it became apparent that the sound had improved greatly with more clarity and a drop in volume. This band features the unusual combination of keyboard playing father Udo Grasekamp and his three sons on guitar, bass and drums with singer Andre Blaute who particularly impressed with a fine, rich voice. The obvious reference in their sound is Pink Floyd and this was evidenced towards the end of their set by a cover of Comfortably Numb played as a tribute to the recently deceased Richard Wright not the best choice of track in this instance but well enough done. They started well, playing their best song (to my mind), Nature's Voice, early on but lost me mid-set with an ill-advised acoustic number and a bit of sloppiness here and there, the cover of Procol Harum's A Salty Dog not helping matters. The laid back approach gave them little presence and the result was a workmanlike set that didn't excite.
Quidam from Poland finished the afternoon session and what a revelation they were for many in the audience, myself included. The sound was excellent, their material fabulous and new band line-up very impressive. I have been a fan of the old female fronted version of the band for a long time but was not familiar with the new singer and had been reticent to hear them expecting the change in their sound to have diminished them. What a mistake! Bartosz Kossowicz, has a great voice and more presence than most of the other front men (or women) the weekend had to offer, engaging and working the crowd nicely. The performance was energetic and the musicianship excellent with the flute of Jacek Zasada still central to the sound and setting them apart from the rest. Most of the material played came from Alone Together, a wonderful album that Mel picked up after the set and we enjoyed on the way home, with a couple of tracks from SuREvival.
They supplemented their set with an excellent choice of covers. Many an ear pricked up when they launched into a great version of King Crimson's Red with guitarist Maciek Meller resplendent. They also put in a fine rendition of Riders On The Storm by The Doors and included a section of Deep Purple's Hush within Not So Close. Mention must also be made of the other new recruits Mariusz Ziolkowski on the bass (who gave the band a metallic edge and played like a man possessed) and drummer Maciej Wroblewski. Last of the original trio Zbyszek Florek nailed the keys in fine style. I loved this band and hope to see them again in the near future. So to the first long break. Many headed for the pub and beer garden handily stationed next door, others went in search of food. We went to Tesco and got some donuts! Eventually the doors opened again and we were allowed into the bar area but not the hall. From there we could hear Magenta sound checking and it sounded great. There seemed to be a growing sense of anticipation amongst the crowd and everyone remained enthusiastic. Despite being turfed out to wait around in the cold nobody really seemed to mind.
Upon being let into the hall there was a sedate rush towards the stage to prepare for Magenta. Many were clearly here for the band and there was a big response as they came on. Immediately, however, all was not right. There were equipment and monitor problems throughout the set and opener The Ballad Of Samuel Layne had to be halted after the first few minutes when a bass pedal stuck almost blowing out both the windows of the hall and singer Christina's eardrums! They restarted but for the next couple of numbers Rob Reed had problems with his keys. Later Christina's monitors dropped out and she couldn't hear herself leading to a tambourine being bounced off the stage in temper followed by a polite apology! I've seen Magenta many times but never with this level of disruption but they dealt with it in a supremely professional way and still managed to put in a blinding set, the adversities being surmounted with humour. Not their best performance but very good nonetheless and highly enjoyable with Chris and Dan Fry working the stage and adding to the visuals. There seemed a danger that the expected encore would be cut due to the late running of the day, time growing short for headliners IQ, and towards the end of the set organizer Stephen Lambe handed Rob Reed a note which he didn't seem too impressed with judging by his expression.
As the band left the stage Stephen approached the mic but wisely decided to allow Magenta their well deserved encore which was much appreciated by the audience who had been baying loudly for it. The hall was cleared again to allow IQ to set up and this was unfortunate as, by now, the shops had shut and the temperature outside had dropped below comfortable levels. Two long breaks so close together is not ideal.
Ballad Of Samuel Layne
White Witch (excerpt)
Man Machine / Warning
Over an hour late at about half past 10 and probably resulting in a slight cut to their set IQ finally got to work. I hadn't seen them since Mark Westworth and Andy Edwards joined so was looking forward to hearing the new unit. Both played well and added to the firepower of the band, more than worthy replacements for the departed Paul Cook and Martin Orford. Peter Nicholls looked well after his recent illness and sang better than I'd heard in years. John Jowitt exuded professionalism and calm in the first of his two appearances of the weekend and Mike Holmes, the heart of the band, was on fine form. The band utilized back projections and simply oozed class, living up to their top billing with an exemplary performance with much humour on stage between Nicholls, Jowitt and Holmes. New songs Frequency and Stronger Than Friction were played, both boding well for the new album, particularly the former. The Wake was also introduced as a new piece but I have a sneaking suspicion that I may have heard it before! Oddly nothing from last album Dark Matter made it into the set. Overall a very polished show, possibly not as entertaining as Magenta or Quidam but very fine.
Some of the audience had to leave before the 12.15 finish due to travel issues which was a shame but the rest of us went home happy anticipating more of the same on the Sunday.
The Darkest Hour
Stronger Than Friction
Awake and Nervous
It all Stops here
Out of Nowhere
Sunday started with another slight delay but this was pulled back and everything was back on track by the second session. G.L.O.W. opened proceedings with a distinctly Ozric Tentacles/early Porcupine Tree spacey theme, quite original though and adding to the variety on the bill. The three members (Dave - guitar/bass, Ted guitar/bass, Ni keys/devices. Fourth member Andi added vocals to a couple of numbers) played a very entertaining set with a good deal of humour and kept things grooving nicely - a good way to start the last day of the festival. I don't think this sort of music is something that you could play often without it getting a little samey, but in the context of this bill the different sound and the dance vibe got many toes tapping. Enjoyable stuff. It has to be said that the variety of the bands playing was quite something and only goes to show how broad a field prog is these days. Opinions differed wildly over the merits of the acts too which can only be a good thing. There really is something for everyone.
G.L.O.W. Were the only band on the bill without an official album out but their home made Nearly Live CD was selling briskly after the set. I got my hands on one and can highly recommend it.
There was much interest in the hall when a Mellotron was seen on stage. Thieves Kitchen were ready to perform their first show in four years and many people were looking forward to this, particularly after the excellent reception of their latest album, The Water Road, which really is an excellent piece of work. There was also some excitement that ex-Anglagard keyboardist Thomas Johnson is now part of the line-up, the rest of the band featuring Amy Darby (vocals/percussion), Mark Robotham (ex-Grey Lady Down, drums), Phil Mercy (guitar) and Andy Bonham (bass). The band seemed a little ill at ease to start; unsurprising when you consider the length of time between gigs and the complexity of the music they were about to play, but this quickly passed and the set developed into a great performance focusing heavily on the new material. Amy sang well and had a selection of instruments to play as well including Theramin, recorders of various sorts, clarinet and percussion pieces - the band being the only one of the weekend to utilize the spoons! The intricate, folk tinged material has a lot of subtleties and many found it too difficult to fully digest in one sitting but I found them excellent and, again, very different to any other band on the bill. Sunday was shaping up nicely. Excellent playing from all concerned and a good reception from the audience.
I'm sure they will go from strength to strength over the coming years given the quality of both their music and playing. Sunday was shaping up nicely. Excellent playing from all concerned and a good reception from the audience.
Setlist Thieves Kitchen
Tacenda For You
The Long Fianchetto
Abel Ganz brought the afternoon session to a close and possibly because of the problems they had on their journey to the gig from Scotland they took a couple of numbers to get into their stride but once they had the performance was excellent. Their acoustic guitar led sound gives a distinct air of Scottishness to some of their material but they have a good rhythm section and lead guitar for the rockier moments with solid keyboard work and a nice line in dry humour adding to the performance. I haven't heard much of their work but they certainly have some nice songs and I will be checking them out more in the future. Maybe because of the intensity of Thieves Kitchen preceding them or the amount of music to be heard through the weekend the energy of the crowd seemed to dip a little during their set but it was a very relaxed and enjoyable set if lacking in excitement.
By now everything was back running to time just as well as Frost* had to be finished on cue as guitarist John Mitchell was also playing a headline show with It Bites in Cardiff, 40 miles away, later that evening. The crowd left the hall as instructed and we had another stroll through the town leading us to the conclusion that none of the businesses were aware that the town was hosting a large number of visitors looking for something to do and with money to spend. The place was basically shut which seems like a missed opportunity to me. Hopefully this situation will be improved if the festival is held at this venue next year. On the plus side we did get to see a steam engine rolling through the town which was a nice surprise. After much sitting around on the cold stones of the monument in the square it was time to go in again ready for Frost*.
Definitely the crowd pleasers of the weekend, there seemed to be plenty of people there just to see Frost* and they received a great reception when they appeared. Jem Godfrey was very funny and cheeky, the band seeming to have a blast playing together. John Jowitt and Andy Edwards, fresh from Saturday nights headlining with IQ, were on fine form and John Mitchell, probably the busiest man in prog, played some blinding lead and sang well. It was noticeable that Jowitt seemed more up beat playing with Frost* than he was the night before, maybe this is the fun factor while IQ is his professional bread and butter. Recent addition Dec Burke of Darwin's Radio has given the band a boost and is really developing as a front man, seeming to revel playing in this company. He gave an excellent performance on both lead vocal and guitar and had a good rapport with the audience. I saw them supporting Spock's Beard a couple of months ago and on that occasion they played a sharp, focused and action packed set which I think I preferred overall but this was a polished and varied performance by a band who know they're good and are keen to prove it. I could have done without Jem's solo spot of It's Raining In My Heart which could have easily been left out but overall this band has more fire-power than is seemly and I'm greatly looking forward to the new album.
Experiments in Mass Appeal
Black Light Machine
Raining in My Heart
The Other Me
And so to the last band of a great weekend - The Tangent.
Andy Tillison had been honest and open enough to tell me earlier that this show wasn't going to be a polished and well rehearsed performance and he wasn't really sure what was going to happen. He did promise that they were planning something special for the set. This new version of the band had been together a matter of days and this was their first show. As Andy said, this version of the band is very stable we've had the same line-up since Monday!. Having lost the previous Swedish contingent and Flower Kings connection the new version includes Andy with the other remaining founder member Guy Manning whose role in the group seems enlarged to equal front man, playing acoustic guitar, singing and adding percussion. Jakko M. Jakszyk of 21st Century Schizoid Band takes on lead guitar with Theo Travis on sax and flute. Theo remains a calm presence amongst the mayhem happening around him and added real class to proceedings. Band manager Ian also made a guest appearance as a pimp during Lost In London 25 Years Later.
The rest of the group is made up of the four members of Swedish band Beardfish Rikard Sjoblom, (keyboards/vocals/guitar) David Zackrisson,(guitar) Magnus Ostgren,(drums) Robert Hansen (bass). These guys are a revelation and prodigious talents.
And yes, they do all have beards! I don't know how old they are but early twenties seems a good bet and they play with a maturity well beyond their years. Particularly worthy of note are Rikard and Robert (who couldn't look more Swedish if he tried!) who were extraordinary. Robert and David were shoeless, sliding, moonwalking and throwing shapes throughout the set and obviously having a great time.
As well as Tangent songs from all of their albums except The World That We Drive Through we also got a great Beardfish track with the band playing on their own and a song from Guy's first solo album. The set concluded with the aforementioned surprise a great cover of Yes' Yours Is No Disgrace with David putting in a note perfect Steve Howe impression, wonderful playing. From the start Andy was in mad professor mode, very funny, making light of various technical problems and mistakes, the first of which being that his keys were not correctly set up for the first number! While fixing the problem he related the hilarious tale of when his laptop keyboard controller performed a Windows update and shut down in the middle of a gig in Sweden! Guy had guitar trouble half way through the set but eventually sorted it out. During breaks Guy told some jokes while waiting - he and Andy should go on tour as an instrument free comedy double act. All great fun and appreciated by a good natured crowd, most of whom managed to stay late for the completion of the evening, always a problem with Sunday nights with people having to rush home ready for work on Monday. Fantastically enjoyable despite the problems, they were my favourite act of the weekend and I hope this unit stays together as the Swedish youngsters add a huge amount of energy to the band.
Setlist The Tangent
A Crisis In Midlife
Lost In London
Lost In London 25 years later
Castaways (from Guy Manning's debut album Tall Stories For Small Children)
Medley: Darkest Dreams / The Full Gamut
The Music That Died Alone
Into The Night (from Beardfish's Sleeping In Traffic Part 2 album)
A Sale Of Two Souls
Yours is No Disgrace (Yes)
One note from Echoes (Pink Floyd)
Overall then a fabulous weekend, almost all of the bands rising above expectations and many of the performances simply brilliant. Sound quality after the initial problem was first class for the entire weekend and hats of to the sound crew for keeping things running and sounding great, Rob Aubrey being on hand to mix the bands on Sunday.
All the staff and helpers in the venue were very friendly and treated us all well many thanks to them. And a huge thank you must go to organizers Stephen and Huw who have worked long and hard to make this the best event of its kind in the UK. Hopefully it will go from strength to strength and I can't wait for next year.
PS, Huw made an appeal for all those in attendance who enjoyed the festival to write to Lydney Town Council telling them what a great venue they have, how good the festival is and how important it is to allow venues like this to be used fully without letting them fall into decay. For any attendees who would like to write in the address is:
Clerk to Lydney Town Council
Summer's End Festival Official Website