Grey Lady Down - 1998, July 11th
at the Astoria Theatre, London, England
By Derk van Mourik
A big loss
A couple of months ago I received the last Grey Lady Down newsletter (named, as usual, after an anagram of the band's name: 'Wrong lay, Eddy!' ). The last, because in it the band announced that Grey Lady Down had ceased to exist. I was shocked to hear this and I wondered what could have been the reason behind this decision. GLD had just released a new album with a new line up and were still going strong as far as I could see. So was it bad feelings between band members? Musical differences? No, it was a much more mundane reason that the band had called it a day: singer Martin Wilson had left the band because he simply did not have the time for it anymore. Being member of a relatively unknown prog band is not sufficient to feed the family and daytime jobs and caring for that family just took up too much time to be a member of the band at the same time. Guitarist Steve Anderson had to leave the band for medical reasons. The three remaining members (oldtimers Mark Robotham on drums, Sean Spear on Bass and new man Mark Westworth on keys) decided that they didn't want to look for replacements again (like they did when original guitarist Julian Hunt and original keyboardist Louis David left the band in 1996) because they felt that the essence of the band could not be preserved. Especially without Wilson's unique voice the band just would not be the same anymore. Therefore they decided to call it quits and dissolve Grey Lady Down after 6 years and three studio albums.
For many people (including myself) the band's announcement came as a big surprise and a lot of people asked the band if there would be an opportunity to say goodbye. The band realized that the ending of GLD had been a bit abrupt and since there weren't any bad feelings between the members there was nothing that would stop them doing just one more gig. This gig, Grey Lady Down's official farewell gig, would be held on the eleventh July in London's Astoria Theatre.
At first it seemed impossible for me to go there, for both financial and logistic reasons and I also didn't want to go there alone but just two weeks before the gig a friend and colleague of mine, Armand Simonis, helped me out by deciding that he wanted to go too. Finally mutual friend Martin Kikkert joined us, too, and at 7 o'clock in the morning on Saturday the eleventh of July the three of us set out for what would become a very exhausting but also very fulfilling trip to London.
We drove by car to Calais where we took the ferry to Dover. From there we drove to Upminster where we parked the car and travelled by underground into the heart of London. We were very early for the gig, which would start at 7.30 in the evening so the afternoon was very well spent browsing through the merchandise of some CD shops (what else?). I found Fish's Suits for five pounds and also found a promo of the Genesis box set (which was a very nice digipack containing a great selection of tracks from the boxset. I'll probably be playing the promo a lot more than the box set itself!).
After we had 'dined' in a pizza restaurant (which was marginally better than Pizza Hut) we checked out the Astoria Theatre which is on Charing Cross Road. It has two entrances, the bigger having signs of some gay party that would be held there that night (and one we didn't want to be seen entering!) and the smaller one being the entrance to a shop on business hours and the entrance to the 2nd hall of the theatre at night! Luckily for us the small entrance was for the Grey Lady Down gig.
We picked up the tickets Mark Robotham had left for us at the cashier's counter and entered the theatre. There was a GLD merchandising shop set up in the lobby of the theatre and I bought the official live bootleg and the latest studio album, which I hadn't even heard yet! The guy at the merchandising probably heard our accent because when I paid for the CDs he exclaimed 'Hey, you must be the Dutch guys!'. It seemed our reputations had run ahead of us once more!
The support act of the evening was Moscow Riley, a band totally unknown to me and as far as I am concerned that doesn't have to be changed! The music was very loud and not very inspired. During their performance we hang out at the merchandising stand or sat in a booth at the side of the theatre. The Astoria 2 actually isn't really a theatre but more a concert hall annex night-club. It's a bit smaller than the Tivoli theatre in Utrecht and can probably hold 600 people.
Grey Lady Down had to hold themselves to a very tight time schedule because after the gig the theatre would be transformed to a night club. Therefore the band took the stage at 7.30 exactly with Martin Wilson motioning for the audience to come standing closer to the stage. At that time there were about 250 people present. The band started with favourite opener And Finally, from the latest album Fear. It was only the second time that I heard the song, the first being in 1996 on the Forces tour, prior the song being released on Fear! It is a very good track, reminiscent of the 'early' Grey Lady Down when Louis David was still in the band. The band played very tight and the crowd reaction was very enthusiastic, which was probably also due to the fact that the whole gig was being recorded for a double live album. And Finally was followed by Final Decree, also from Fear. They then played The Nail which was the first song played that night from my favourite GLD album, Forces. Roller Coaster was another track from Fear which I had already heard before on that 1996 gig. Martin Wilson dedicated the next song, the ballad A Modern Day Cavalier, to Gary Clayton , a friend of his who was tragically killed in a climbing accident. Then it was time for Without a Trace, one of my favourite GLD tracks. It has some great guitar parts and Steve Anderson did justice to them. He is a sober but solid guitarist and he was not so nervous as when I saw him in 1996 but that was his first gig with the band! Without a Trace was also one of Martin Wilson's own personal favourites because his wife can be heard doing an 'in-flight announcement' on the studio version. Unfortunately Mark Westworth played part of the song in the wrong key which did not fit very well with the guitar part which was in the right key! I hope they can fix this for the live album because it would really be a shame if they would have to leave this one of (in the mean time Mark has assured me that they will fix the song in the studio).
Martin Wilson then announced that they would play a new song that they 'had battled over the last few months'. The track, called The Perfect Dream, was another reason why it's such a shame that this band is no more because it is a really great song. Luckily it will be available on the aforementioned live album. Sliding was 'introduced' by Wilson telling the crowd that the gig would be recorded for a live album (as if we didn't know!) and, indicating to a microphone pointing to the crowd, tested our screaming abilities. Well, I can assure you that there was nothing wrong with those!
And then my absolute favourite GLD track, Battlefields of Counterpane, was played. Wilson dedicated this track to former keyboardist of the band Louis David, who was in the audience. This was absolutely a crowd favourite because everybody in the audience joined singing the lyrics. The song also features an incredible keyboard solo which was played flawlessly by Mark Westworth.
Martin Wilson then told the audience that over the last year people had repeatedly asked the band to play a certain trilogy (this was of course the The Crime trilogy!) and while they hadn't played The Crime in its entirety before they felt that this was the night, because there would never be another opportunity. So at nine o'clock they started and at nine thirty it was finished! It was especially great to hear The Crime live because the studio version of the first two parts, which are from the first studio album The Crime, suffer from poor production. As you could have guessed this was the closer of the main set and under great applause the band left the stage.
After less than a minute (tight schedule, remember?) they were back for the encores. We still missed one of the concert staples of Grey Lady Down, The Flyer, and of course this was played in the encores. But they started with a semi-acoustic version of Thrill of it All which ran over into The Flyer. The audience let themselves be heard on this one too!
Then it was time for the last ever GLD live performance, 12:02, maybe not coincidentally the first track of the first Grey Lady Down album. At the end Martin Wilson introduced the band and called a few people on stage, among them Louis David and Malcom Parker, a guy from Cyclops, the band's record company.
And then it was all over. I'm sure they would have come back for another encore but the time schedule wouldn't allow it. Mark Robotham had announced that the band would be in a pub a short distance down the road after eleven o'clock but sadly we had to catch the return boat to Calais and couldn't wait that long.
The return journey was very hard since we were all very tired (I had been awake since 5.30 that morning) and therefore I can't remember very much about it. Well, it won't have been that interesting anyway!
To conclude, I had a very good time, the gig was great and I think the world of Progressive music has suffered a big loss. On the other hand, I don't rule out a reunion and Mark Westworth, Mark Robotham an Sean Spear have already said that they will stay co-operating on something new. All is not lost!
A modern day cavalier
Without a trace
The perfect dream
Battlefields of counterpane
a. The ballad of billy grey
b. The fugitive
c. Paper chains
Thrill of it all/The flyer