Kayak, Saturday 1st February 2003
Pim Jacobs Theater, Maarssen, The Netherlands

By Jeroen Kooistra

Thumbs up

This was the second try-out gig for the Merlin-tour. The theatre was small, and was quickly sold out. I spoke to Irene Linders (Kayak’s manager) before the show, and she kind of warned me: the stage was too small for the complete set-up, some stage clothes weren’t there yet, the accompanying dancing scenes weren’t perfect yet, etc. etc. All in all, I was not expecting too much. On top of that, the new CD Merlin - Bard Of The Unseen was not in the shops yet (luckily they sold it at the concert), so I was unfamiliar with the new songs. On the other hand, the new album is an extended remake of the Merlin-album from 1981, so it wasn’t all new.

The concert existed of two parts: before the break, there was the complete performance of the new album. And after the break, the chairs were removed from the venue, to give room for some serious dancing (?) to the old Kayak hits.

With Kayak, it’s always a surprise to see who is in the band. Let’s start with the old dinosaurs: Ton Scherpenzeel is by now the only member who has played on every Kayak album. Drummer Pim Koopman is still there, as are bassplayer Bert Veldkamp and lead singer Bert Heerink. And guitarist/singer Rob Vunderink has been a member for 2 years now, which seems to be quite an achievement in a band called Kayak. Another guitarist, Rob Winter, has unfortunately left the band after playing on only two studio albums. His replacement was a guy called Joost Vergoossen. Female singer Cindy Oudshoorn completed the line-up.

The new Merlin story lasts about 70 minutes. The album was recorded with an orchestra. At live shows, the orchestra is projected on a videoscreen. The band has to play along with the audio track of the orchestra, so timing is very important. Unfortunately, it went wrong in the very first lines (singer Bert heerink started too early). But after that, I didn’t spot any disturbing mistakes.

Bert Heerink played the role of Merlin, singing most of the songs. Halfway through, Cindy Oudshoorn appeared in her role of Morgan LeFay, Merlin’s evil opponent. The part of Mordred was played by Rob Vunderink.

Being the first time I heard it, it’s hard to judge the new stuff. Also, due to the many changes in personnel, it’s getting harder to identify with this band as Kayak. But I must say that the new songs fitted in very well between the songs of the original Merlin-album, and that the band performed very well indeed (certainly as it’s was ‘just’ a try-out gig). The new material was very varied: some ballads, some heavy stuff, and of course the odd medieval atmosphere. That atmosphere was enhanced by three dancers (coming from ‘Opus One’, a dance company with whom Ton Scherpenzeel works regularly), the images on the videoscreen and the voice (from tape) of storyteller Pim Koopman. This voice, by the way, can only be heard at concerts, and is not included on the album.

Bert Heerink obviously attracted the most attention. His voice is suitable for almost anything, without being as ‘characteristic’ as Max Werner or Edward Reekers. It is logical that the new songs suited him better than the songs from the Edward Reekers era. But he also did a good job at Niniane. To me, the real hero was Rob Vunderink. Not only is he a great guitarist, but he certainly has a fantastic, high singing voice (and a weird sense of humour!). It was really a pity that he only sang on two songs from the new album (Branded and The Last Battle). And although I am not a fan of female singers, I found Cindy Oudshoorn’s performace (both vocal and in terms of presenting herself) very convincing. She was very good in the heavier stuff, but also handled the ballads very well. Her version of The King’s Enchanter was refreshing. The only thing: she did a duet with Bert Heerink (Friendship and Love), which made me feel like watching some kind of Andrew Lloyd Webber musical instead of a rock concert. But then again: it’s a thin line between a Rock Opera and a musical.

Ex-guitarist Rob Winter had his own style, influenced by people like David Gilmour and Brian May. With Joost Vergoossen, Kayak has someone who stays much closer to the old Johan Slager sound. And that really helped in re-creating at least a bit of the old Kayak-feeling. Besides that, he was very capable of some good rocking, especially in the duels with Rob Vunderink. I still think that this combination of two lead guitarists is a fine addition to the Kayak sound. So it’s definitely "thumbs up" for Joost. As for the rest of the band, they played tight as usual, paying a lot of attention to the harmony vocals. Ton Scherpenzeel and Pim Koopman, responsible for the musical content, stayed very much in the background, just doing their job and leaving the spotlights to the others.

Since the concert, I have played the new CD a couple of times. And when I compare the concert to the album, it strikes me that the studio version sounds much smoother than on stage (but that is not surprising). At the moment, I prefer the more dynamic ‘live’ version, but in all honesty: it’s much too soon to make a final judgement. But this genuine Rock Opera was brought with intelligence, craftsmanship and enthousiasm. And with that in mind, I must not complain about yet another band doing the "King Arthur"- legend. And indeed, Irene Linders was right about the size of the stage, the lack of good costumes etc. But these things will no doubt be better at future shows.

There is not too much to report about the second part of the show. If you have witnessed the two previous tours, you will not hear any surprises. But thanks to the many singing voices in the band, some songs got an extra dimension. And Rob Vunderink completely freaked out during Mammoth, doing an hilarious backing ‘scream’.

All in all, I wasn’t disappointed, in spite of the disadvantages of a try-out. And the entire audience (of whom 99% had never heard the album) seemed to agree with me, judging from the standing ovation after the final notes of Avalon. Next month, I’ll be seeing the band again, in Rotterdam. At that occasion, ex-Kayaksinger Edward Reekers will join in as ‘special guest’. I can hardly wait!


Merlin - Bard Of The Unseen:
The Future King
The Sword In The Stone
When The Seer Looks Away
At Arthur’s Court
The Otherworld
The Purest Of Knights
Friendship And Love
The King’s Enchanter
Niniane (Lady Of The Lake)
The Last Battle

Close To The Fire
Chance For A Lifetime
Starlight Dancer
Ruthless Queen
Full Circle (closing part)
Merlin Medley


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