Progeny Day 1
Magenta, Richard Sinclair, In Cahoots, Pallas, Kevin Ayers, IQ
Saturday November 15th, 2003
The Astoria, London, UK
Tom De Val and Bart Jan van der Vorst
Day 1 - Day 2
Now that's something you don't see often: a festival entirely dedicated to the British prog scene. The famous Astoria Theatre in London played host to a wide array of bands, from all eras of Prog. Bands and artists from the early Seventies (Kevin Ayers of Soft Machine, The Enid), to the Canterbury scene of the Seventies (Richard Sinclair, In Cahoots), the "neo"-prog wave of the eighties (IQ, Pallas, Pendragon), the re-invention of eighties prog in the nineties (Arena), and even some of the prog bands of the new millennium (Magenta, Mostly Autumn).
The organisation must be commended for this excellent line-up, and actually, apart from two minor details the entire organisation of the weekend was impeccable. Unfortunately, that first minor detail happened at the entrance. For some strange reason the ushers at the entrance thought they were dealing with some kind of high-risk, very dangerous metal kind of audience and everybody was scrutinised for dangerous goods, such as a bottle of water, or worse, a sandwich. This, coupled with their fear to have more than 10 people in the entrance area at the same time, caused a queue two blocks long and it took over an hour to get everybody in.
As I had arrived at the venue early enough I was inside within 30 minutes. And at this point I was just amused by it all. I thoroughly enjoyed the little Matrix moment I had when I walked in and one of the ushers pointed at my camera bag and asked me to open it. The look on his face when he saw the two cameras, four lenses, flash and Dictaphone was priceless and as he stumbled nervously "uhm, I, uhm, er, I'm not sure whether you can take that inside, sir", I nearly wet myself.
Fortunately for him and unfortunately for myself one of his colleagues came to the rescue and it turned out that in my ignorance I had actually joined the wrong queue. There was a different queue for press, VIP's and other people on the guestlist, so I got literally thrown out of the venue to spend another full 30 minutes in this queue, only to be told that I first had to pick up my tickets, before getting my photo-pass. And indeed, to get these tickets I'd have to join the first queue again...
I managed to sneak past the usher who'd thrown me out before and get my tickets at the box-office, so finally, after an hour, I was inside. As I rushed through the hallways to the auditorium I could hear the first band, Magenta, already playing. As this was one of the bands I had really been looking forward to see live, I was a little annoyed that they had already started. As I entered the auditorium I could just hear them play their final notes and say "thank you, good night"
As it turned out, some kind of genius in the organisation had figured it would be a good idea to have the first band start playing the moment the doors opened. So by the time everybody had gotten in, Magenta had already finished! Not a good way to start the weekend...
Opening a festival is never a particularly easy task, but Magenta made a more than decent fist of it. This British outfit formed by Rob Reed (probably best known for his earlier band Cyan) must have hit the stage almost as soon as the doors opened, as when I got in 15 minutes or so after this they were already halfway through the (lengthy) opener Children Of The Sun. Despite this, they got a sizeable audience and gave a strong performance.
Material-wise we're talking retro-prog here, and I think it's fair to say that the band wear their many influences on their sleeves much of the time. However, the performances were strong (particularly guitarist Chris Fry, who coaxed a wide range of sounds and styles from his instrument), the songs have plenty of strong melodies and flow well, and in vocalist Christina the band have not only a fine singer but also a visual focal-point as well. It's clearly early days yet for Magenta (I think this was their first London gig), and their stage presence could certainly be stronger, but this was a fine set that deservedly went down very well with the crowd.
Ambling onto the stage with no fanfare at all, Caravan founder member Richard Sinclair was in 'very laid-back' mode for his set. Accompanied by Theo Travis on flute and saxophone, and playing an acoustic guitar himself, Sinclair played a selection of solo tracks, plus a few Caravan numbers (including Golf Girl and In The Land Of Grey And Pink) and finished with a Hatfield And The North track (for which he enlisted the backing of the next band up, In Cahoots). He seemed a little under-rehearsed (particularly with regards to remembering the lyrics!) but overall this was a fairly pleasant, undemanding half-hour or so, that would probably have gone over better at one of the summer outdoor festivals.
For his last song, Richard Sinclair invited his former bandmates of In Cahoots onstage to perform one song together. The band then proceeded for another 45 minutes of jazzy Canterbury style music. Quite enjoyable, though I must admit that it isn't particularly my cup of tea. After about 20 minutes I had seen enough and headed for the bar instead. The bar area was a great place to meet like-minded people, as well as various members of the different bands that were performing that day.
Pallas were only given 45 minutes to play at the Progeny festival, but they made sure they made a lasting impression on the crowd. From the moment the first tones of The Cross and The Crucible were played the crowd was won. Alan Reed's energetic stage performance was exactly what was needed after the somewhat mellow music of the previous two bands. The small Scotsman bounced around the stage with no shoes on, which actually made him look like a Hobbit!
Keyboardplayer Ronnie Brown couldn't make the trip to London, due to other commitments, but the band had found original keyboardplayer Mike Stobbie willing to re-join the band for this one occasion. I have to say that he managed really well, playing the keyboardparts from the songs from the bands' latter albums. Only once did it go wrong, and this wasn't even his fault, when midway For The Greater Glory the sound engineer thought the song had finished and accidentally switched off the sound of the keyboards. It was quite funny to see drummer Colin Fraser and bassist Graeme Murray continue playing and replaying the single, pounding note preceding the keyboard solo until the sound was finally back on. Alan Reed managed to get the audience clapping along and I think that people who didn't know the song wouldn't even have noticed!
The band then moved back in time for the majestic Crown Of Thorns, one of my favourites, which has a starring role for the vocals of Graeme Murray. Alan missed some of the high notes here, but nobody seemed to care - the energy from his performance made up for it big time.
Next they played a song which they hadn't played since the departure of Mike Stobbie from the band: Sanctuary, off The Wedge. This song segued into the finale of their epic Atlantis, which ended their short set.
The crowd's reaction was phenomenal. They surely conquered London with their (far too) short set. Unfortunately we will have to wait until May 1st when they will play their next gig at the Classic Rock Society.
Originally the Carl Palmer band was scheduled to fill this slot, however, they had to pull out due to illness. Kevin Ayers was found willing to fill the gap instead. This seemed like a good idea, however, the same Kevin Ayers was scheduled as opening act for the Sunday, so I didn't understand why the organisation didn't let Pallas play a bit longer.
What was even worse was that Kevin Ayers' music didn't have anything to do with the rest of the music that was played during the entire weekend. The former Soft Machine guitarist played some kind of laid-back bluesrock, which would have been fine at a blues festival, but was completely out of place at this prog festival. Pallas had been the crowd-favourite of the day up to this point, so it was downright unfair that they had to clear the stage after 45 minutes and Kevin Ayers got a full 75 minutes to croak through his bluesy stuff.
The bar upstairs was busier than it had been all day and I had a great time chatting with the various musicians. I did a quick interview with Magenta, though the conditions were far from perfect. As the venue didn't have any place to accommodate for interviews we settled for the staircase instead, which was too noisy to record anything. We did have a pleasant chat though, largely about their new album Seven, which is due out March 1st 2004 and from which they premiered the new song Gluttony during their gig this afternoon.
It's safe to say that there was only one band the majority of fans (particularly those from further afield than the UK) had come to see, and that was IQ. Fittingly, therefore, the band got the best sound of the night, and with some high quality slide projections and a strong light show, clearly had by far the best production values. However, compared to Pallas's fired-up powerhouse of a set earlier, IQ, to be honest, seemed to lack some passion and energy.
That's not to say this was a bad show, far from it. Peter Nicholls, who took the stage dressed in a rather dapper grey suit, appeared to be suffering from a cold, and therefore (understandably) lacked a little power in his vocals, but otherwise the band was, as usual, spot-on musically. The set was well chosen; a good mix of staples (opener The Darkest Hour, Subterranea, Falling Apart At The Seams, The Wake), rarer but well-loved tracks (in particular The Enemy Smacks, which allowed Nicholls to indulge his theatrical side to the max) and some new material. These were presented in the form of two medleys (imaginatively titled Newie and Newie Too) and, whilst its extremely difficult to form impressions of songs first aired live - let alone 'bits' of songs, as presented here - these tracks certainly seemed to indicate there's creative life left in IQ yet.
High points of the show were, for me, the ever-excellent The Seventh House - as well as being a powerful, emotional epic, this was also the one song that really gained from the visuals displayed on the big screen behind the band (war-time footage showing the grim reality of conflict) - and Subterranea, where the band was joined by a female violinist from Japan (don't ask...). Low point was definitely the awful Corners - why the band persist with this monotonous dirge I don't know, but perhaps I'm in a minority as it seemed to go down well enough.
Ultimately, as I've said before, this was a solid performance that, for me, had a bit too much of a 'going through the motions' feel about it for it to be a classic, such as the Subterranaea show the band played at this venue a few years back. However, it does strike me that perhaps I'm getting a bit nonchalant about bands like this - although IQ are hardly the hardest-working live band, anyone living in the southern half of the UK usually has a chance to see them a couple of times a year, and can therefore judge the relative merits of each performance from gig to gig; many of those present tonight, from countries such as Japan and the USA, patently don't have this privilege, and from that perspective I'd probably have rated the show more highly. The band got an excellent reception, and the rapturous crowd response certainly added to the performance. For me, though, Pallas were the band of the night.
Children Of The Sun
Man The Machine (edit)
The Cross and the Crucible
For The Greater Glory
Crown Of Thorns
The Darkest Hour
No Love Lost
Nostalgia / Falling Apart At The Seams
The Seventh House
The Enemy Smacks
Proceed to Day 2
All photos © Bart Jan van der Vorst for DPRP 2003