A New Day Festival - Day 2
Saturday 20th August 2022
Mt Ephraim Gardens, Faversham, Kent
Edgar Broughton, who closed proceedings on the smaller Sabine Jerram stage as the night air started to get much cooler, made an interesting statement as part of his between song chatter; seated alone in the middle of the stage with just his acoustic guitar for accompaniment, he commented that he was playing new songs as he didn’t want to be a sort of tribute act to himself. He made a good many semi-philosophical observations during his set and I got the impression that he would make a highly engaging companion were you to perhaps find yourself sharing a table over a pint or two. However, the tribute act comment was ironic, and quite cutting, given that this highly entertaining festival tucked away in the Kent countryside has its musical foundation in those very heritage acts that even with only half an original remaining member attract fans old enough to want to hear the numbers that the acts first performed way back in the day. Edgar was certainly brave to showcase his current songwriting efforts, which to quote one of the few notes I made at the time were “not massively melodic but pleasant”.
It's an interesting discussion point; what’s the difference between the typical tribute band, of which there are a multitude (and which fill out the gig diaries in all sorts of venues), made up of excellent unknown musicians and a band sailing under the name and accreditation of a known outfit from yesteryear, which is given legitimacy (and more importantly legal status) by having one member who played with the band at some point in their ranks? What if that member is the bass player or drummer? Maybe it’s ok if it’s Jack Bruce or John Bonham etc. or someone that was a creative driving force but, otherwise? There’s a bundle to explore here but I suppose it is one way to ensure that fans get to hear music they like played live; while you can always get to hear Pink Floyd’s music recreated by some anonymous worthies it’s less likely that you will stumble across, say, a Groundhogs tribute act.
The second day of the festival actually mainly featured a number of more obscure acts, to me anyway (I’m sure they’re all legends to their fans), that were all firmly steeped in the Progressive Rock world. In many ways this is perfect festival music, often featuring complicated arrangements of longer than average songs that contain the opportunity for multiple solos as well as for the whole band of highly accomplished musicians to go nuts in some frenetic battle as their instruments weave fast patterns around each other. Cuprum on the main Canterbury Ales stage at lunchtime were a perfect example of the more gentle side of Prog, with their flute driven ambient numbers occasionally propelled by some crunchy guitar (not a world away from Tull minus the vocals). As they say themselves on their website “Cuprum is never a parody and never a pretentious imitation - a fresh and green shoot of a now mostly withered tree”. I must admit that Prog isn’t exactly my go to music but this five piece were very listenable. Shades wearing frontman Richard Malat (flute and occasional vocals) was suitably charismatic and keyboard player Stepan Vodenka exuded some hardcore rockstar vibes, which must have set one or two ladies hearts aflutter. I haven’t a clue what they played, it doesn’t really matter with this music, but given that their last album (one of only two released) ‘Brahma Visnu Siva’ came out in 2014, I’m guessing that we heard numbers from this. Actually, this is a really solid album if you haven’t already come across it in the “Czech Prog” section of HMV.
It’s worth mentioning that the festival takes place on a relatively small site, in the landscaped gardens of a country house, surrounded by countryside, with a sloping hill leading down to the main stage, which acts as a natural amphitheatre, providing the lounging audience with not only a perfect view of proceedings but a really great uninterrupted sound, the best I’ve heard for an open air event. The second stage is a really short distance away from the main one so the amount of head down speed traipsing between stages that occurs elsewhere is not necessary here. Strolling across to the second stage I learnt that the advertised band had been replaced at short notice by Haze, a Sheffield based combo dating from the late 70s that seem to have come and gone a few times but are still alive and kicking. Brothers Paul McMahon on guitar and vocals and brother Chris on keyboards and 5 string bass, played as a duo in the absence of their drummer using drum tracks from their last album for some songs. Their site describes their music as “ranging from Pop, Rock, Folk, Metal, meandering Psychedelic jams to tightly structured Prog epics.” I’m not sure about that but they were pretty lively, playing melodically rocking Prog numbers and creating a much bigger sound than you’d expect from a duo. Chris on keyboards epitomised the look that can best be described as “old hippy” with an uneven toothy grin that you’d normally see behind a festival stall selling those multi-coloured trousers that are required by law for any Prog outfit. They were enjoyable with songs that were listenable but not memorable (which could sum up a lot of acts). The only one that I’m sure they definitely played was ‘Dragon Fly’ from 2013’s ‘Battle Ground’ album although it’s odds on that tunes from 2020 release ‘Back To The Bones’ featured, including opener ‘See You On the Other Side”, which, as I listen while writing, sounds very familiar.
Next up on the main stage were Solstice, who turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. This outfit have been around since 1980 but, like Haze, have flitted in and out of existence. Nimble fingered guitarist and founder Andy Glass is clearly no mug. While he and the male members of the band are of a certain vintage the employment of a young female lead singer and two utterly charming female backing vocalists provided the band with a youthful and engaging vibrancy and energy, that combined with a really good album, 2020’s ‘Sia’, which formed the basis for their set, resulted in good time vibes for all. Opening the set with the opening song from that album, ‘Shout’, it was immediately obvious that unlike a lot of Prog bands, this combo actually had some really upbeat and melodic numbers that perfectly suited the lead vocals of Jess Holland and the tight harmonies of the two non-stop dancing backing vocalists, who infused proceedings with their happy energy. Jenny Norman on violin added greatly to the musical mix and Steven McDaniel on keyboards (looking rather like a kindly maths teacher) was a calm presence. A really enjoyable set and just what you want from a festival, something new and surprisingly good, slightly outside of your normal experience.
They were followed on the main stage later by another mixture of youth and experience in the geographically named Karnataka. This mob have been around since 1997 with bass player Ian Jones providing the glue around which a large number of musicians have come and gone (I’d hate to do the Rock family tree of these Prog bands, it would endlessly branch off every which way). This four piece were on the rockier side of Prog and like Solstice didn’t seem to focus on the more fanciful side of Prog (no elf or fairy references as far as I could tell). Lead singer Sertari provided a strong visual focus and youthful energy to the proceedings. Guitarist Luke Machin provided consistently flowing solos to a strong and entertaining set.
Sandwiched in between Solstice and Karnataka on the smaller stage was The John Hackett Band, led unsurprisingly by flautist and keyboard player John Hackett. They provided a perfect soundtrack to the late afternoon vibe, legs tiring, thirst nagging away and belly reminding you that the food outlets needed your money, so time to lay out on the grass and let the band’s undemanding gentle music wash over you. Jeremy Richardson on bass took centre stage, behind him super session guitarist Nick Fletcher kept a low profile. A couple of songs that stood out were ‘Spyglass’ and, dedicated to King Crimson co-founder Ian McDonald who died in February, ‘I Talk To The Wind’.
Following them later on the same stage were Kaprekar’s Constant who, despite the mathematical reference name that just screams Prog clever clog, provided something a little different, not radically so of course, but, visually, singers Bill Jefferson and Dorie Jackson looked like they should be fronting an indie band and the songs were enjoyable melodic, and you know, proper songs. From my perspective, while there’s a lot of clever musicianship going on in Prog groups, so you can tune into a amazing bass part, or check out some keyboard figures etc. separate from any soloing that may be occurring, instrumental driven numbers tend to drift into meandering indulgence despite the symphonic intentions that lie behind the often complex arrangements. However, where the vocals take the lead the results are often far more focused and pleasing. Recently released album, ‘The Murder Wall’, by the band, is well worth checking out and featured heavily, including closing song ‘Victorious’ with its rousing chorus. Sax player David Jackson, best known for his work with Van der Graaf Generator, provided the focus for photographers with his beady eyed glint as he blew furiously on his collection of brass instruments, including an eye catching solo playing two saxophones at the same time, which I’m sure any watching lung specialist would have been impressed by. Some very nice NHS staff were in attendance over the weekend should any similar exertions have resulted in someone blowing a gasket.
Last on the smaller stage that day was the aforementioned Edgar Broughton. His solo acoustic set was slightly disconcerting compared to the musical prowess and variety on offer during the rest of the day, but was quietly effective despite the fact that that he hasn’t got a particular lovable timbre to his voice. The descriptions introducing songs were interesting, with one new song referred to as a prequel to one of his well-known numbers, ‘Evening Over Rooftops’. ‘In The Half Light’ was preceded by him talking about losing his brother and was dedicated to “everyone who feels they’ve lost hope”. ‘My Salvation’ was introduced following a long tale of his writing the song, playing it to a friend who advised recording it in case he forgot it, which he naturally did. Luckily it came back to him quite a while later. The song didn’t quite merit the build up. Quite a low-key set but an engaging performance all the same.
Before he came on, Colosseum had played a cracking set on the main stage. Chris Farlowe, a barrel chested but surprisingly fragile figure may have looked like one strong gust of the smoke machine could have knocked him over, but there was nothing wrong with his voice, which was powerful and bang on the money. They played a set that combined Rock with some 60s style R’n’B as well as their Jazz, Prog Rock fusion. New album ‘Restoration’ featured heavily, including renditions of ‘Need Somebody’ a radio friendly big moody ballad, the rocky ‘First In Line’ and the Blues Rock of ‘Story of the Blues’. Long-time member Clem Clempson played some tasty guitar and Kim Nishikawara on saxophone blew up a storm with multiple solos. Bass player Mark Clarke (who looked a little like a farmer that had just heard his prize bull had been stolen) provided some strong high vocals reminiscent of Jack Bruce in addition to being very busy on the bass. ‘The Valentyne Suite’ was dedicated to the people of Ukraine and their set closed with another old number, ‘Lost Angeles’.
The closing act and headliner for the day was the Dutch group Focus, who were superb. They combine superb musicianship with a back catalogue of big show stopping numbers. Founding member Thijs Van Leer is like everybody’s favourite uncle, a genial presence behind his keyboards, occasionally picking up his flute to trill away with great clarity, as well as providing those unique enhanced vocals that are synonymous with the band over the years. Long time member Pierre Van Linden on the drums always looks like he has got something on his mind, like a 19th century romantic poet contemplating the opening lines of something dark and Gothic; this doesn’t prevent him from hammering the skins with gay abandon for the entire set. Menno Gootjes on guitar, super cool in a tight leather jacket, is one heck of a player, managing to be sweetly melodic one minute playing long sustained notes, and then launching into super speedy runs followed by a sequence of power chords, all played with amazing clarity and energy. A beautiful player. Bassist Udo Pannekeet is a player that you can single out to listen to for the sheer dexterity, not to mention tastefulness, of his playing. They played all the numbers that the audience wanted to hear, ‘Hocus Pocus’, ‘Eruption’, ‘Sylvia’ and many more. All absolute killer tunes. A great way to end the second day of the festival.