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A Sunday In September

Sunday 18th September 2022

The Bedford, Balham, London

What is Progressive Rock seemed to be the recurring question at this festival held at this most premium of smaller venues in the wood-panelled performance room at the Bedford Arms in Balham underneath a giant disco-ball. The all-day annual event in its second year answered this with its stylistically diverse and eclectic running order of bands blending highly-skilled musicianship and an unerring ability to stir a willing audience. Most importantly, no discernible chin stroking in sight.

Fears that rail-strikes would cause a poor turnout were unfounded as every seat was filled in the room ready to take in the first act the five-female and one-man outfit, EBB (an unusual configuration in Rock terms). With a shock of blonde ringleted hair, Erin Barnett (EBB originally stood for Erin Barnett’s Band), the lead singer leads the band into the opening chords of 'Vorspiel/Grieg's Diner'. The combination of three female voices captures the poetic ecstasy of the songwriting and showcase the superb sound dynamics of the room (credit must go to the sound engineer). Imagine Lakme’s 'Flower Duet' type harmonising but with a rockier feel. They insist their closing song 'Mary Jane' is not a Prog song but they like it anyway and who is to argue.

Generously the concert was being streamed online for free and prompted an immediate response on Facebook to the sombre, brooding music of the second act, Downriver Dead Man Go, from the Netherlands. Lee Mellows writes: “Very cinematic, Nordic Noir title sequence music. I'm getting... Fir trees wreathed in mist. A pile of wet leaves with a hand sticking out... A cop with mental problems. It's all vividly here.” Which is a fair description with a hint of Vangelis-style synth solo on 'My Cruel World'. Hats off to this Post-Rock band for self-funding their trip to what was to be their only gig in the UK this time round and the great tonal guitar work of Michel Varkevisser and Gerritt Koekekbakker. They manage to emanate a haunting feeling that lingers on in the listener for minutes afterward.

After a short interval, the cosmic jacketed front man of the Gift, Mike Morton breaks the eerie atmosphere with a marked shift in tempo for the aptly-named 'Quickening Pulse' with its escalating instrumental tone that’s sets up 'Baby Blue Eyes'. 'Too Many Hands' is a slice of jangly Pop which recalls Marillion in their most accessible phase, but mostly their tracks contain lavish piano swirls a la Wakeman. This is no accident as their pianist Gabriele Baldocci is a professor of classical music by day and this really comes to the fore with his virtuoso playing of a keytar on 'Tuesday’s Child'. Mike Morton’s well-crafted lyrics take in subjects such as pacifism and on the 'Tallest Tree' sings emotionally about his departed father.

As such was the timing of this gig, another interval allowed for a minute’s silence for the recently departed Queen Elizabeth II, before the last section of this busy programme. The fantastically named Pearl Handled Revolver take to the stage, and boy are these guys a force of nature. They combine the Hammond organ attack of the Doors (Simon Rinado) with a Brontosaurus-stomp of Blues riffs of early Led Zeppelin. The palpable energy of the front man, Lee Vernon, with his gruff vocal style and deft Blues-harp playing is perfectly accompanied by the metronymic insistence of the drummer, Chris Thatcher ably assisted on bass by Andy Paris: This isn’t just Prog, this is Krautrock rolled into one, and suitably alters the collective state of mind of the audience.

After another interval (much needed to recover one’s senses) the festival is brought to a conclusion by the sleek Dutch five-piece Lesoir. Again, we're offered variety within the broad spectrum of Prog with a slightly new-age feel, mostly from the group’s latest offering album 'Mosaic'. Their songs are characterised by soaring vocals that are counter-balanced by whispery interplay and flute-playing, at times crunching guitars and electronic effects that add asymmetric time signatures, the overall effect builds up a compelling wall of sound.

Ivan De Mello

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