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Prog The Forest

Sunday 3rd December 2023

The Fiddler's Elbow, Camden, London

Prog The Forest is a one-day Progressive music charity event with all profits being donated to the World Land Trust. Now into its fifth year, sadly, two of the scheduled bands This Winter Machine and The Blackheart Orchestra had to cancel their appearance at short notice due to illness. Luckily two replacement bands were found who were available to perform; Kindred Spirit replaced This Winters Machine and Storm Deva replaced The Blackheart Orchestra. MC for the event was the inimitable Malcolm Galloway from Hats Off Gentlemen It's Adequate.

The first band up was Scottish Art/Prog rockers EBB who were formed in 2019 by Erin Bennett (guitars, lead vocals, trumpet), Kitty Biscuits (backing vocals, percussion, spoken word poetry), Anna Fraser (drums, percussion), Fintan McGregor aka Bad Dog (bass), Suna Dasi (backing vocals, synthesizer) and Nikki Francis (Hammond organ, piano, synthesizers, saxophone, flute, clarinet). They released their debut EP ‘Death and the Maiden’ in 2019 with their debut album ‘Mad & Killing Time’ being released in 2022. Their next EP ‘The Management of Consequences’ will be released on Monday 1st January 2024. I first saw EBB supporting Hawkwind at the London Palladium in 2021 and was completely blown away by their presentation and performance. I have been eager to catch them live again ever since!

The band wasted no time getting their kit together and delved straight into a piece called ‘Revenge of the Fifth’. The unbridled excitement developed into a melting pot of mesmerising euphoria within the first few minutes, and from then on we were all locked in with fixated hypnotized rapture! The band shared knowing smiles with each other as if they knew the effect their music would have on us music hungry punters! Without much ado the first new track ‘Silent Saviour’ from their forthcoming EP hit us with sonic delight before the monumental ‘Tension’ from the ‘Mad & Killing Time’ album had me a quivering wreck! There was so much going on musically that I found myself overwhelmed by the ensuing aural delight! The insistent grumble of Bad Dog's bass was earth shatteringly intense with Erin's elongated guitar screams bending around the tempo changes and time signatures intertwining with that low down and dirty bass. Suna and Nikki's keyboard flourishes reverberated with tantalising swooshes.

The Ebb sound is a veritable mix of Space Rock meets Jazz Folk meets Prog Rock! It was very clear that the six musicians have their own unique stylistic personalities and the chemistry between them was excitingly palpable with their stage presentation being electrifyingly enthralling. Kitty adding much to the visuals with her colourful stage props, expressive dancing, bubble blowing and moving interactions with all band members.

Another newbie in the form of ‘Nieu’ from the forthcoming EP, dazzled with wonderment. An intensely heavy amalgamation of convoluted and dastardly hooks and grooves. Erin's vocals were expressively deep and powerful. Following on, it was back to the ‘Mad & Killing Time’ album for the hauntingly slow burn of ‘Animal Said I’. A weaving pastoral backdrop set the scene before building in magnitude of intensity and gravity with strikingly yearning harmonies from Erin, Suna and Kitty. A spellbinding guitar solo from Erin twisted and turned into an undulating frenzy! Sticking with the album came the heavy ‘Violet is Tits’ which showcased Nikki's exquisite Hammond action and delicate piano tinkling with tumultuous squelchy noises from Suna's synthesizer.

The third track to be aired from the forthcoming EP was ‘Cost and Consequence’. Another mind-expanding trip, which languished in streams of vibrant consciousness. A sublimely virtuous performance from all. Back to the ‘Mad & Killing Time’ album for ‘Confess’. Kitty's breathy whispered vocal opened the track before Erin's lilting vocals joined in with menace. Their stunning harmonies weaved in and out, rising up with affecting intensity before climaxing in a feverishly manic rock out! Nikki's franticly haunting saxophone intensified the maelstrom. Another ferociously heavy track ‘Hecate’ from the ‘Mad & Killing Time’ album came next. Erins gravelly soulful voice delivered the goods with some daintily floating piano arpeggios from Nikki adding to the gravitas. Bad Dog and Anna's gloriously insane rhythms anchored the track down in the groove. Erin's gritty spangled guitar phrases bolstered the air with soul-stirring harmonies that illuminated the sound waves. An absolutely beautiful arrangement and stunning performance.

A live song the band recorded in 2020 called ‘Suffering’ was the penultimate track of the set. An incessantly potent repeated guitar riff dominated the first few minutes before the bass jostled for prominence driving the whole piece into the stratosphere! The interplay was wildly fierce and seductively captivating with Erin's vocals being emotionally expressive. A euphoric jam developed towards the conclusion which was mind scrambling intoxicating! Their blinding set came to a triumphant close with ‘Mary Jane’ from the ‘Mad & Killing Time’ album. A dark and brooding track with diaphanously sombre acoustic guitar strumming building in tempo and intensity as the story unfolded. Erin belted out the longing lyrics with heart-wrenching soul intensity. As someone said on social media “A headline set from an opening act”! Ebb have a bright future ahead of them if they maintain the momentum and I am fairly certain that they will be headlining venues and festivals before long.

After a quick change over it was the turn of the last-minute stand-ins Kindred Spirit to grace the stage. Kindred Spirit is a five-piece Progressive Folk-Rock band formed in the early 2000 by singer songwriter Elaine Samuels. The band has gone through several lineup changes over the years with the current members consisting of Samuels on vocals/guitar, Keith Buckman on bass, Paul Austin on drums, Piers Hogg on guitar and Stevie Mitchell on saxophone. They have released a plethora of albums including 'Dance Of Life' (1997), 'Free Spirit' (2000), 'The Watchers' (2002), 'Spirit Rising' (2002), 'In The Dog House' (2005), 'Metamorphosis' (2009), 'Pheonix Rising' (2015), 'Elemental' (2019) and 'Mechanophobia' EP (2023). The band's set consisted of a smattering of older tunes from their back catalogue with a few new songs destined for their next album. Their sound is very much pastoral Folk-Prog, quite a contrast to the band before them!

After another fifteen-minute change over the wonderful Ebony Buckle brought her distinctive musical visions to the stage. Ebony Buckle is an Australian-born singer/songwriter/actor now based in London. She has joined forces with her husband Nick Burns to make quirky Folk-Pop music. Their debut album ‘Disco Lasers’ was released in 2021 with a second covers album ‘Myths From The Megaverse’ in 2022. Ebony is also now a backing vocalist with the great Folk-Prog rockers Solstice. Taking to the stage with her husband on guitar, Nicole Collarbone on cello and Ebony on piano and vocals, they proceeded to perform an emotionally profound set featuring tracks from her ‘Disco Lasers’ album plus several new compositions destined for the next album.

Prior to the start of their set, we the audience were instructed to move several feet back to create a clear floor space in front of the stage to allow two dancers to perform. The dancers in question were Emma Clandon and Daniel Jarvis who are both professional stage musical dancers. Their exquisite dancing coupled with the emotionally impassioned music was expressively powerful and quite moving. Ebony has the most elegantly ethereal voice that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and shivers down your spine! The full set included ‘Wonder’, ‘The Monster’, ‘Jupiter Rising’, ‘Russian Dolls’, ‘900 Years’, ‘Wild Woman’, ‘You Took Your Time’, ‘Who Remembers’, ‘Immortal’, ‘Selkie’ and ‘Disco Lasers’. A truly movingly beautiful performance.

The last band of the afternoon before a lengthy hour and half break was Norwich’s very own Guranfoe. From 2012 - 2016 the band operated under the name Gumbo Variation. Since their formation, they have released several live albums of improvisational, Psychedelic Fusion Rock. It wasn't until 2019 that the band finally released their debut studio album ‘Sum of Erda’ with a second ‘Gumbo Gumbo’ appearing in 2022. The current lineup features James Burns (guitars), Ollie Snell (guitars), Robin Breeze (bass, keyboards), and Joe Burns (drums, percussion, keyboards). They played an interestingly well-crafted set that went down well with the gathered throng.

I was saddened that The Blackheart Orchestra had to cancel their appearance as I was keen to see them live again having missed their last few London gigs. The first time I became aware of them was when they supported Hawkwind at The Royal Albert Hall back in 2019. As a consequence of The Blackheart Orchestra cancellation and as it was Sunday, I decided to leave the gig after the first half. I was reliably informed that Hats Off Gentlemen It's Adequate and Storm Deva gave sterling performances. Overall, a well organised top-notch gig.

Steven C. Gilbert

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