Sunday 29th October 2017
The Bedford, Balham, London
Last Sunday saw Balham's Bedford Pub in London as the Prog capital of the world for Progtoberfest 2 - an all afternoon/evening extravaganza of Progressive Rock bands, namely headliners The Gift who performed at Ramblin' Man Fair earlier this year plus support from The Far Meadow, Habu, The Rube Goldberg Machine and current WRC favourites IT, following the release of their recent album 'We're In This All Together'. The event was organised by The Gift's very own charismatic frontman Mike Morton and was also hosted by full of beans Rock Comic and our mate Pete K Mally. On our very first visit to this imposing venue - a short walk from Balham railway station - we arrived late (thanks to TFL) and after buying a pint we navigated our way through the pub's labyrinth to find the function room. With its ghoulish Halloween decorations, it certainly is a striking venue spread over two levels - and despite deserving a better turnout it was still certainly atmospheric as we initially caught most of Habu's set. Since forming in Ipswich in 2012, they have opened for international artists, Uli Jon Roth and Deborah Bonham, shared billing with Magnum, Landmarq and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and have become well established in the UK Prog scene. Habu are a frenetic three-piece led Mark King style by Alex Body on bass, vocals, keyboards, with Andy Clarke (guitar, vocals) and Alex Dunbar (drums). We missed both 'Vigil' from their first album 'To The Stars' and their single 'Dead Weight' from their second album 'Infinite' but caught the end of 'Eat The Sun!' - also from 'Infinite'. If we needed immediate affirmation that those assembled were enjoying the set - Body's question "does my bass sound distorted to you guys?" was greeted with a unanimous "it sounds good to us" from those of us in the cheap seats. Some might think a three-piece Prog band is a bit of a contradiction but Body's use of his Hammond more than made up for the lack of numbers complemented by Clarke's weaving guitar solos and Dunbar's drumming. Two new songs were included in their set, namely 'Wireless' and 'These Walls' - the latter - a history lesson from Body, written about James The First - well this was Progtoberfest after all! And from the past to the future - 'Android Warriors' taken from 'To The Stars' - the band's take on us all becoming cyborg's in this social media age - Alex embarrassingly pointing me out as I was typing notes into my i-phone! The guys finished their impressive set with the title track of 'Infinite' - not before the mood had been slightly deflated with Body's news that The Bedford would no longer be hosting Prog music.
If we needed a lift after that bombshell - what better current Prog band to step up to the plate than IT. Beginning life as a Psychedelic Multi-Media group, Harrow-based artists IT (pronounced 'it') is a band with a colossal sound that shakes the bones and with a barrage of images that feeds the mind. The sound fuses the classic melodies of Prog Rock’s past with a passion and intensity usually only found in Punk or Metal bands. Politics, religion, war and sexuality all come under the band’s lens for critical examination. Lyrics are intelligent, challenging and - occasionally - darkly humorous. They released their long awaited fifth album ‘We’re All In This Together’ in March 2017 to critical acclaim with writer/producer Nick Jackson on vocals and guitar, co- writer/producer Andy Rowberry on lead guitar and backing vocals, James Hawkins on bass, Will Chism on Drums and Ryan McCaffrey on keyboards. Hawkins bass intro on opener 'Power' - also the opener on 'WAITT' - saw the bespectacled black 'straightjacketed' presence of Jackson take control of proceedings - the band immediately making a musical statement of intent as well as a political one. Their excellent single 'The Working Man' - cue Jackson's political flag waving - although based on the drive to accumulate possessions and the wastefulness that often follows, was beautifully counterbalanced by the delivery of a couple of guitar solos from Rowberry. Two years ago the band released their next number ‘Last Chance’ for the charity CD compilation ‘Voices for Hospices’, which featured – amongst others - a brand new track from Steve Hackett. A protest against what's happening to our NHS - I'm sure Mr. Hackett would not have protested about another stand out solo from Mr. Rowberry - with Nick getting us Proggers to join in on the chorus - "together". By this time Harrison Wells lookalike Jackson had removed his the aforementioned straightjacket revealing a 'God' t-shirt before he introduced the next song - "It's a mover" - and he wasn't wrong as he smashed his percussion about on 'Gamble The Dream' - reinforcing their unique sound with its welcome Floydish tinge. If I was to pick my favourite from 'WAITT' it would be a close contest. A longer set would see the twelve minute 'The Path Of Least Resistance' as a classic finale, however, they did thankfully include the superb 'Voices' which not only encapsulates what IT is all about including outstanding keyboards from McCaffrey plus the driving engine room of Hawkins and Chism, but it also features a George Galloway speech about Iraq which according to Nick, George did in one studio take. A great way to challenge/change our political beliefs George! The Floyd influence on both the intro and outro of new single 'House', sandwiched the apt Halloween chorus of "Like a ghost in this house" before the guys rounded off their take from 'WAITT' with another cracker 'Revolution', with its heavy riff and 'Timewarpish' chorus. Brilliant. And in one of those - 'you couldn't make it up moments' - their finale was taken from their previous 'Departure' album, namely the driving 'God Is Dead' - just as two of our friends arrived - one of which was a Catholic priest who had just returned from Sunday Mass! All I can say is that the Gods are currently with IT. What a set.
At this point we have to hold our hands up and admit at this juncture, given our new arrivals, we unfortunately missed The Rube Goldberg Machine's set - OK we admit it, we went for a beer and a curry. But we did return in time to catch The Far Meadow's sound check just before a very funny short stand up set from Rock Comic Pete K Mally. Watch out for Pete's new 2018 Live 'n' Loud show in Bristol, Epsom, Manchester, London and Nottingham - all about the passion for the hairspray, Jack Daniels, flying Vs and yes.. Bon Jovi! Anyway, upon losing our vantage point downstairs, we repositioned ourselves upstairs overlooking the stage to the right. Next up were The Far Meadow, a five-piece Symphonic Progressive Rock band from London. Since recording previous album 'Where Joys Abound', they have been performing with a changed line-up, fronted by vocalist Marguerita Alexandrou, with virtuoso Brazilian guitarist Denis Warren, Keith Buckman on bass guitar, Eliot Minn on keys and Paul Bringloe on drums . Their new album 'Given the Impossible' was released on Bad Elephant Music at the end of last year. with distinct influences of Gabriel's Genesis, TFM opened with 'Travelogue' - a new track to be released on their new album again on the Bad Elephant label early next year. With Marguerita flitting off an off the stage during instrumental interludes - a theme throughout a great set - the next three songs were from the aforementioned 'Given The Impossible' - namely 'A Gentle Warrior' - a delightful fusion of Alexandriou's vocal and Minn's keyboards complemented by some great fret work from Warren, Minn's beautiful piano instrumental on the Emerson sounding 'Letterboxing' and then the superb much heavier and climatic 'Dinosaurs'. Alexandriou then courteously gave us a name check for the band members, in particular Buckman as it was his birthday, before they launched into another track from their up and coming album called 'Blank Canvas' - pucker Prog - one for the Prog police to look forward to. We had a false start for 'Himilaya Flashmob' - announced as the last song of their set - except it wasn't. In fact there were two final tracks from 'GTI' - 'Flashmob' the stand out for mine of their set - meandering Prog at its epic best with its ELP/Focus twist - so much so that I bought 'GTI' after their set - enough said! In fact TFM closed their dynamic set with 'The Seamless Shirt' with it's ELP style keys intro before it morphed in and out of - naturally - 'Scarborough Fair' - a microcosm of why we love this genre. The good news is that TFM are playing Prog for Peace with Konchordat and The Room at The Iron Horse, 122 Station Road ,Sidcup DA15 7AB this Saturday 11th November at 4pm. Tickets are £12 Advance or £15 on the Door (020 8302 8217). Do not miss them.
Also on the bill next Saturday are The Gift. It is eleven years since ‘Awake And Dreaming’ was launched into an unsuspecting Prog scene. The Gift’s debut album was created by a line-up which disbanded almost as soon as it formed. For frontman Mike Morton in particular, this was profoundly frustrating, as he always had a vision for a full, concept-driven live show. In 2010, Mike joined forces with David Lloyd, and together they created The Gift’s second album, ‘Land Of Shadows’ in 2014. 'Why The Sea Is Salt' was released in 2016 and the current members of the band are Morton: vocals, flute and acoustic guitar, Lloyd: lead and rhythm guitar, Leroy James: guitar, Stefan Dickers: bass, Gabriele Baldocci: keyboards and Neil Hayman: drums and percussion. Unfortunately, we missed the guys on the at Ramblin' Man Fair Prog In The Park stage earlier this year and indeed their very own charismatic frontman Mike had organised today's Progtoberfest 2. In fact their two openers were the same as 'Ramblin Man' namely 'Quickening Pulse' (from 'Awake And Dreaming') and 'Sweepers Of Dreams', on the latter the face painted Morton paying tribute to Zal Cleminson on this SAHB sounding track from 'Why The Sea Is Salt'. A combination of 'The Carpeted Corridors and Rooftops Revisited' (again from 'Awake And Dreaming') preceded Baldocci's piano intro on their epic masterpiece and naturally a Progtastic twelve minute 'The Willows' (think 'Supper's Ready') from 'Land of Shadows'. The contrasting acoustic gentility of 'The Tallest Tree' (another from 'Why The Sea Is Salt') not only showcased Morton's voice but also a song sung from the heart plus a beautiful guitar solo from Lloyd. Indeed, the next four songs were also from 'WTSIS' as we entered Genesis/Floyd prop territory when Morton, who was now wearing a mask, proceeded to scoff from a bowl during 'Feeding Time/Jackdaw-Magpie' - very captivating, with its enduring Porcupine Tree style riff. Next we were all 'At Sea' - with its 'Quadrophonia' style intro, followed by the 'Ondine Song' - all about a Sea Goddess - and then finally, 'Tuesday's Child' - Morton demanding that everyone should stand up as he and Baldocci swapped musical responsibilities. The poppy wearing Morton insisted that those assembled "Raise your hands - even those in the Gods" before they launched into the apt Pop sound of 'Too Many Hands' from 'Land Of Shadows' before he asked "Are you sitting comfortably as he introduced their final number written about the Iraq invasion namely Parts 9 to 12 from 2006's 'Awake & Dreaming'. "Buckle up" he warned as we were propelled into fifteen minutes of vintage The Gift - with tangible influences of Genesis, Camel and Tangent. Awesome. Unfortunately there was no time for their encore 'Land Of Shadows' 'Walk Into The Water' but hey, at the end of the day this was a wonderful day of live Prog music. Congratulations to everyone who organised Progtoberfest 2 and here's to Progtoberfest 3 - wherever that may be!