30 June 2010

(More than) 10 Questions with...Alan Reed

I became introduced to Alan Reed’s work, as so many people have been, through his albums with Pallas. His vocals on the band’s post-Sentinel studio albums (The Wedge, Beat the Drum, The Cross and the Crucible, The Dreams of Men) are distinctive and powerful, and every bit an identifying part of what made the Pallas sound uniquely Pallas following the departure of Euan Lowson after the tour for The Sentinel.

Older progressive music fans know that this was not Alan’s first foray in music, however, Reed first took the stage as singer for the band Abel Ganz, providing lead vocals on their 1984 debut album Gratuitous Flesh. It was, in fact, a live gig with this band (at Glasgow's Kelvingrove Festival) that brought him to the attention of a lead singer needing Pallas. Alan has since revisited his time in Abel Ganz, guesting on that band’s latest album, Shooting Albatross.

This is not the only guest spot Alan’s shown up for recently. The past few years have seen him as a featured guest/cast member/vocalist on Clive Nolan’s Caamora album and stage show, recreating the classic Henry Rider Haggard novel She: A History of Adventure. This project saw Reed gracing the stage in Poland and Bolivia, playing the part of Horace Holly from the original novel. He’s also been a guest vocalist on another Nolan project, NEO, as well as sharing vocal duties on RPWL bassist Chris Postl’s Parzivals Eye project with fellow Caamora cast mate Christina Booth (of Magenta).

January 2010 saw a bit of a shock, as Reed announced through Facebook his immediate departure from Pallas, the band he had been lead vocalist for since 1985-1986. The split between band and singer was less than pleasant, but this gave Reed an opportunity to spread his wings musically and begin work on his debut solo album. While he’s still in the process of recording new music, a first sampling of his solo work will be available on the cover CD for Classic Rock Presents Prog magazine, as well as on the Emerson Lake and Palmer tribute CD The Endless Enigma. I thought this would be a great time to sit down with Alan and discuss some of his past, his present, and the possibilities for the future.

1) Could you share with us a little bit about how you got started in music

The usual. I badgered my parents into buying me a guitar for my 15th birthday. I quickly found myself gravitating towards bass - partly 'cause it seemed like it'd be less competitive to get into a band, but also 'cause I'd discovered Rush!!! Was in various school bands as both a bassist and singer, and decided it was what I most wanted to do in the world. Spent most of my time at university looking for 'the' band, and eventually blundered into first Abel Ganz, then Pallas.

2) Your 'day job' has you involved with BBC News. Is it difficult at all to 'shut off' at the end of the day and get into a musical mindset?

They don't really cross over in that way. My work in News is pretty full-on, but I work a smaller number of very long shifts, so I have more days off that I can concentrate on music. They're similar in that both journalism and music require my complete attention, so I tend to keep them separate. It's a balance that works for me.

3) The past several years have seen you very busy with a variety of projects...Caamora, Neo, Parzivals Eye among them. Have any of these projects affected how you would like your music to move forward?

Not really, other than it allowed me to play with and get to know a wider range of talented musicians than I might otherwise have done. I mostly did them out of curiousity - and at a time when my then band was relatively inactive (almost moribund). I generally only get involved in such projects cause I think the people will be fun to work with or I'll learn something from the process. Caamora was something a little different from what I'd previously done - and it certainly stretched me as a singer. NEO never really developed into the project that all of us had hoped for, and was overtaken by the needs of our individual bands. Parzival's Eye might still develop further.

At the moment my priority is finding out what my own voice sounds like after all this time as part of a distinctive group identity. I'm content to plough my own furrow for a bit and see what comes out, rather than subsume myself in someone else's project.

4) Caamora was a huge project, both musically and from a staging standpoint. What was it like taking part in something of such scale?

Exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure. My initial involvement in the album was relatively straightforward. Clive asked me if I'd sing one of the male character parts, and after hearing the demos I was keen to give it a go. His original invitation to 'sing two or three songs' turned into a much more demanding barrage of harmony and choral parts which needed a much more disciplined approach than you can usually get away with as a lead singer. The DVD recording in Poland was also a real challenge, with a disparate band of musicians, a choir and minimal rehearsal time. I'm amazed we managed to do it.

The real biggie was Bolivia though. Singers and musicians from the UK, Poland, Chile, USA, Bolivia, a string section, a 16-piece choir, 9 dancers, costumes, a full stage set and complex lighting effects.. at times it felt like we were heading towards a Rick Wakeman style 'Arthur on ice' kind of fiasco. But again, the shows were terrific. It was more theatre than rock in the end, but I feel honoured to have been part of such an imaginative and demanding show. And I got to go to South America to do it, meeting some lovely people in the process.

5) What would you say is the release you have been proudest of being involved in to date?

It's hard to answer that question right now because obviously my views are coloured by the unpleasant events of earlier this year. As an album, I'd probably say that The Cross and the Crucible is the most cohesive album I've been involved in. My best singing on record is probably either 'The Last Angel' from The Dreams of Men or maybe 'Signs' from the Paarzival's Eye album. But 'Proud' isn't a word I feel that comfortable with right now.

6) Over the years you've played hundreds of concerts all over the world. Are there any that stick out in your mind as particularly memorable?

I have loads of fragmentary memories from all sorts of gigs, but I think the first time Pallas played outside the UK at the Paradiso in Amsterdam is a particularly fond memory. The place was packed and they just went mental. We weren't sure people had even really heard of us outside the UK at that point. How wrong we were. The ones where things have gone wrong also tend to stick in the mind - like when I got caught between two sets of thunder flashes on a smaller than usual stage, and when they went off it looked like I'd exploded (nasty powder burns by the way). Or when our stage set caught fire at a gig at the Music Hall in Aberdeen. Oil had been leaking from a smoke machine and the pyros (them again) set it on fire. It was quite amusing watching Mike Stobbie (who was playing keys at the time) trying to put out the flames with his feet while he kept playing. Then a pile of roadies rushed out with fire extinguishers!!!!

7) You've just announced the release of your first solo recording, a cover of ELP's 'C'est La Vie.' How did you come to choose that track?

I knew how to play it!!! I first came across ELP as a teenager, when a music TV show here did a special on the 'Works' tour with the orchestra. It was one of the tracks played and I just loved it and worked out a version on 12-string. When I found out about the 'Prog' magazine ELP tribute CD, I remembered how much I'd loved it, so I half-jokingly offered to record it if they had any space left on the album. The editor got straight back and said that if I could get it to them within the week, then it had every chance of being included. I'm really pleased with how it's turned out. Obviously I sound nothing like Greg Lake, but I think I've managed to hold on to the atmosphere of the song and add a bit of myself to it too. Oddly enough it sort of fits with the thrust of some of the stuff I'm working on at the moment, and it's given me an unexpectedly early opportunity to launch myself as a solo artist!!

8) Mike Stobbie is contributing piano on the ELP cover; is he also featured on your forthcoming album?

ALAN: Mike is the first person I turned to for help once I'd decided to try and do a solo album. Apart from being a shit-hot keyboard player, he's also a talented producer who works a lot in the pop and musical theatre worlds. I knew he'd have both the personal sympathy and technical expertise to help me make my demos into something much more polished and listenable. We're working bit by bit in his home studio whenever we can, and will be going elsewhere to record the noisier stuff like drums. Actually I'm hoping to get the first batch of drum tracks done very soon.

9) How would you describe the musical direction you're currently following?

Not really sure how to describe it. I suppose what I've put on my Myspace site sums it up most accurately: - 'Sensitive, acoustically-driven music with a prog twist'. Some of the tracks are almost singer-songwriter affairs based around nylon or 12-string guitar parts. Some are more traditional band type arrangements. There's definitely a Celtic-folk twinge to some of it. It'll certainly sound a bit different from my former band.

10) Are there any teasers you can offer up to whet the readers' appetites?

Well, I'm wearing a silk blouse and suspenders…and it's such a hot day!!! Is that what you meant?

There are a couple of rough demos on my last.fm page http://www.last.fm/music/Alan+Reed

and an earlier version of one of the tracks on MYSPACE : http://www.myspace.com/pallastherockband

I've been posting short video studio diaries on my Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Alan-Reed/364663774275?ref=ts

This is where I tend to update most. I'll probably set up a proper website at some point.

11) Do you have any ETA on when your solo debut will be coming out? Will you be releasing it on your own or will there be a label involved?

Realistically I'm looking at spring of 2011. There's a lot do to, and it'll take time to get done working around both my and Mike's availability - not to mention that of other people. I haven't sorted out any release arrangements yet. I wanted to have something concrete to show people before I went down that road. But I'm about to reach that point shortly.

12) Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?

I've been genuinely stunned by the warmth and concern shown by so many people over the developments of the past few months. Rest assured I intend to continue, and hope my efforts meet with your approval. It's a bit scary being on my own after all these years, but I'll do my best to live up to the faith that so many have shown in me. My heartfelt thanks.

(Lead photo: Alan Reed live at NEARfest 2004. Photo by Bill Knispel.)

Some Festival news


THE MUFFINS is one of those amazing bands that you used to hear about from the 1970s...after it had disbanded. Formed in 1973, the band released its first official album, "Manna/Mirage," in 1978. This would later be hailed as one of the best all-time American prog releases from the 70s and an essential release for any progressive music collection. But while the band developed a cult following on the US east coast, notoriety on a larger scale was elusive. Despite continuing to create excellent music and working with artists like Fred Frith (the band backed Frith on his 1980 album "Gravity"), THE MUFFINS played it's last show of the period in 1981 and broke up soon afterwards.

However, the legend of THE MUFFINS continued to grow long after its demise and in 1998 the progressive music scene was given a reprieve when the original members decided that they still had something to say and reformed. Unlike many other "reunions," THE MUFFINS really DID still have something to say and the band started writing and playing music again like they had never taken a 17 year vacation. This culminated in the release of a new critically acclaimed studio album, "Bandwidth," in 2001. Since then the band has continued to record and perform, appearing at ProgDay in 2001 and 2002, and at NEARfest in 2005. We are very happy to host the return of THE MUFFINS to the Storybook Farm stage.

THE MUFFINS is joined by Half Past Four and Mahogany Frog at ProgDay 2010. ProgDay is the longest running progressive rock festival in the world. The 16th edition will take place on Saturday, September 4, and Sunday, September 5, at Storybook Farm in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. For more information, and to hear music from this year's bands, please visit us at http://www.progday.net


Signed for NEARfest 2011 are simakDIALOG (Indonesia) and Gosta Berlings Saga (Sweden). Bios to follow shortly, or alternatively:

http://www.progarchives.com/artist.asp?id=3083 (Gosta Berlings Saga)

http://www.progarchives.com/artist.asp?id=4831 (simakDIALOG)



German progressive rock band RPWL was signed this week as the 4th performer at the 7th annual CalProg Progressive Rock Festival. The event will be held on October 2 at the Center Theater in Whittier California. The complete lineup is:



District 97


Tickets go on sale Saturday July 10 @ 7am. All seats reserved.

Visit http://www.calprog.com for more details and to listen to audio samples of the bands.


The Summers End Festival to be held at Lydney Town Hall, Gloucestershire on October 8,9,10 is delighted to announce that day tickets will go on sale on 1st July from www.summersend.co.uk. We are also pleased to announce the draft day line-ups now that all the bands have been confirmed.

Ticket prices. Day tickets Friday - £17. Saturday and Sunday - £27.50 per day

A small booking fee will be applied to each order to cover the transaction fees for online purchases. Still available: 3 day tickets £60. 2 day (Saturday and Sunday) tickets £45

Draft line up - subject to change

Friday 8th October

The Defence of the Realm with 3Js and a P - featuring Jem Godfrey, Pete Trewavas and John Mitchell (UK)

Tinyfish (UK)

Unto Us (UK)

Saturday 9th October

Karmakanic (Sweden)

Agents of Mercy (Sweden)

Unitopia (Australia)

Ark (UK)

Haken (UK)

Sunday 10th October

The Watch (Italy)

Sylvan (Germany)

Phideaux (USA)

Dead Heroes Club (Ireland)

Multifuse (UK, France, Italy)


29 June 2010

CD Review: Julie Slick - Julie Slick (independant release, 2010)

Bassist Julie Slick has made quite a name for herself in a few short years. Fresh out of the Paul Green School of Rock, she and her brother Eric were tapped as the rhythm section for a new rock trio put together by some guy who claimed to have played with Frank Zappa and the Talking Heads and King Crimson…Adrian Belew, I think his name is. The AB Power Trio toured and recorded to acclaim from the community, infusing Belew’s eclectic playing with powerhouse rhythms and grooves, and showing that these siblings were a fantastic and telepathic playing duo.

Julie has spent the last several months in Slick Sounds Studios putting the finishing touches on her debut solo release, appropriately titled Julie Slick. It’s a 14 track opus that covers a lot of ground musically, from full on rock to jazz to ambience to electronica to places that rest between various combinations of the above. Eclectic and diverse, it works well as a showcase for her prodigious bass playing skills, and shows a songwriter willing to subsume their ego to craft pieces for other musicians to shine upon as well.

I’ve spent the past few days, in and around listening to my recent NEARfest purchases, listening to and absorbing this release; it really does have that much to offer. I am enamoured of Julie’s bass playing…she can go from heavy, pounding, pulsing rock playing to lighter, fluid lyrical lines at the drop of a hat. Her tone is never weak; at the same time, she is never the dominant musical voice on any of the tracks. By that I mean that she is never mixed such that her playing becomes so dominant that it drowns out any other musician on the track. You might think that’s a negative on an album written by, produced by, and featuring the name of a bassist on the cover, but for me it’s a strength. For me, it shows a musician who wants to be recognised as much for the pieces she brings to the table as for her playing. I won’t say anyone can play bass (I am Exhibit A for the prosecution there; as much as I love playing bass, I’m a one strong at a time bassist), but it takes a different, and more elusive, set of skills to bring strong compositions to the table.

I’m particularly enamoured of a few tracks in particular. Julie opens things off with the slightly heavy, jazzy ‘Mela,’ featuring a thicker than molasses on a cold day bass line, live drums from brother Eric, and dual guitars courtesy of Brian Davis and Matt Rothstein. In a nice twist, real sax is a focal point on this track, played by Jon Braun. The guitar leads have a lovely hive of bees sound, the sax skronks along nicely, and the song moves and grooves with authority and panache. Eric’s drumming skitters nicely all over the place, shifting time and tempo with ease, and as a statement of where the album is going to go, ‘Mela’ is a strong one.

‘Aphrodite’ offers up a different pair of musicians, this time with a bit of reputation behind them. Replacing Eric on the skins (actually, knowing this drummer, probably a mix of acoustic traps and a bunch of triggers and buttons) is King Crimson drummer extraordinaire Pat Mastelotto. Also featured is Andre Cholmondeley, who has worked with Eric Slick in Project/Object among other projects. Andre contributes guitar, listed in the credits as acoustic, but thankfully Julie’s liner notes add that he’s playing a VG-99 guitar, which is one of Roland’s modelling guitars. This explains the more processed, effected sound of his instrument, and it fits the more electronic feel of this piece well.

‘Choke’ is an incredibly eerie piece of music, with heavily processed, looped vocals, pulsing bass, and an orchestral bed that is built off Robert Fripp’s soundscape ‘Scanning II.’ This is one of several collaborations between Fripp and Slick, as his soundscapes are also featured on ‘Shadow Trip’ (one of my other huge favourites on the album) and ‘Spice Trade,’ which opens with a slower, more elegiac feel before shifting gears into a far more faux-industrial direction, replete with sampled violin tones soaring above the din. These types of shifts are not uncommon on this release, and while the songs are generally shorter in general, these shifts do a great job of ensuring that this instrumental album retains its freshness throughout. Thankfully the shifts do feel natural, not arbitrarily scattered about just for the fun of it.

I know I’ve only mentioned a few tracks here, but among any number of reasons for doing so, the truest one is this; I want to whet your appetite. I want to entice you, enthuse you, make you want to discover the other gifts this album has to offer. If you loved Julie Slick’s playing with the ABPT, you know what you’re getting into, but you have no idea how far the rabbit hole is going to go down. And I won’t tell you…but I will enjoy it as you discover it for yourself.

Check it out…it’s well worth the purchase!

1 – “Mela”
: J.S. – bass, VB-99 guitar, synths, Ultrabeat; Eric Slick – drums; Brian Davis – guitar; Matt Rothstein – guitar; Jon Braun – sax
2 – “Many Laughs”
: J.S. – bass, VB-99 guitar, synths, Ultrabeat; Marco Minnemann – drums
3 – “February”
: J.S. – bass, VB-99 guitar, synths, piano, Ultrabeat; Eric Slick – piano, percussion arrangement and sequencing
4 – “Mora”
: J.S. – bass, voice, VB-99 guitar, synths, Ultrabeat; Michael Bernier – Chapman Stick
5 – “Aphrodite"
: J.S. – bass, VB-99 guitar, synths, Ultrabeat; Pat Mastelotto – drums; André Cholmondeley – VG-99 acoustic
6 – “Baron Aloha”
: J.S. – bass, VB-99 guitar, synths, Ultrabeat
7 – “Nothing to Be Done”
: J.S. – bass, VB-99 guitar, synths, Ultrabeat; Michael Bernier – Chapman stick
8 – “Choke”
: J.S. – bass, VB-99 guitar, synths, Ultrabeat; Featuring Robert Fripp’s “Scanning II”
9 – “Awoke”
: J.S. – bass, VB-99 guitar, synths, Ultrabeat; Alex Schmidt – guitar
10 – “Shadow Trip”
: J.S. – bass, VB-99 guitar, synths, Ultrabeat; Featuring Robert Fripp’s “Sometimes God Hides”
11 – “Spice Trade”
: J.S. – bass, VB-99 guitar, synths, Ultrabeat; Featuring Robert Fripp’s “Sometimes God Hides” and “2006″
12 – “The Rivalry”
: J.S. – bass, VB-99 guitar, synths, Ultrabeat; Eric Slick – VB-99 guitar; Pat Mastelotto – drums
13 – “Cage Match”
: J.S. – bass, VB-99 guitar/organ, synths, Ultrabeat
14 – “Blood Blisters”
: J.S. – bass, VB-99 guitar, synths, piano, Ultrabeat; Jordan del Rosario – slide guitar

28 June 2010

Magma Monday 1

Welcome to Just Another Magma Monday. Once a week, your obd’t narrator and occasional blogger will trawl the expanses of his Magma collection to discuss something of Zeuhl-ish importance. Whether it’s the studio albums, the best of the AKT archive releases, one of the sundry live DVDs, or a choice artifact from his ‘unofficial’ collection, one thing is for sure…for this writer, Magma iss de hundin!

This week, sit back and relax as we take a look at…a little personal history.

For this, the first weekly Magma Monday post, I thought I’d delve into a little personal history. That way, at the very least, you have a little bit of an idea where this writer is coming from…how I discovered them, how I came to enjoy their music, et cetera. It’s not as long and bumpy a ride as one might think, so this opening installment may be a little on the brief side, but hopefully you’ll bear with a little self-indulgence. You should, after all…you’re a prog fan ;-)

I’ve honestly been a Magma fan since 2003. If we take the Wayback Machine, we’ll find out that I became a fan after seeing them live for the first time at NEARfest 2003 in Trenton NJ. This would make it obvious, one might think, that I discovered them as a result of the announcement in 2002 of their headline status for the following festival. And while this would be a neat and clear explanation, it’s not true. I know I heard the band before then…they were included on the 5-CD boxed set Supernatural Fairy Tales, and it was either ‘Troller Tanz’ or ‘Zombies’ from Üdü Wüdü (I just checked, and it was in fact ‘Troller Tanz’). And I have to admit that at the time I was the furthest thing from enthused, and was fairly certain when the band played in 2003, I’d feel the same way.

It’s amazing that live music can change things so radically, because when they hit the stage in 2003 to play the entirety of their the forthcoming album, Kohntarkosz Anteria, I was in a defiant, ‘show me’ mood. And by the time they had finished the first movement, I was ready to dress all in black and have a hawk logo necklace on at all times (OK, the dressing all in black part was easy, but you get the idea). One show…not even one song live, was all it took for me to get what the band was presenting. Suddenly the music made sense…the martial beats, the chanted vocals, the gradually building tension through the minimalism, the heavy jazz and spiritual influences…it was all there, and all I’d have to do was look back at the albums to see how it grew and developed and changed over the course of 30+ years.

Since then I’ve been lucky enough to see them a second time, at another NEARfest (this time far closer and more intimately), and if fortune smiles enough I may be able to see them a third this fall in Washington DC. I’ve bought the whole studio album collection, some of them more than once. I’m slowly working on picking up the DVDs (they’re pretty expensive as they’re all French imports), and the live releases from Akt will be next. Magma’s a band with a huge discography when you work in all the live albums that have been released, some of them in one or two countires only. They’re a band well worth searching out, because every album is different from the ones around it, and their growth and evolution, while perhaps not always to my liking, was a natural thing.

Over the course of the next however many weeks, we’ll be looking at all kinds of Magma music. We’ll certainly hit all the studio albums, and as I acquire the releases on Akt, we’ll look and listen to them as well. The DVDs will get their time in the sun as well, and we’ll look at how they differ from one another wherever possible (NB: I am not a musicologist, nor am I entirely encyclopaedic about things…an anorak I may be, but I’ll get it wrong too, and I hope you’ll be patient with me when I do). And yes, on occasion I may even look and listen to a bit that is packed away in a dusty box on a dusty hard drive that came from who knows where of one or another snapshots frozen in time.

There are some things I won’t do. If you’ve been listening to Magma for a long time, you’ll know the band has been fluid in membership. I won’t get into that. I also won’t get into some of the other things that have been occasionally swirling around the band from time to time. I’m being circuitous, but that’s because this will be the only time I even hint at this. It’s not of interest to me, it’s got no bearing on my enjoyment (or occasional lack thereof) of their music, and it will simply not come into play.

And with that, I’ll cut this installment off, and leave you waiting for one week, when we start things off for real in the only way that makes sense…a look at their 1970 debut double album, Magma/Kobaia.

I hope you’ll join me.

26 June 2010

The state of the Blog, 26 June 2010


As you can tell, I’m slowly trying to reactivate things again. Again.

I’ll make no excuses for how intermittent my posting has been. I could, I suppose, but there’s no reason to air stuff out. Besides, it’s my stuff, you know?

The premise behind this particular post is to try and not make any promises for what I’ll be doing moving forward, but instead give an outline for how I’d like to move forward. I do enjoy having this blog, and it deserves attention. At the same time, there’s a dozen other things I enjoy doing with my time, and I don’t want any of them to suffer for another. I don’t know that I will be posting here every day, but I’ll try to offer up some of the usual mix of news and reviews and opinions I’ve done in the past. I can tell you that generally speaking weekends will be right out for posting (this may well be the only weekend post you see from me...at least for the time being); I usually either have too much to do, or am sleeping, so unless something big comes my way, you’ll probably only be seeing posts Mondays through Fridays.
I also won't be announcing upcoming features or reviews; this way, if something comes up that's big I won't feel bad about skipping over something, and if I need a few days for anything I won't feel guilty.

Mondays will be, generally speaking, a special matter, as I’m planning them to be what I’m calling Magma Monday. It’s the only theme post I have plotted out, and I’ll be looking at a wide range of Zeuhl-ish topics; studio albums, live albums, concerts I’ve seen, and the occasional dipping into other, less official recordings. Other than that, we’ll see much of the same material as I’ve posted before...just a little slower and without quite as much intensity. This may mean the occasional longer post as necessary.

This week has really been more of a priming the engines kind of week; this coming week will see the first installment of Magma Monday, and we’ll take it from there.

25 June 2010

The last NEARfest 2010 post: the haul...

Obligatory swag:
NF t-shirt

NF program

NF pint glass

Not so obligatory swag:
Frogg Cafe t-shirt (came with the CD below)


Frogg Cafe - Bateless Edge

The Enid - Journey's End

The Enid - Arise and Shine

King Crimson - Lizard 40th Anniversary Edition

Cabezas De Cera - CDC Live USA CD/DVD

Strawbs - Dancing to the Devil's Beat

Strawbs - The Broken-Hearted Bride

Strawbs - Live at NEARfest 2004

Deluge Grander - The Form of the Good

RPWL: The Gentle Art of Music
Birds and Buildings - Bantam to Behemoth

Renaissance - In the Land of the Rising Sun: Live in Japan 2001

The Tangent - Going off on One 2CD/DVD Limited Edition

IQ: Stage: Dark Matter Live in America and Germany 2005 DVD

The Enid: Something Wicked This Way Comes: Live at Claret Hall Farm and Stonehenge 1984 DVD

24 June 2010

NEARfest 2010...the last 5 bands

This meant it was time for...

THREE FRIENDS, essentially Gary Green and Malcolm Mortimore from Gentle Giant, with a bunch of other musicians. This was going to be a nostalgia trip, and nothing more, but it was a wonderful one. Gary’s a stunning guitar player, Mortimore was pounding the skins with abandon, and the rest of the current crew were excellent, playing very intricate and complicated Gentle Giant material like they were born to do so. I don’t recall the name of the guy who sang (they brought in a new singer 2 weeks before the show), but he was excellent. I was thrilled to hear Boys in the Band and The Advent of Panurge and Prologue/School Days and Proclamation and…so many other songs. Gary was dead chuffed to be on stage playing to 1000 people, and his comment about this being more than three friends now, and how that probably means having to do a new album (‘Oh shit, what did I just say?’) was met with much applause and laughter in the audience. They were wonderful to talk to after the show as well…relieved, I think, that it went off so well, and genuinely touched by the response they got.

Saturday night ended much like Friday…drive home, offload pictures (this time so tired I left the camera on overnight, plugged into my PC), sleep. Sunday morning came earlier than Saturday did, and again, I posted a few teaser photos, tried to eat breakfast, and we headed off, a bit later than the day before, but all in all not too bad. I did my last purchasing for the weekend, and ambled into the theatre for MORAINE. Coming from Cascadia (the Pacific Northwest), their music is occasionally melodic, occasionally angular, occasionally noisy, but played with a lot of skill and subtlety. I think they have loads of room to grow, and they have great potential to be a force in the years to come if their first album is any indication. I do not think this performance will be spoken of in the same kind of reverent tone as other Sunday openers from the past (Sleepytime Gorilla Museum 2003, Hidria Spacefolk 2004, Guapo 2006), but this only means that there’s time for them to grow and evolve and progress.

Lunchtime came again, and again it was a burger from the outside tent. I was too lazy to go anywhere, and it was too hot. In any case, the burger was again good, and I risked some cheese on it. It was nice to get some air, and relax, and talk to people, and not feel rushed at all. I had no idea how much fresh air I’d be getting.

Band 2 on day 3 was THE PINEAPPLE THIEF from the UK. I have 2 of their albums…the 2 CD compilation 3000 Days and the newest studio album Someone Here is Missing. I was somewhat less than impressed with the albums after repeated listens, but still was hoping that perhaps the band would be more energetic on stage. I went in with no expectations of hopes, and discovered something…it is in fact possible to have zero expectations and still not have them met. It was shoegazer music of the worst kind, with whiny vocals and a plodding morose mid tempo beat that only succeeded in beating into my head just how gray their music is. I don’t mind maudlin, morose music…I love the darker Cure stuff, and Depeche Mode, and Radiohead, and so on, but this was just blah in extremis. Comparing them to Radiohead is an insult…to Radiohead. In the end, and trying to say something positive…I enjoyed every minute of their performance…that I spent outside, getting fresh air. I didn’t like them, and am not ashamed to admit it.

For me, tension was starting to mount a little bit. THE ENID was the band I had most wanted to see (in case you’d not already guessed), and honestly I was beginning to think that maybe I was building myself up too much. I was trying to will the time to pass more quickly so they could hit the stage. When we finally got in there and were seated, I had about 90 seconds of pure, unadulterated, undistilled terror sweep over me…’there’s no way they’re gonna live up to my hopes oh dear sweet merciful Yahweh what have I done to myself?’ I had been talking them up to all of my friends, and how would I face them after they failed to live up to my glowing and running commentary?


The first 6 or 7 minutes were sublime. I was totally unfamiliar save for a listen that morning in sleep induced coma of the new album, so my first real listen was when they played. And it was interesting and different…a melding of Something Wicked This Way Comes and Six Pieces. Lots of layered, processed, vocodered vocals, and tympani and guitars and layers of keys, and I was getting into it, and…

Then disaster struck.

The PC that handled the band’s effects and sound processing/shaping crashed. The band stopped. There was no way they could continue. And I died a little inside. Whilst the crew tried to get them band off and running again, the audience began calling out for a drum solo. Dave Storey obliged, adding in Summer Holiday as last seen on the Hammersmith live DVD. I think the fact that they didn’t all leave the stage, but tried to entertain and keep the audience happy in the midst of crisis, was a huge factor in their favour. When things finally got up and running again, instead of picking up where they left off, the band started from page one and began their set all over again. Journey’s End was intense stuff, and at the end of that part of their set they got a loud and rapturous ovation from a very appreciative crowd. The second part of their performance was a selection of mostly older material, going all the way back to In the Region of the Summer Stars. They started things off with Judgment and Under the Summer Stars, and my jaw dropped when the tympani drum opening on Judgment led us into the second set. I see that as an encore piece for some reason, so it was ballsy (to me) to kick things back off with it. Robert John Godfrey also offered up a lovely piano rendition of The Lovers, also off In the Region, and Sheets of Blue was another excellent piece. At some point I did start floating around the theatre…I was gobsmacked.

I know after the performance people asked me if my expectations had been met, and honestly, as lofty as they were, not only were they met, but exceeded. So much so, in fact, what when RJG and the band got up to the tables, I had a hard time expressing how much the music meant to me. I got to hug RJG as well, which is insufficient means for expressing my love of his music, but it has to do.

Dinner break, last day, and most of us went our separate ways. I ended up at Campus Pizza, as I usually do, and had a couple slices. I was already beginning to feel the crash coming as the end of the weekend approached. Finally making it back to the venue, I ran into Jon Yarger, who asked if I was ready to have my ass musically kicked. I said that honestly I was probably gonna end up hanging out with Brett Kull in the recording booth, and was told he’d not be there, as the headliner had specifically demanded no filming or recording. This, coupled with the strict no cameras policy for his performance, started leaving a bad taste in my mouth…a bad taste that would be build up as an 830 pm start slipped to 9 slipped to 930…when we were finally let into the theatre. As we waited, another film showed, similar to the one screening each morning, about how NF is all about the people, and this is where I got nervous. I had images of ill-advised chestbumps on screen, and when I saw the first one, I feared mine would be in there. I was relieved that instead people were only subjected to me saying this was my ninth NEARfest,and my rambling semi-lucid ramble about why NEARfest is so special. Then I watched as Ray and Jim and Kevin and Tom, in my eyes clearly uncomfortable, began stalling for time. I don’t care who you are, there’s no excuse for rock star attitude and prima donna acts. I was growing increasingly disgusted with the situation, and when the lights finally went down, and I watched 5 lighting trusses descend to the stage, I think I was done.

I still gave EDDIE JOBSON AND THE ULTIMATE ZERO PROJECT (alternatively Eddie Jobson and the Eddie Jobson Ultimate Eddie Jobson Zero Eddie Jobson Project, starring Eddie Jobson) a chance. 7 minutes of noise which I assume was actually impressive (to someone) violin playing led into individual introductions for Billy Sheehan and Mike Mangini and T.J. Helmerich and Marco Minnemann. The band shifted into King Crimson’s Indiscipline, and while I’ll admit the song choices were good (a bunch of UK, including Ceasar’s Palace Blues, Nevermore, In the Dead of Night, Danger Money, and more; Crimson’s Indiscipline and Starless; ELP’s Bitches Crystal), the playing left me cold, save for Billy Sheehan’s always enjoyable bass playing, and Minnemann’s excellent drumming. Jobson was more impressive on keys than violin, but on Starless all the life and space was sucked out of it, leaving it dense, overpacked, and less than the original. When you have a guy like Helmerich who can play 8-finger tap guitar, you do not have him playing the staccato violin part while you play Robert Fripp’s lines. It was a vanity and ego stroke of epic proportions, and it feels awful and horrible saying this about a band signed as a headliner, but I felt nothing from it. At all. So much nothing, in fact, that not only did I step out early, I didn’t go to get any signatures. Instead I spent the last hour of the performance talking to some friends and hanging out. After the festival finally let out, and most everyone queued for signatures, I waited, chatted with a few more people (Adam and Don and Andre, Cyndee and Jeff, Jen from PE, Adam, and far too many others to remember them all), and started feeling the comedown actually coming down.

23 June 2010

NEARfest 2010: The first 5 bands...

Riverside: We got going a smidge late, though through no one’s fault. As such, we didn’t pull into the venue parking lot till about 20 minutes before show. Still, it was enough time to get my shirt, program and pint glass, as well as get waylaid by Andy Sussman from Frogg Café, who was more than willing to take a 20.00 bill in exchange for a copy of the new album and a black t-shirt. My purchasing cherry broken for NF 2010, we meandered into the theatre for the first band of the weekend.

Riverside, for those of you not familiar with them, hail from Poland. They played NF in 2006, and I enjoyed them back then. For some reason, their performance on Friday night left me cold, and it’s a shame because I think they were in many, if not most, ways superior this year. They were tighter, less self-conscious, and played very well. I just didn’t enjoy it as much as I had in the past. I wish I could say some of it is unfamiliarity with the material, but I doubt that is the case, as that hasn’t stopped me before. It may well just be an indication of where my head is at musically these days. In any event, solid performance, very good stage presence, very good playing, but I didn’t connect, though through no fault of the band.

The break between sets allowed me to pick up a few more choice goodies from the merch rooms and get bombarded with people saying hello. It got a little overwhelming after a while, but it was good as always to see so many people I don’t get much opportunity to spend time with for one reason or another. Finally the doors opened and we settled back in for an encore performance, 8 years on, from…

Steve Hackett, formerly the best known of the guitarists who played with Genesis. His solo career has been long and variegated, and I was looking forward to his performance. What struck me almost immediately (as I hadn’t read the program yet) was that he had a larger band than in 2002, and that things seemed a lot more vocally orientated than in years past. This would be a nice addition to things, and the band cruised through a tight and memorable performance. I teared up a little on Carpet Crawlers, not knowing that we’d also get a full version of Firth of Fifth and Blood on the Rooftops, which were stunning. He also pulled out some new material from Out of the Tunnel’s Mouth, some choice pieces from To Watch the Storms (Serpentine Song and Mechanical Bride, both as Crimsoid as ever), and a wonderful classical set. He was in fine form, humourous and talkative, and his backing band (the classic King/Townsend/O’Toole quartet, aided and abetted by Nick Beggs on bass and stick and Amanda Lehmann on guitar and vocals) was superlative. For me, the biggest highlight was ‘Everyday’ with Hackett and Lehmann doing some excellent harmony playing on the solos. Brilliant stuff. It was a great way to really get the festival off on the right foot, and I left the first night with a smile on my face.

SATURDAY MORNING came way too early. This would be a harbinger of things to come, I feared, and it was true. Oh so very true. Still, we dragged ourselves out of bed, showered, I transferred my photos over to my PC, posted a few, off loaded my swag (I love that word. Swag. It’s a cool word) and prepped for the first full day of shows.

I had been going from table to table looking for the new Enid album, and no one had it. Everyone said only the band was bringing it. And there was no one at their table. They were conspicuous by their absence. Due to the legal stuff going around with them, I didn’t want to bring my copies of In the Region and Aerie Faerie Nonsense as I’d feel awkward asking them to sign them. So I figured I’d wait…and hope.

In any event, the doors opened, and it was time for ASTRA from California. They’re described as kind of spacey, kind of psychedelic, and they had those qualities in spades. Apparently they did their entire album as a suite, and so it really felt like they just kept going on and on. I don’t have an issue with long songs, obviously, nor do I have an issue with repetition (I’m a Magma fan, after all!), but I just felt like…well, at one point they hit a cadence that felt like an ending, and then they repeated it. And again. Around the fifteenth false cadence I was thinking ‘This is the song that never ends, it just goes on and on my friends…’

Having said this…double neck guitar! Made me happy. Nice keyboards. Great use of projections. There was good in there, and I wasn’t cold to them. I enjoyed what I heard…not enough to buy the album yet, but maybe someday soon.

After autographs, We popped outside for lunch. I got a burger at the little stand they had outside, and honestly I was pretty happy with it. I finished eating and was interviewed on camera by Tom Gagliardi and Krys Papineau, for what purpose I did not know. But there was a chest bump involved, and honestly I feared this would not end well. Following on from this we moved back inside (it was starting to get warm, but not unbearable), and it was almost time for another of the bands I was most looking forward to…

The Forgas Band Phenomenon. I was introduced to them a few years back by Bob Netherton, who raved about their Soliel 12 album, which I bought and enjoyed greatly. When they were signed for NF ’10, I knew I’d enjoy them, and I did. Loads of horns, sweet violin playing, and a fantastic drummer who could groove and swing in odd time signatures. The bassist was solid and laid it down, and the guitarist played his butt off. They were funny at the mic as well, perhaps a bit awkward speaking in English but making the effort and laughing at themselves when they just didn’t get it quite right. They played bits off Soliel 12, L’Axe du Fou, a piece off their soon to be recorded album, and a number of other compositions I wasn’t immediately familiar with, but enjoyed greatly. As far as ensemble playing went, FBP was maybe the tightest group over all, and I really really loved them.

Following on from the break, IONA was up third and I had a feeling that they might be a let down for a lot of people. For one, their material is not as intricate as a lot of bands, their sound lighter and less incendiary, and their lyrics are somewhat message driven. Still, I’m a sucker for Celtic influenced music, and for me, that was enough to find stuff to enjoy. Joanne Hogg has a lovely voice (and is enjoyable on guitar and keys as well), and was quite funny between songs, telling stories and interacting with the audience. I think she may have pushed the long songs/prog thing a bit hard, perhaps because their material is perhaps not what a hardcore prog audience would expect. Maybe if she was less up front/persistent about that, it might not have seemed as big an issue, but for me, it almost felt like they were trying to implore people to listen, where just playing and joking about the other things they joked about might have succeeded more. I also enjoyed the uilleann pipes playing from new member Martin Nolan, and I think they were very enjoyable and pleasant to listen to.

I wish I’d had a chance to get them to sign, but it was the first full night, and we had dinner to go to. We made it to the Brew Works in record time, even with the GPS (as I was nervous about my abilities to get us there) screwing up, forcing me to become the GPS. I got us to the right road, at which time the GPS chimed in ‘In point three miles, arrive at destination on the left.’

Gee, thanks.

We got seated in the Fishbowl, ordered drinks and dinner, and got Andy Sussman from Frogg Café to take a shot of the five of us at dinner. Andy hung around and chatted with us for a good bit, and finally food came. I decided to splurge and ordered the Kobe beef burger, which was probably the most amazing burger I have ever eaten. We hung, and chatted, and laughed, and finally headed back to the venue for the headliner for day 2…but before that, I took one last pass by the band room upstairs in hopes that the Enid had finally gotten there. Indeed they had, and I almost literally ran in, grabbed copies of the 2 new CDs (Journey’s End and Arise and Shine). I also ended up chatting with the merch person a bit about future releases (a DVD from Birmingham with 10 cameras, Francis Lickerish and the Chaldean Brass doing Fand among the other new and old stuff in the current repertoire). I was happy…they didn’t have the Hammersmith DVD, but I got the new stuff…