Soft Machine Kendal Brewery Arts Centre 19 March 2016
When I was a teenager I would listen intently to “In Concert” on the radio. There are three broadcasts that I recall very strongly. The first was by Led Zeppelin, recorded at the Albert Hall; the second Fleetwood Mac; and the other was Soft Machine. It will have been 1970 or 1971. Of the three, the Soft Machine concert was, for me, the most memorable. I still remember the impact it had. The strange sounds coming out of my radio intrigued me; I immediately became a fan. The music was so different to that of other bands, and to anything else I was listening to at the time. If I remember correctly, the concert was introduced by John Peel, who championed Soft Machine at the time. Their “songs’ sounded like long improvisations; however I now realise that was the nature of the band’s music and the songs were probably more planned than I thought. I think they may have played “Moon in June”, “Facelift” and a few other tracks from “Soft Machine 3”.
I only got to see Soft Machine live twice. Both occasions were in the mid-70s; by which time Soft Machine had completed its transformation from psychedelia to jazz-rock. The first time I saw the band was at the Reading Festival, and the second at Newcastle Guildhall as part of the Newcastle Jazz Festival. Last night I took up on the chance of seeing Soft Machine again; when the latest line-up performed at Kendal Brewery Arts Centre.
The current line-up of Soft Machine was launched (initially as Soft Machine Legacy) in 2004. The line-up consisted of Elton Dean, Hugh Hopper, John Etheridge and John Marshall: four long-time members from different eras of the legendary group. In 2006 Elton Dean sadly passed away and his place on sax and flute was taken by Theo Travis, who has an association with Gong and David Gilmour and is a long time fan of Soft Machine’s music. Hugh Hopper sadly passed away in 2008. His place was taken by veteran bass player Roy Babbington, who first joined the group in 1970. This reunited 3/5ths of the 1975-77 Soft Machine line-up. Since 2010 the band has recorded a new, and highly acclaimed album “Burden of Proof” and they continue to tour. “Burden of Proof” is (from the venue website): “a collection of songs that basically has something for everyone; challenging jazz-fusion, adventurous prog-rock, bits of chaotic free-jazz, atmospheric instrumental pop-jazz, and even a little hard rock. Extraordinary!”
I had an uneventful drive over to Kendal, and took my seat in the Malt Room of the Brewery Arts Centre. Last time I was here was to see Marianne Faithful; which was some years ago. It’s a great venue and regularly features some classic acts. I have to admit that I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from Soft Machine; I guess I thought I might find the jazzy instrumental nature of the songs a little hard going. But I also knew that it was going to be worth the effort in order to reacquaint myself with the music of Soft Machine.
The band came onstage just before 8.30pm and launched straight into “The Steamer” from the 2006 Soft Machine Legacy album “Steam”. The sound was clear, crisp. The music a mix of jazz and prog. Guitarist John Etheridge introduced the songs and seemed to be taking the lead. He explained how the last incarnation of Soft Machine had seen former members put old disputes behind them, and how time had allowed that to happen. He also explained that veteran Soft’s drummer John Marshall was unwell, suffering from a bad back and unable to make this tour. The guy standing in did an excellent job.
The concert comprised two sets and drew from Soft Machine’s extensive back catalogue, going back to 1970 and “3” for “Facelift” and to “4” for “Kings and Queens”. The music was much more varied than I had imagined, and ranged from guitar-riff-driven hard rock, through jazz (with mucho sax) to atmospheric flute-led prog; the latter songs being my own favourites. The musicianship was excellent, and Etheridge joked and talked to the audience a lot more than I had anticipated. In fact, he explained that “back in the day” the members of Soft Machine would never speak to, or acknowledge, the audience. The evening passed quickly, and I realised that I had after all enjoyed it; actually a lot. It was very much a concert; rather than a rock gig; but hey that’s just fine for me these days.
The concert finished shortly after 10.30pm; I was back home around 12.30am. I’ve spent this morning playing my vinyl copies of Soft Machine “3” and “4”. Happy days.
Set 1: The Steamer; Hazard Profile; Chloe and the Pirates; Voyage beyond Seven; Song of Aeolus; Grape Hound
Set 2: Burden of Proof; Facelift / the Last Day; Kings and Queens; Relegation of Pluto / Transit
Posts Tagged ‘prog rock’
Soft Machine Kendal Brewery Arts Centre 19 March 2016
Maximo Park Newcastle City Hall 19 Nov 2015
This concert was a big deal for Maximo Park. Their Facebook page proudly declared “everyone has played Newcastle City Hall: Bob Dylan, the Beatles; and now we are playing there”. The concert had sold out quickly: a hometown show with the added attraction that the band were showcasing their excellent debut album “A Certain Trigger” in full was bound to be a big draw. Laura was really excited about going but sadly came down with flu on the night of the concert, so along I went to the City Hall on my own.
Maximo Park exploded onto the stage to a big loud and friendly roar from the home crowd. The set was one of two halves, opening with 11 tracks drawing from across their career, starting with “Girls who play guitar”. This was followed by a performance of all 13 tracks from “A Certain Trigger”. Ten years on the songs from the first album sound as fresh and modern as ever. The crowd loved it, and you could see how much the band enjoyed the night, and how keen they had been to grace the City Hall stage. A great performance from a local band who maintain a loyal and strong following.
Setlist: Girls Who Play Guitars; The National Health; A19; The Kids Are Sick Again; This Is What Becomes of the Broken Hearted; Hips and Lips; A Year of Doubt; Midnight on the Hill; Leave This Island; Our Velocity; Books from Boxes; [A Certain Trigger set:]; Signal and Sign; Apply Some Pressure; Graffiti; Postcard of a Painting; Going Missing; I Want You to Stay; Limassol; The Coast Is Always Changing; The Night I Lost My Head; Once, a Glimpse; Now I’m All Over the Shop; Acrobat; Kiss You Better
David Gilmour Royal Albert Hall 3rd October 2015
“Flicker, flicker, flicker blam. Pow, pow.
Stairway scare, Dan Dare, who’s there?
Lime and limpid green, the sounds around
The icy waters under
Lime and limpid green, the sounds around
The icy waters underground.”
(Astronomy Domine, Barrett & Wright, 1967)
It’s a lovely bright Sunday morning and I’m sitting on a Grand Central train which is weaving its way back home up North. I am also reflecting on last night’s concert by David Gilmour at the Royal Albert Hall. Nine years have past since Gilmour’s last album “On an Island”, and since I last saw him in concert at the same venue. Well we are all almost a decade older, maybe a little wiser, and much has changed. Some things, however, do remain comfortably and reassuringly constant, one of those being the unique crying, sustained tone and crisp guitar voice of David Gilmour. Gilmour has released a new album “Rattle that Lock” which has been well received and has also done well in terms of sales, reaching No 1 in the UK and many other countries. He has also now (just) completed a short European tour to promote the album, including five nights at the Albert Hall, and a warm-up show in Brighton. Last night was the final night of the tour; he will visit the USA in 2016.
The concert was in two parts, with a healthy selection of new and old tracks sprinkled throughout. After going through the ticket collection process courtesy of legendary promoter Harvey Goldsmith (no tickets were sent out in advance, and I had to show my credit card and photo-ID in order to collect my ticket), I made my way up to my cheap (well sort of, all things are relative) vantage point in the gallery (bad decision on my part by the way, I am too old to stand all night and I am very stiff this morning). The show started with “5 AM”, an instrumental and the opening track on the new album. Gilmour stood alone, lit by a single spot, the crisp, clear sound of his Fender guitar cutting through the night; filling the hall. In that moment we all knew why we had come. It took that single note, in that unique style, to cut through the years and take us back to halcyon days. His soaring tone blends blues, psych, sci-fi and surf guitar styles; I could hear the influences: Hank Marvin, Jimi Hendrix, B B King. This was followed by the title track of the new album. The fourth song, which was of course welcomed by a massive cheer, was “Wish You Were Here”. The sound was clear, loud but not too much so, and the 1975 classic never sounded better, nor more appropriate. These songs have become a tribute to a legendary band, to Syd Barrett whose vision made it possible, and now sadly to Gilmour’s friend and fellow Floyd comrade Rick Wright, who played with him at those Albert Hall concerts nine years. Other highlights for me in the first half of the concert were the “Dark Side of the Moon” favourites “Money” and “Us and Them”. The last song before the interval was “High Hopes”, the closing track from “The Division Bell”.
The second part of the concert took us back to the very start. “Astronomy Domine” is the first track on “Piper at the Gates of Dawn”, Pink Floyd’s first album, recorded before Gilmour joined the band. Today it is played as a fitting tribute to Syd and Rick (who co-wrote the song) and to days of innocent English psych, of early space-rock. The hall was bathed in colour, the giant (and familiar and Floyd-like) circular screen behind the band displaying a full-on ’60s psychedelic liquid light show. The strange chord sequence built to its screaming discordant climax. Fantastic; and for me, it was worth the ticket price for that song alone, as it was something that I thought I would never see performed live. This was followed by what has become my favourite Pink Floyd song, “Shine on you Crazy Diamond”. Searing, souring guitar, that familiar riff, a song of Syd and bitter-sweet sadness, and great visuals. The rest of the set was a mix of new and Floyd songs, including “Fat Old Sun” from “Atom Heart Mother”, “Sorrow” from “A Momentary Lapse of Reason” and closing song “Run Like Hell” from “The Wall”. I am not too familiar with “Sorrow”, to be honest, but last night it stood out for me, with some particularly fine, cavernous, deep, and heavy guitar work by Gilmour, which thundered and reverberated around us.
For an encore a clang of coins greeted us, tills jangled and we were, to our great delight, taken back to “Dark Side of the Moon” and “Money”. During the extended closing song “Comfortably Numb” the light show moved up a notch, and the hall became a criss-crossed matrix of green, misty, then bright, stark red, laser light. Gilmour stood in front of us, his lone figure picked out by two spots, as if he were standing above the clouds of laser light, his guitar solo meandering and taking us to the end of a tremendous show.
Well. It was a show you truly couldn’t fault. The selection of songs, the sound, the band, Gilmour’s guitar, the vocals, the lights; simply perfect perfection. Only two things would better it for me. First (and this is probably never going to happen), I would just die to see him play “See Emily Play” as a tribute to Barrett. Oh, and finally, a seat. I am never going to scrimp on the ticket price again, and stand in that gallery. I am sure I will be stiff for days. Not good for an old guy. I remember my dad having terrible back problems (think they called it lumbago back then) and I fear that I may be inheriting it.
Walking out of the venue I heard a father telling his grown up son (who was probably in his 30s) of the 1975 Knebworth Floyd concert and of the (model) plane crashing into the stage at the end of “On the Run”. Happy happy days. I really do feel like I am getting old.
Set 1: 5 AM (new), Rattle that Lock (new), Faces of Stone (new), Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd), A Boat Lies Waiting (new), The Blue (On an Island), Money (Pink Floyd), Us and Them (Pink Floyd), In Any Tongue (new), High Hopes (Pink Floyd)
Set 2: Astronomy Domine (Pink Floyd), Shine on you Crazy Diamond Parts I-V (Pink Floyd), Fat Old Sun (Pink Floyd), On an Island, The Girl in the Yellow Dress (new), Today (new), Sorrow (Pink Floyd), Run Like Hell (Pink Floyd)
Encore: Time (Pink Floyd), Breathe (Reprise) (Pink Floyd), Comfortably Numb (Pink Floyd)
Tour band: David Gilmour (guitars, vocals), Phil Manzanera (guitars), Guy Pratt (bass guitar), Jon Carin (keyboards, guitars), Kevin McAlea (keyboards), Steve DiStanislao (drums, percussion), João Mello (saxophones), Bryan Chambers, Louise Clare Marshall (backing vocals)
King Crimson The Usher Hall Edinburgh 17th September 2015
“When music appears which only King Crimson can play then, sooner or later, King Crimson appears to play the music.” Robert Fripp
It is more than 40 years since my last King Crimson live experience.
7.30pm sharp. Seven guys in three piece suits, looking like they could be attending a bank managers’ conference, walk onto the Usher Hall stage. This is the 8th incarnation of King Crimson and features Gavin Harrison, Bill Rieflin and Pat Mastelotto (three drummers), Tony Levin (stick bass), Mel Collins (sax, flute), Jakko Jakszyk (guitar, vocals) and (of course) Robert Fripp (guitar). The house lights are still on. Our Crimson musos take their places without saying anything. The three drummers sit at the front of stage, one to the left, one centre and one to the right. Each drum sports the rather disconcerting image of an Edwardian-looking boy with one eye in the centre of his forehead, which features in the publicity for the tour. Jakko’s guitar is adorned with the red face from the cover of the first Crimson album. The lights go down and the music starts. The sound is crisp, clear. The songs are largely unfamiliar to me, but I gather that they are drawn from across the suite of King Crimson albums. Fripp describes the new band thus:”King Crimson VIII moved to its next stage of actualization. This is a very different reformation to what has gone before: seven players, four English and three American, with three drummers. The Point Of Crim-Seeing was of a conventional Back Line reconfigured as the Front Line, The Seven-Headed Beast of Crim is in Go! mode.”
The music is a mix of dark, heavy foreboding guitar, mucho drums, very jazzy at times, almost classical at others. The tempo drifts from heavy metal through prog through folk. Robert Fripp sits stage right, wearing headphones, alternating between squeezing strange riffs from his guitar and observing and quietly leading his musicians. I am reminded how unique and ground breaking Crimson were, and are. “Epitaph” takes us back to that classic prog-defining first lp. Wonderful. I am transported back to days of my youth so many years ago, when I sat with friends; we listened to that album in total awe; we discussed it endlessly and took it to school, proudly holding that red cover for all to see. They close with “Starless”. It is 9.30pm. The lights go on. We stand and clap, and cheer, and clap some more. The seven Crimson guys return. They still have not spoken. “Devil Dogs Of Tessellation Row” gives the drummers the opportunity to show their skills. Then Crimson are transformed once again into prog-gods who tell us the exquisite tale of “The Court of the Crimson King”. Finally, the dark fear of the “21st Century Schizoid Man” takes us through a wall of screaming discordant terror to a crashing squealing climatic end. Mind blowing stuff.
A note about my drive home. Are there roadworks and diversions every night across the entire country? I always seem to hit them. I have a detour through Scottish villages just north of the border; the A1 is closed near Dunbar. Home at 1am.
Setlist: Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part One; Red; Suitable Grounds for the Blues; Radical Action (To Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind); Meltdown; The ConstruKction of Light; Level Five; Banshee Legs Bell Hassle; Pictures of a City; Epitaph; Hell Hounds of Krim; Easy Money; The Letters; Sailor’s Tale; Starless
Encore: Devil Dogs Of Tessellation Row; The Court of the Crimson King; 21st Century Schizoid Man
Ian Anderson performs the rock opera Jethro Tull @ Sage Gateshead 13th September 2015
Things come full circle. The touring band known as Jethro Tull seems to have been shelved, with Tull frontman and our manic flautist hero Ian Anderson touring under his own name, and Tull guitarist Martin Barre doing likewise. But Ian Anderson couldn’t keep away from the Tull moniker and concept for too long. So, as “a tribute to the original 18th Century agriculturalist” whose name the band borrowed back in February 1968, our hero has “imagined a scenario where the pioneering pursuit of improved crop-growing and farming methodology might apply to the world of today and tomorrow”. This led to the development of “Jethro Tull: the Rock Opera”, the delights of which Norm, Will and I experienced a few days ago at the Sage Gateshead. Anderson’s rock opera concept is this: take the story of the original farmer and inventor Jethro Tull and bring it up to date; tell that tale through the songs of Jethro Tull the band (and a few new ones written especially for the occasion), and create a theatrical stage show which takes the audience through the story. The show is very much just that; “a show” rather than a concert. The band provide the music, playing in front of a giant HD video screen. On the screen appear a cast of “virtual guests” who play the parts of Mr Tull and his family, narrate the story and sing segments of the songs. Anderson explains it thus: “Instead of spoken introductions to the songs in the show, there will be the use of that operatic device, the “recitative”, where the links are made by short sung vocal segments in a usually-simple musical backdrop”. So the songs are sung in part by Anderson live, and in part by virtual singers on the screen. The songs flow from one to the next with short video segments as bridges.
The show started at 7.30pm prompt. Parking problems made us a little late, and we had to wait outside until first song “Heavy Horses” was finished (“a suitable break in the performance”). The first half was around one hour and there was a short interval before “the show” resumed. How did it work? Very well actually. The video was high quality and the sequencing between Anderson and band and the virtual singers was faultless. Anderson’s voice may not be quite as strong as it was “back in the day” so the use of video allowed him some vocal rest, and gave welcome variety to the performance. However, I must say that Ian’s flute playing remains as excellent as ever, and his stage presence and antics are undiminished. The virtual sets were as you might imagine; we were transported onscreen to Preston station for “Cheap Day Return” and deep into the forest for “Song from the Wood”. Great Tull fun. Special mention to Unnur Birna Bjornsdottir whose vocals were exquisite and made for great reworkings of Tull classics, particularly “The Witch’s Promise” and Florian Opahle, whose guitar playing was tremendous. A very different and highly enjoyable Tull evening. Great to see old friend Doug and other fellow Tullites.
What next Ian?
Part 1: Heavy Horses; Wind-Up; Aqualung; With You There to Help Me; Back to the Family; Farm on the Freeway; Prosperous Pasture; Fruits of Frankenfield; Songs From the Wood
Set 2: And the World Feeds Me; Living in the Past; Jack-in-the-Green; The Witch’s Promise; Weathercock; Stick, Twist, Bust; Cheap Day Return; A New Day Yesterday; The Turnstile Gate; Locomotive Breath
Encore: Requiem and Fugue
The Musicians: Ian Anderson (flute, vocals, guitar), Florian Opahle (guitar), John O’Hara (piano; Hammond organ), Greig Robinson (bass), Scott Hammond (drums, percussion).
The (virtual) Players: Ryan O’Donnell (the younger Jethro, and Jasper son of Jethro), Unnur Birna Bjornsdottir (Susannah, wife of Jethro), David Goodier (Jethros’ father), Ian Anderson (Narrator and the older Jethro), John O’Hara (scientist and choirmaster).
Gentle Giant Sunderland Locarno 21st April 1972
This was a strange tour. Prog rock band Gentle Giant toured the UK as support for “Jimi plays Berkeley”, which was a film of a Jimi Hendrix concert. “Jimi Plays Berkeley” was never intended for official release but was hurriedly put together as a film shortly after Hendrix’s untimely death, and was put out on an European tour complete with support acts, which was Gentle Giant in the UK. Because everyone was so hungry for anything to do with Hendrix, it became one of the most popular music films of its era. The film features excerpts of performances by Jimi, bassist Billy Cox, and drummer Mitch Mitchell from two concerts. They perform “Purple Haze”, “Machine Gun”, “Voodoo Child” “Star Spangled Banner” and “Johnny B. Goode.”
I found this fascinating write-up of the tour on the excellent Gentle Giant tour history site: “…the tour may have been a somewhat humiliating experience for the group, as they actually had to serve as the opening act for a movie, the Jimi Hendrix live concert film, Jimi Plays Berkeley. Certain ads for the tour had the band’s name in large, bold print, as if they were headlining, but they did, in fact, take the stage first each night, before the movie. This tour also had its share of problems, supposedly. At one gig, the film never arrived. At another unknown date on the tour, Giant’s equipment didn’t arrive, due to a van breakdown, so they were unable to perform. This also caused a further problem for the film, as the band’s PA system was supposed to be used for the soundtrack. Roadie Phil Freeman recalls that the angry crowd actually beat up the projectionist on this occasion, out of frustration…..” I recall very little about Gentle Giant’s set but I do remember a long wait before the film was shown. I think the film was travelling separately to the band. When it finally arrived it was a bit of a let down as the makeshift projection and screen facilities weren’t great in the ballroom and the picture and sound were poor.
Gentle Giant’s line-up at the time was Gary Green (guitar), Kerry Minnear (keyboards), Derek Shulman (lead vocals, saxophone), Phil Shulman (lead vocals, saxophone, trumpet), Ray Shulman (bass, trumpet, violin) and John “Pugwash” Weathers (drums, percussion). They were formed by the Shulman brothers from the remnants of Simon Dupree and the Big Sounds of “Kites” fame. The band’s aim was to “expand the frontiers of contemporary popular music at the risk of becoming very unpopular”. Gentle Giant were much more experimental than other bands of the prog genre, making their music much less accessible and more difficult to get into than say Genesis, Yes or King Crimson. This concert was at the time of their third lp, “Three Friends”.
Gentle Giant’s setlist is likely to have consisted of the following songs: Prologues, Alucard, Funny ways, Nothing at all, Schooldays, Plain Truth, the Queen.
I saw Gentle Giant once more around the same time, supporting the Groundhogs at Newcastle City Hall.