Four Days, Four Gigs

My name is Tim, and I’m addicted to live music.

It’s been one of those bank holiday weekends – four gigs in four days, which I think is the greatest amount of music in the shortest time I’ve ever done outside of a festival.

Things started a day early on the Thursday, with The Reasoning at The Met Theatre in Bury. Support band Morpheus Rising are a five piece band shamelessly citing the 1980s NWOBHM as a principle influence, now reclassified as hard rock following boundary changes. Entertaining high energy stuff.

I’d seen The Reasoning a week earlier in London, where a very poor sound mix really hadn’t done the music justice, and the performance suffered badly as a result. Tonight was far, far better. Bury Met is always a great gig whoever is playing, and The Reasoning I know and love were back with a vengeance, now expanded to a seven-piece with new members Jake Bradford-Sharp on drums, ex-Fish keyboard player Tony Turrell and vocalist Maria Owen. The new album “Adverse Camber” features heavily, which takes a slight step back from prog-metal in favour of some elements of the atmospheric melodic music that Rachel did with Karnataka. Not that the twin guitar attack of Dylan Thompson and Owain Roberts doesn’t still rock hard plenty of times, but the overall effect is to make their live set a lot more varied and multi-dimensional, which cannot be anything other than a good thing.

On Friday I travelled down to Cardiff to see Hawkwind supported by Panic Room at St David’s Hall. I’ve seen Panic Room many times before at their own shows, here they made the most of their five-song 30 minute slot, naturally including a great version of “Apocalypstick”. Blessed with a good sound mix for a support, they seemed to go down well with Hawkwind’s audience, and told me they sold a lot of albums after the gig.

Hawkwind themselves I hadn’t seen since 1980, and had lost track of what they’ve been doing since the mid-80s, so I really didn’t know what to expect.

They turned out to be amazingly good. Nowadays their sound is the missing link between metal, prog and rave/techno culture. It ranges from heavier songs with their distinctive ‘Blanga’ chugging rhythms, atmospheric Floydian passages, and several moments where they all started playing laptops and looked and sounded like Orbital. Amazingly Dave Brock looks no different from how he looked 30 years ago. Keyboardist Tim Blake played quite a bit of Theremin making classic flying saucer noises. On several of the ‘blanga’ numbers they had two bass players, with guitarist Niall Hone playing ‘lead bass’ and Mr Dibs playing ‘rhythm bass’, strumming chords like Lemmy used to do, producing a sound with an awful lot of bottom-end. And hats off to drummer Richard Chadwick for getting Simon King’s very distinctive drumming style off to a tee. The setlist was a great mix of 70s classics like “Lord of Light”, “Magnu” and “Lighthouse” with more recent material. The first encore of Hasan-I-Sabah with a lengthy techno middle section was amazing, and I really wasn’t expecting them to finish with their 70′s hit Silver Machine, which I thought they’re retired from the set years ago.

Saturday was Veteran Welsh proggers Man at The Garage in Swansea. There were two supports ,the first being a bluesy-rock trio who all looked about 15, some meaty riffs and good songwriting let down by poor vocals, but their youth must show long term promise. Next up was a truly dire landfill indie band. There might have been a few flourishes from the guitarist, clearly a frustrated rocker, but the tuneless songs did nothing for me at all, not helped by the fact they were louder than Hawkwind.

Man themselves were great, even if, like so many veteran bands, they only had a couple of original members left, Martin Ace on vocals and bass, and Phil Ryan on keys. Without knowing any of their songs, I found the most enjoyable moments were when when they went off into extended jams, with the rhythm section saying down a solid groove with Hammond organ soloing over the top. Proof that grey-haired wrinkly rockers can still do it.

As for Sunday, I’ve always meant to step out of my comfort zone of prog, metal and classic rock and investigate genres like jazz and folk, so spending a weekend in Swansea at the same time as The Mumbles Jazz festival seemed like a opportunity not to be missed. From the programme, the most attractive sounding one seemed to be Sunday night’s double bill, even though I’d never heard of either act. First on was the Mark Nightingale All Star British Jazz Quintet. With trombone, sax, electric piano, bass and drums, it was pretty muso stuff, with 13/8 time signatures (7/8 and 9/8 favoured by prog is for wimps!) and many, many bass solos. Still very entertaining even if they occasionally strayed into easy listening territory.

The second act, Protect The Beat, were billed as “seriously funky jazz/groove from five top UK session musicians”, but if that description makes your fear the worst, they were actually far, far better than that.Their session credit CV read like a who’s who of rock and pop with artists like Massive Attack, Sting, Chaka Khan and, er, Take That. Led by sax player Derek Nash they were both awesomely tight and completely on fire, and clearly enjoying every minute of their two hours on stage. One of those nights when you realise that recorded music on CD is just a pale imitation of live music; there really is nothing like being in the same room as a bunch of great musicians giving it all they’ve got. Not that anyone reading this needs to be reminded.

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