Frost* and It Bites at the Scala, London on Sunday 16th December: ‘I get by with a little help from my friends’ review
We (myself, Nigel and Gary) arrived at the Scala at 7.15pm knowing that with a strict curfew operating at 10.30pm matters would commence at 7.30pm sharp. So plenty of time then, even if I was told it might be popular (but that’s not saying much for a Prog gig). To my horror I saw the biggest queue I have ever seen for such a gig….it was at least 100 yards long and possibly 150 yards. I’m used to walking straight in, getting served a beer immediately and hearing my voice echoing in the venue. By the time we actually got in, Frost* were already playing and the place was packed. No beer then and not a good start.
I managed to squeeze myself into a spot near the ‘mosh pit’ but being vertically challenged and trying to review a gig that’s crowded was not easy. Anyway, with excuses out of the way, what was it like?
First I noticed a sound problem and then that John Mitchell’s voice was a bit croaky.
So let’s recap…I haven’t got a beer in hand; I feel like a sardine; I can’t see much; the sounds cr*p and the singer has lost his voice…could it get any worse?
Ian’s friend Nigel (Barham) takes up the story…..
I’m not familiar with Frost* apart from the instrumental Hyperventilate, which I really like. So I was delighted to hear it being played as we made our way to the ‘mosh pit’. Like Ian I’m rather vertically challenged but I reckon the sound is invariably better at ground level so I’m usually prepared to put up with staring at the back of people’s heads. We were impressed by the rest of the set and I for one will be investigating the Frost back catalogue (courtesy of Ian). Jem Godfrey’s keyboards skills are well-known (in my case for his fine contributions to BBT’s Underfall Yard) but he also has a talent for entertaining stage banter – perhaps the spelling bee competition and drum-duel went on for rather too long but then again, not only is it coming up to Christmas, but 2012 has seen a resurgence of the ‘music that dares not speak its name’ (thanks Geoff B) and these hard-working and dedicated musicians deserve to have a smile on their faces.
Ian takes over again….
It’s difficult to categorise Frost* but for those who don’t know their music, I find their (albeit limited) output to be well-produced; keyboard effects-driven; predominantly instrumental, neo-prog with some beautiful, complex melodies. Sometimes moving from gentle piano introductions to a wall of sound (Hyperventilate); sometimes with short vocalised passages (Black Light Machine) or sometimes just a very long mixture! (Milliontown). Quite often with ‘competing’ guitar and keyboards. Mainly bright and uplifting (nothing dark and disturbing here). Generally it’s a ‘big’ sound for a four-piece band.
But back to proceedings….Yes, the sound quality noticeably improved by track 3 and at a ground level I’ve been in a much tighter squeeze so things improved.
The band treated us to a couple of new tracks, Heartstrings and Fathers from their forthcoming album to be released next year. Both were well-received and I didn’t notice any significant change in musical direction, so I think we can expect more of the same on the new album. The band finished with their lengthy ‘magnum opus’, Milliontown. All the tracks were played to the usual high standard expected from this ‘gifted and talented’ group.
Over to you Nigel….
The interval revealed another strange thing – not only did I have to queue to get into the venue, but there was a queue for the gents loos – and none for the ladies! This is unheard of. The crowd around the bar was 5-deep so sadly the evening remained dry – even more unheard of…
It Bites came on to a rapturous reception and played a varied set covering their long career. A fan since seeing them play Calling All The Heroes on a children’s TV programme (!) way back in the 80’s, I’ve seen them live several times and they never disappoint. John Mitchell has proved to be a more than capable replacement for Frank Dunnery – as John Beck has commented “I’ve met guitarists that could manage Frank’s licks but weren’t singers, or the other way around. John’s the first to do both”.
The guitarist’s voice was showing the strain of playing back to back gigs for the past week (and having a bad virus I’m led to believe) but fortunately he managed to make it through to the end of the evening. Ironically the huskiness added an unexpected depth of emotion to some of the songs, particularly Send No Flowers.
Nathan King, on bass for both bands, and deputising for the absent Lee Pomeroy for It Bites, played some quality bass-lines throughout (well, it does ‘run in the family’ – geddit?).
The high point of the set, the 15-minute Once Around The World, brought the gig to a triumphant close, cunningly leaving just enough time for an encore (Kiss Like Judas, another favourite) before the venue’s 10:30 curfew kicked in. We even had some special Christmas effects; the artificial snow making us all feel full of Xmas cheer.
High point for me (Nigel) – Yellow Christian, a long-time favourite.
And finally from Ian….
High point – the whole set from It Bites!… low point, they didn’t play the beautiful piano melodies from ‘The Last Escape’.
AND…Special mention to Jon Patrick for organising it. I noted some ‘on-line’ complaints about ‘feeling like a sardine’ and ‘tickets were over-sold’. Well maybe that’s true but isn’t that better than a less than half-filled venue with no real atmosphere? I know we want these guys to make a living out of this and if that means I have to suffer a bit for them to produce such stunning music then I’ll happily be a sardine 20 times a year!
Nigel – agree, I would much rather a gig was sold out than have a band play to a half-empty venue. And on that note, if anybody has happened upon this by chance and has had their interest piqued, all I can say is – give it a go! At a time when the Strolling Bones are charging the cost of a holiday for one show, these gigs are seriously good value. Plus, the prog crowd are possibly the friendliest bunch around.
Overall a superb night of entertainment.