Sad news tonight from organiser Kris Hudson-Lee of the cancellation of the weekend part of Y-Prog here in the UK, intended to be Yorkshire’s first progressive rock festival.
Saturday 15 March was to feature Dec Burke, Also Eden, IOEarth and The Enid; Sunday 16 March had Crimson Sky, Knifeworld, Manning and It Bites on the bill. Thankfully, the Friday night show featuring the mighty Riverside goes ahead.
I have no further information on the reasons for cancellation, but I presume poor ticket sales are at the heart of it. Y-Prog may have been hit by the subsequent announcement of HRH Prog, a bigger festival at a more glamorous venue a few miles away, just three weeks later.
It’s a salutary reminder that, despite prog’s resurgence, the audience remains finite. Too many events in too short a span of time and some are going to struggle.
[N.B. I asked my friend, Ian, to write this up. He told me that he wasn't "really a writer, but that he'd give it a go." As you can readily see, Ian is a spirited writer! And, I'm very proud to have him among this group of insane progarchists. And, for attentive readers, you know that we've posted another review of the tour here. Thanks to Ian and Nick for such excellent insights. And, yes, Matt Stevens, we obviously really love you.]
The Lexington, London Friday 2nd November 2012
I had never been to the Lexington before. 5 minutes walk from the centre of Islington, The Lexington is a bustling pub down the Pentonville Road. Downstairs is a pleasingly traditional bar selling an impressive selection of real ales and lagers, including some from the USA (Sierra Nevada Torpedo 7.3%!!!). Upstairs is a large room converted into a small music venue with a raised bar area looking down on a standing area and stage.
This was the last leg of the brief UK Tour featuring Trojan Horse, The Fierce and the Dead and headliners Knifeworld. Sponsored by Prog magazine but effectively funded by the bands themselves, the tour had reached as far north as Glasgow but was finishing in the home town of members of TFATD and Knifeworld.
To warm proceedings up, local 4 piece band Pigshackle, who have been around for 8-10 years, took to the stage. They treated us to a blend of dissonant, experimental music and, metal (in all its various guises) with an obvious King Crimson influence (which the band themselves quite happily admit).
One of my friends said they initially reminded him of free jazz group Last Exit (Bill Laswell, Sonny Sharrock etc) although he later retracted this, pointing out that Last Exit make a free form unstructured ‘noise’ whereas Pigshackle play a tightly disciplined ‘noise’. The set appeared to consist of one long track lasting about 30 minutes although as I discovered afterwards talking to the band, they, in fact, had played 4 tracks. The music was punctuated with occasional growling, shouting and screaming, some in death metal mode; discordant saxophone and frequent key and time signature changes for the lead guitarist, whose array of effects pedals was reminiscent of NASA Mission Control. Obviously skilled musicians, Pigshackle were tight and disciplined. The sound quality excellent with an emphasis on LOUD, so loud at times it was seriously chest-filling. The music pushes the boundaries and is challenging, at times gloomy with very few uplifting melodies but its worth having a listen to. Check out their recent album Unplug the Sun on Bandcamp.
Hailing from Salford, this 4 piece band, with their checked shirts and beards and looking like hillbillies from the Appalachians, conjured up music in my mind that would follow a similar path, i.e. with instruments including fiddle, harmonica and Jew’s harp. I was very wrong. Their website claims they have brought Yes, King Crimson and Tull ‘…kicking and screaming through the subsequent decades…’. So I was intrigued… Unfortunately things started badly with an amp being blown causing a hiatus lasting about 10 minutes with the other members of the band ‘filling in’ while the keyboard player franticly tried to get his keyboard working. Amusing banter from the band maintained a good atmosphere while the technical gremlins were sorted out but it obviously affected their set.
Personally I find it difficult to define their music as Prog, well certainly not in the traditional sense. The opener ‘Fire’ from their recent EP sounded more reminiscent of classic indie-punk and at about 2 minutes long was the right length for this genre (pronk, prunk?). However the rest of the set was energetic and intelligent music, at times heavy, with even a touch of ‘funk’. A special mention for a bravura performance from the bass player (great posturing!). Check them out.
The Fierce and the Dead
Next up was Matt Steven’s (relatively) new vehicle, TFATD, a 4 piece band playing purely instrumental music. Matt is a gifted guitarist, totally in control of his instrument but like all the bands on view during the evening, all the band members were exceptional. TFATD have recently released a new EP ‘On VHS’ following their unusually titled album from 2011 ‘If It Carries On Like This We Are Moving To Morecambe’. Well, if it carries on like this they should achieve the recognition they deserve and be playing bigger venues than Morecambe (for the benefit of non-UK readers, Morecambe is a rather old-fashioned seaside resort in the north of England). The music is held together by strong bass-lines and very energetic drumming and is characterised by simple, ‘catchy’ melodies and riffs. At times Mogwai-esqe without the multi-layered guitars, the music was both heavy and light and I would say they occupy the post-rock side of the ‘Prog spectrum’. Played with plenty of creativity and enthusiasm the set finished far too quickly for my liking. Excellent stuff.
By the time Knifeworld took the stage the venue was almost full and there was an atmosphere of heightened expectancy… could they add the icing to the cake? Led by Kavus Torabi, known for his work with the Cardiacs, I’ve read that this is experimental, psychedelic, art-rock. An 8 piece band including saxophone(s), bassoon(!) and multiple backing singers. Torabi is a natural ‘rock star’, full of charisma, with his witty, intelligent remarks going down well with the crowd. He is also an exceptionally gifted songwriter and guitarist. My first impression that the music was going to be different was the look in Kavus’s eyes that to me indicated a likeable form of mild insanity. The complexity of the arrangements were superbly handled on a crowded stage with a small PA system. It’s difficult to categorise or describe the music as it’s, in a sense, ‘genre-less’. The music is involving and journey-like, twisting and turning in different directions. The encore, a song from the new EP, ended up with the members of all four bands singing along which was a nice touch, as was Kavus’s dedication to Cardiacs front man Tim Smith. Highly recommended.
This gig attracted some peer group interest as spotted in the crowd were a number of prog ‘celebrities’ – Sel Balamir of Amplifier and John Mitchell of It Bites/Frost/Kino amongst them. Also enjoying the music was Steve Davis, snooker legend, long-time prog-rock fan and now radio presenter.
Overall what impressed me with this gig was not just the superb musicianship, variety, complexity and originality of the music but the real enthusiasm shown by all the bands. It’s great to see bands enjoying themselves, interacting with the audience and helping each other out (fixing technical problems,videoing each other and joining each other on stage). This attitude is infectious and creates a great atmosphere.
With bands like this around the state of modern prog is in good hands.
–Ian Greatorex is a 50 yr old accountant with more time on his hands now both his children are (sort of) adults. He has a love for all types of music from classical through jazz to heavy rock and metal.
Last Tuesday evening, I took a short walk from my place of work to the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds, that night’s venue for the Stabbing a Dead Horse tour. This unnerving title derives from the names of the tour’s participants: Trojan Horse, The Fierce & The Dead and Knifeworld. All three bands are leading lights of a vibrant ‘modern progressive’ movement here in the UK.
Trojan Horse opened proceedings with a cover of Neil Young’s Ohio before attacking their own material – four songs in total – with gusto. From the short and sweet staccato prog-punk of Fire from their latest EP through to the brooding 8-minute epic Mr Engels Says from their eponymous debut album, this was powerful, uncompromising stuff, played with an infectious manic energy by the Salford-based four-piece. I was particularly taken by the jerking and pirouetting of Lawrence Duke, who wielded his bass guitar as if it were an untamed beast, and by the mad dash of brother Eden through the audience during Mr Engels Says, as he attempted single-handedly to get us all singing the “Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum” lyric.
Then it was time for The Fierce & The Dead, who treated us to a masterclass in instrumental music drawn from their recent EP On VHS and from debut album If It Carries On Like This We Are Moving To Morecambe, with a new piece called Arc (Ark?) as a bonus. There is something very special about the aural landscapes created by this band. On the face of it, their sound is very sparse and modern, and yet somehow the solid groove created by Stu Marshall’s drums and Kev Feazey’s powerful bass combines with the hypnotic interplay of Steve Cleaton’s and Matt Stevens’ guitars to conjure beguilingly rich, intricate and expansive music. There was complete commitment on display here, and real showmanship, too – albeit of a less demonstrative kind than that of Trojan Horse. It was clear from TFATD’s interactions with the audience that they were having a blast, despite the low turn-out.
Headliners Knifeworld, performing as an eight-piece ensemble, brought the evening to a suitably exciting conclusion with a set drawing heavily on the terrific 2009 album Buried Alone: Tales Of Crushing Defeat and recent EP Clairvoyant Fortnight. It also featured an excellent new song, whose name I unfortunately didn’t catch.
Saxophones are relatively commonplace, but I’d hazard a guess that you don’t often see a rock band performing on stage with a bassoon. It’s a powerful symbol of just how unique Knifeworld are in their approach. I find it difficult to articulate just why I find them so interesting, but the fact that they are so gloriously unpredictable must have something to do with it. You never quite know where they are going with a song; heavy riffing can give way to a blast of Mellotron, then delicate vocal harmonies, then glockenspiel and sax, before guitar takes the reins again. A typical piece will feature unusual chord progressions and time signature changes galore. Any band trying to stuff that many ideas into a four- or five-minute tune is treading a fine line, but Knifeworld usually manage to stay the right side of it, leaving you exhilarated rather than exhausted.
The final verdict? A truly excellent night’s entertainment, and outstanding value for money at only £7 for the ticket. The only disappointment was that so few had shown up. I can only hope that the poor attendance doesn’t dissuade any of these bands from coming back to Leeds at some point in the future.