[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.