Saturday saw the end of the final act in the life and times of English prog band Twelfth Night after 33 dramatic years of recording and touring.
This took the form of a concert performed in front of friends, fans and family at, very aptly, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama’s theatre at the Barbican in London.
Twelfth Night first appeared on the scene around about the time the label neo-prog was invented to describe other emergent bands such as IQ, Pallas and of course, Marillion as well as themselves.
However, early claims to fame included appearances on the very first David Essex Showcase on television in 1982 and later on the Old Grey Whistle Test. But they carved their own special niche through the song writing combination of lead singer Geoff Mann and multi-instrumentalist Clive Mitten which yielded a trove of distinctive songs, many of which were revisited on Saturday.
The history of the band is thoroughly documented in Play On (The Authorised Biography of Twelfth Night) by Andrew Wild and charts a band career that has been scarred by death (of Mann from cancer in 1993), marred by poor record sales and finally, it reached an untenable situation where two different factions were going out on the road playing the music.
So the decision was made to make Danfest in Leicester last month, the final public appearance by one of the factions, the Cryptic Clues who also played the Peel in Kingston, London; the Summer’s End and Proguphoria festivals to much acclaim from critics and fans.
This particular line-up of Mitten, along with fellow band founders, guitarist Andy Revell and drummer Brian Devoil, plus keyboards player Dean Baker and vocalist/guitarist Mark Spencer is the one which graced the stage on Saturday playing again as Twelfth Night.
As my personal involvement with the band has been considerably briefer than many of the other 350 people gathered on Saturday night, seeing a superlative video history of their career was a great scene-setter before the band played some of their most fêted numbers such as the riveting “sit up and take notice” opener The Ceiling Speaks and mind-control menace evinced by We Are Sane,
But the scene-stealers were those in which Mark Spencer could play act the lyrics, notably in Creep Show, the invitation to visit the human zoo – with a twist in the tail. Clad in a bloodied doctor’s white jacket, plastic gloves and sinister shades, his costume change at the end revealed the twist and how we can all indeed be participants in this show. Rounding off the set was the atmospheric Sequences, the chilling tale of the futility of young men going into war, but not before being humiliated and belittled by their senior officers.
There was so much to applaud including the wonderful patterns which Andy Revell wove on his golden Les Paul, looping and running rings up and down his fret board with such finesse. Brian Devoil is a master at anchoring a precise tempo, providing a platform from which they can launch their sonic assault. Dean Baker adds a classical dash to the sound and Clive Mitten turns his hand to bass, acoustic guitar and occasional keyboards.
But his pièce de resistance was playing bass solo from A Poet Sniffs A Flower at breakneck speed, only to be “invited” by the audience to do it again but twice as fast again. He duly obliged, complaining afterwards that his hand hurt.
There was also some linguistic instruction when Mitten introduced Fact or Fiction alternatively wearing a Russian Red Army fur hat for the Russian dialogue with a flat cap, encouraging the audience to return the equivalent lines in English. It was very foolish and funny.
The encore saw the return of guest guitarist Roy Keyworth, Galahad’s brilliant axeman, joining them for East of Eden, Roy having been a huge fan of Revell and so finally got to play with his idol here.
However, the very last act was saved for the song which defined the spirit of Mann and to whom the song was dedicated. This was the beautiful, the poignant and the totally unforgettable Love Song. Just days before, I had seen Alan Reed perform this song with his band in which Mark Spencer appeared and had to be consoled by a fellow bemused gig-goer having been grasped by the significance of it at this particular time.
Wave after wave of standing ovations punctuated the performance that was spell-binding from start to finish, the band ending their rollercoaster career on such an enormous high. The thank yous afterwards included Mann’s replacement Andy Sears and Mitten’s was for “the idiot fans”, most of whom had been personally invited along for the occasion.
It was a real honour to have been along those invited and maybe time will remember them as being the most enigmatic and mercurial of all those (neo) prog bands. Certainly now is a great time to start exploring their back catalogue to fully appreciate their contribution and now legacy to that particular genre.
Also, there is a live stream to the concert at: http://new.livestream.com/silkstreetevents/twelfthnightlive The concert starts at 45 minutes but the video history before it is absolutely compulsive viewing.
[All photos taken by Steve Blease.]