Classic Rock Society Awards Night 2014

As a lover of Progressive Music for many years now – from the days when I simply knew it as ‘good music’ back in my school days in the 1970s – I have been delighted to see the recent resurgence of the genre. This has been in no small measure down to the efforts of groups like the Classic Rock Society, who have been striving to keep the flame burning, particularly during the dark days when ‘Prog’ was considered by many to be a word not spoken aloud. This striving, though, happened (sadly) under my radar for a large number of years, but I recently came across them, and was delighted to discover that they functioned in my own neck-of-the-woods in South Yorkshire.

Once I’d made this discovery, I ventured out to a few of their gigs in the humble surroundings of the Wesley Centre in Matlby, near Rotherham – interestingly for me the site of a former Methodist Chapel – and when I heard that their awards night was on the horizon I decided to go along (taking my younger son with me, as a fellow traveller). These are my personal reflections on the event.

The venue – the Montgomery Hall in Wath-upon-Dearne – is similar to the Wesley Centre in lay-out, though it has a larger capacity and a larger stage, which proved helpful for the evening’s entertainment. We began with a short solo set from the brilliant Andy Tillison, who coped seamlessly with a keyboard malfunction shortly before the off which left him having to rely on someone else’s equipment for his performance. There didn’t appear to be any problems caused, and Andy gave us around 20 minutes of magic – one man and his keyboards performing without the aid of backing tracks, loops or a safety net and giving us stunning renditions of ‘GPS Culture’ and ‘Perdu Dans Paris’. As a recent ‘convert’ to his work, particularly with The Tangent, I found it sublime and wonderful.

The ‘business’ of the evening was the awards themselves, and after suitable lubrication with ‘Big Big Train’ beer, on sale at the bar, we settled down to find out who had topped the polls at the end of what many have called a classic year for Prog. The awards were presented this year by none other than Fish, who brought his own laconic wit to the proceedings. The awards went to:

Best Male Vocalist – David Longdon
Best Female Vocalist – Christina Booth
Best Keyboard Player – Rob Reed
Best Bass Player – Lee Pomeroy
Best Drummer – Henry Rogers
Best Guitarist – Steve Hackett
Best Album – The Twenty Seven Club – Magenta
Best Track – East Coast Racer- Big Big Train
Best Lyricist – Fish (presented by Andy Tillison)
Best CRS Live Act – Moon Safari
Best UK Band or Artist – Big Big Train
Best Overseas Band or Artist – Moon Safari
CRS Newcomer – Hekz
Unsung Hero – Summer’s End

Amusing incident of the night has to go to Steve Hackett, who having picked up the Best Bassist award on Lee Pomeroy’s behalf, disappeared and was nowhere to be found when his own award was announced. He did eventually return, but we were deprived of what would, I’m sure, have been a great acceptance speech!

The business done, we returned to the music, with a 2-hour performance, with numerous singers and a full band as well as visual images and a virtual choir, of Clive Nolan’s epic rock opera, ‘Alchemy’. This was not a piece with which I was familiar, but it carried you along with a good narrative, well-told and performed: I shall no doubt return to it in the future.

So, five hours after arriving, we set off back home, thrilled by a great evening of rock in the fabulous company of fellow fans and ‘passengers’. Three highlights for me: seeing Andy Tillison perform – an absolute treat; meeting Dave, David & Danny from Big Big Train – real, genuine guys who seem at times quite bemused by their much-deserved recent accolades; and seeing my young son, James, ask Steve Hackett if he would take a photo of James with Fish (he’d already got one with Steve when he came to Sheffield last year!)

All in all, a wonderful night, and a fitting celebration of another classic year for lovers of Progressive Rock!

 

Stories of Genesis vol 1

A few years ago my wife introduced me to the concept of ‘Fan Fiction’. This is where fans of particular TV series write their own stories involving the characters, and share them in on-line forums. They seem to be quite popular, and Jude has written a few tales about Horatio Caine and co from CSI: Miami.

Recently an advert popped up on my Facebook wall for a book that described itself as ‘a new kind of fan fiction’: ‘Stories of Genesis, volume 1’ by Chris James. It contained a collection of five short stories based on characters from songs by Genesis, and, as a long-time fan of the band, I found it a fascinating read.

The first story, inspired by the title track of the 1976 album ‘A Trick of the Tail’, tells of Mr Magrew’s big adventure away from the City of Gold, meeting people unlike himself, who were all without horns and tail, and of his journey home. There’s a nice twist at the end, too, but I won’t spoil it by telling what it is.

Next is ‘The Chat Show Host’, which relates the dreams of Jason Jones (‘JJ’), the eponymous host stuck in provincial TV waiting for his big break, and of Duchess, a fading star hoping to resurrect her career. JJ’s dreams of success hang on his ability to humiliate Duchess live on air, and the story shows how sometimes our plans can be interrupted by events.

My favourite story in this collection is the next one – ‘One Regret’, inspired by ‘Dreaming While You Sleep’ from 1991’s ‘We Can’t Dance’. This is one of the better late-period Genesis songs, in my opinion, and James brings a wonderful depth and poignancy to this tale of guilt and inner torment following a hit-and-run accident.

The longest story is ‘The Final Battle’, taking up more than half of the book’s length, and is the one which most closely follows the ‘plot’ of the song that inspires it, the monumental ‘Supper’s Ready’ from 1972’s ‘Foxtrot’. For those who know the song, you will know how complex the tale is, with its apocalyptic imagery and scriptural allusions. James’ tale, with a strong sci-fi feel to it (his usual genre for writing, it appears), tells of the struggle by an angelic army against the Eternal Sanctuary Man, and gives an interesting modern slant to ancient concepts and themes.

From the longest to the shortest tale in the fifth and final chapter – ‘The Agent Lunges’, inspired by ‘Down & Out’ from 1978’s ‘And then there were Three’. I must confess that this is a strange tale, and almost comes across as an afterthought, but it rounds off the book nicely. Again, no spoilers!

Overall, the stories are engaging without being direct re-tellings of the songs, and a second volume is planned for later in the year. Fans of Genesis’s music and lovers of a good yarn will enjoy these tales: I certainly did.

A Lifeblood Psalm – The Twenty Committee

One of the delights of the internet is the opportuinites it offers to discover something new. In the realm of music, one site that offers a cornucopia of fresh delights is Bandcamp. One of its strengths is that it allows you to stream whole songs and albums before committing to buy, as well as the capacity for bands to provide music cheaply, and sometimes freely.

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It’s there that you will find the debut album by The Twenty Committee, a five-piece from New Jersey, who have produced an excellent collection of gentle progressive tunes. The set comprises 9 tunes, the last five of which comprise a 21 ½ minute suite – ‘The Knowledge Enterprise’.

The title of ‘A Lifeblood Psalm’ resonates with me as a clergyman. The Psalms are ancient songs of praise, lament, anger, penitence – every human emotion is found within their canon. This collection has a certain element of spirituality about it, albeit subtle and understated. The opening track – ‘Introduction’ – begins with spoken words which include prayers, and this leads into ‘How Wonderful’, which, although it is essentially a love song, has for me the feel of a modern praise song, particularly in its musical intro and the lyrics of the chorus, that could grace the stage of many a mega-church.

Next comes the 10-minute ‘Her Voice’. This drives along quite nicely for about 4 minutes, then starts to get a bit ‘random’ with atonal guitar and keyboard parts for about a minute and a half, before returning to some ‘sanity’, with some Emerson-like keyboards towards the end.

‘Airtight’ is a quieter song. It begins with an acoustic guitar and harp (!) intro, and builds layers of vocal harmonies that for me had echoes in places of Snow Patrol. The song builds to a pleasant crescendo, then ends with guitar and strings.

‘The Knowledge Enterprise’ ends the album. As I’ve said, this is a five movement suite of over 21 minutes in length. It begins in good symphonic style with an instrumental overture, developing themes that will recur later. As with the album as a whole, this piece has changes in tempo, texture and time signatures throughout, but not in a clumsy or intrusive way.

For a debut this is an accomplished, consumate piece of work that has grown on me and endeared itself to me with every listen. Get over to their site at http://thetwentycommittee.bandcamp.com/ and give them a listen. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.