The third, and sadly last, outing for this two-day celebration of all things prog saw it decamp from the seedier previous setting of a Kingston-Upon-Thames nightclub to the far more salubrious surroundings of Islington Assembly Hall, an elegant 1930s municipal building in a fashionable part of north London.
Aptly, veterans Twelfth Night kicked off this final incarnation of the festival with what is supposedly their last ever performance. One can only hope that they reconsider after a barnstorming set drawn for the most part from their classic Fact & Fiction album. Clive Mitten took to the stage looking more like a retired gentleman on his way to the village cricket match than a bassist in a rock band – but looks are deceptive, as Peter Gabriel once sang, and it soon became clear that age has not dimmed the musical power and presence of these Britprog legends. Longtime friend of the band Mark Spencer, guesting as frontman before a stint on bass for Galahad the following day, did a fine job of interpreting the singular vision of the late lamented Geoff Mann.
The ranks in front of the stage thinned noticeably for second act, Thumpermonkey – which was rather a shame, as these heavy progressive modernists are true innovators. Theirs was a challenging and noisy set focusing largely on new or less familiar material, although Asymptote from 2007’s Bring Me Sun For Breakfast made a very welcome appearance, eliciting the biggest response from the audience. Some of the subtlety was lost in a mix that unduly favoured Michael Woodman’s lead guitar at the expense of Rael Jones’ keyboards, but despite these small concerns this was an engrossing performance – dense and complex to be sure, and quite different from what had preceded it, but highly rewarding for those who gave it their full attention.
Those unsettled by the uncompromisingly tricky Thumpermonkey will presumably have found Karmakanic‘s particular brand of melodic prog to be the musical equivalent of an Alka Seltzer. Bassist Jonas Reingold was a tall, muscular presence on stage, commanding his troops with calm authority and taking every opportunity to impress with his virtuosity. The cast of musicians at his disposal included the versatile and precociously gifted Luke Machin on guitar, the stellar twin talents of Lalle Larsson and Andy Tillison on keyboards and the rich voice of Göran Edman. The marvellously full sound created by this starstudded ensemble also benefited from the best mix of the day thus far. A powerful and affecting Where Earth Meets The Sky was overshadowed somewhat by the bold decision to close the set with a stunning, previously-unheard 30-minute epic having the provocative working title of God, The Universe and Everything Else Nobody Cares About. It doesn’t get much more prog than this, folks!
Perennial favourites Anathema, in three-piece acoustic mode, occupied the evening session’s support slot. Those who’ve seen them in this form will know only too well that such downsizing barely diminishes their ability to excite and stir the emotions of an audience. Their opening salvo of the beautifully dovetailed Untouchable Parts 1 & 2, from 2012’s Weather Systems was followed by another crowd favourite, the achingly sublime Dreaming Light from We’re Here Because We’re Here. Longtime fans were catered for by the inclusion of older tracks Flying and a gorgeous, wistful A Natural Disaster, before the set closed with a world premiere of the hypnotic title track from new album Distant Satellites, heard here a week before its release. It was magical but over all too soon, leaving us with the hope that a full-band headlining tour will be coming our way before long.
Delight was mixed with a sense of déjà vu when headliners The Tangent took to the stage, for this group of familiar faces was nothing more than a reconfigured Karmakanic, with Andy Tillison now at the helm. Evening TV from latest release Le Sacre du Travail provided an energetic start to proceedings before a short hiatus while keyboard problems were sorted out. Consummate professional that he is, Andy was able to make light of it all, name-checking Progarchy’s own Alison Henderson for her astute observation in an earlier review that it wouldn’t be a Tangent gig without some kind of technical fuck-up.
After this uncertain start, it didn’t take long for the band to settle into their groove via an impressive Perdu Dans Paris and equally strong GPS Culture, both given additional texture and depth by the sax- and flute-based contributions of guest Theo Travis, but the highlight of the set surely had to be the lengthy closing piece, a superb rendition of the In Darkest Dreams suite that included the haunting and atmospheric Tangerine Dream homage AfterRicochet.
After an encore of an up-tempo untitled new track, the band morphed back into their Karmakanic configuration for rousing anthem Turn It Up, ending proceedings on a suitably joyous note before the tired but happy revellers dispersed to the homes and hotels of London and beyond, to recuperate for Day 2…
Coming up in Part 2: Galahad, Sanguine Hum, Cosmograf, The Fierce & The Dead and Frost*