For the seventh consecutive year Dutch first class prog venue De Boerderij organised the Progdreams Festival, this time lasting from Friday evening till Sunday night March 4th. And again the line-up was great, a very well balanced mix between experienced bands and new talents. For personal reasons I visited the festival only on Saturday, thus missing amongst others Steve Rothery, Blind Ego and Tim Bowness. Life is hard ...
When Alan Reed took the stage with his new band The Daughters of Expediency at a quarter to three only half of the venue was filled. Too bad, especially for the organising team who did a splendid job throughout the whole day. The timing was great, the food good, the music during the breaks inspiring (Pink Floyd, Big Big Train, UK, Marillion, they surely know how to please a prog crowd!) and the overall atmosphere was relaxed yet anxiously waiting what was to happen. The organisers had deserved a full house but that was not to be. To those who had stayed home I can only say: you made the wrong choice!
Alan Reed is of course well-known for his vocal duties in British progband Pallas, a band he was relentlessly kicked out of in 2010. He did the only right thing, recording a very strong solo album entitled First in the field of one, emphasizing his talents as a song writer somewhere in between prog rock and folk rock and at the same time paying his old band mates back with lyrics that left little to imagine. His second solo album Honey on a razor's edge is a more straightforward rock thing and therefore appealed less to me. I had seen Pallas before twice and loved their live sound so I was curious how his new band with that peculiar name would sound. And I also hoped that he would select something from his extensive Pallas' back catalogue.
Opener Begin again is a driving, energising up-tempo song, built upon a nice riff on the acoustic guitar and, to my opinion, the best song of his solo outings. The rhythm section of the Daughters, Henry Rogers on drums and Jennifer Clarke on bass, immediately found themselves comfortable on stage, leading the band in this addictive song. Reeds voice sounded good and his guitar playing was well too. So the only worry was: why those sun glasses? He explained that after the first Pallas song For the greater glory: he suffers from too much light and thus he is forced to wear sun glasses.
It was also the subject of next song My sunlit room from his second album and then the first uncertainties in his singing emerged. Unfortunately that remained that way during the rest of the set, especially when he had to sing and play the bass pedals at the same time. The song choice was good, blending his solo songs with Pallas favourites and even a new song entitled Into the void; it sounded nice. It became also clear that Reed wasn't able anymore to reach the high notes which was illustrated rather painfully in closer Crown of thorns. It made the show a bit sloppy which was a pity.
The enthusiasm of the band, completed by Daren Callow and Mark Spencer on guitar and Tudor Davies on keys, was great to witness, as was the humour between the band members. And when Reed blundered in My sunlit room they simply took over flawlessly, thus demonstrating their musical skills. All and all it was extremely nice to welcome Alan Reed again on a Dutch stage. I enjoyed the gig but with a bit more concentration on his side the gig would have been greater.
Begin Again For The Greater Glory My Sunlit Room Razor Cross My Palm The Other Side Of Morning Into The Void (new song) The Executioner Used To Be Someone Kingdom Of The Blind Sanctuary Crown Of Thorns
Celestial Fire was the next in line, another young band formed by a very well-known and highly respected prog musician, Dave Bainbridge from Iona. From his former band he had taken along the one and only drummer who can also play the violin, Frank van Essen, and completed this new band with multi-instrumentalists Sally Minear on vocals, acoustic guitar and all things percussion, Simon Fitzpatrick on bass and Chapman Stick and guitar wizard Dave Brons. They choose to play a set of rather ‘difficult' long songs with loads of complex instrumental passages.
I love Iona's music and enjoyed Celestial Fire's rendition of parts of Iona's catalogue: Opening theme and Revelation from the Book of Kells and Brenda's voyage connected with Brendan's return from Beyond these shores. The latter two songs were hardly played live by Iona so this rendition was welcomed warmly by everyone. Their own songs appealed less to me: maybe that was because of the unfamiliarity with this music but maybe it was because it sounded too much like music in which complexity fiercely dominates a floating, accessible melody.
Sally Minear has a stellar voice with which she sings the intricate vocals beautifully while playing all kinds of percussion instruments in-between. She had a lot of fun with guitar player Brons who was constantly changing from electric guitar to acoustic guitar and vice versa while Fitzpatrick stayed concentrated all the time, pretending not to notice what was going on around him. From his side of the stage Dave Bainbridge oversaw this young bunch of musicians, showing a very big smile all the time, meanwhile managing to switch in time from guitar to keys and back.
Frank van Essen had several moments to show his talents on violin, a nice extra asset in this band, and was furthermore constantly changing the tempo of the music. The band played enthusiastically, dedicated and concentrated which was necessary given the complexity of the music, but they also managed to have fun and interact with the audience.
This was a good gig, very well played and thus showing that Celestial Fire has a bright future. Yet I hope that they refrain from developing into a jazzrock ensemble.
Celestial Fire Kells Opening Theme / Revelation Love Remains Brendan's Voyage / Brandan's Return
Dave Kerzner Band
In spite of the raving reviews of his recent albums I hadn't heard Dave Kerzner's music before so I was completely blank at what to expect. Dave's band, consisting of Andy Mapp on drums, Stewart Fletcher on bass, the hatted weirdo Fernando Perdomo on guitar and Durga McBroom on vocals, proved a very competent bunch of musicians, playing his music tight and, alas, very loud.
The first songs sounded attractive with lots of energy and nice guitar solos but soon I realized that I started to become bored. The songs sounded very much alike, sounded foremost loud and very big. This was typically masculine American rock with some variety in pace now and then but far too little to become melodious. The background projections were nice and appropriate and the listening crowd, now filling more than two thirds of the venue and obviously more familiar with the music than me, seemed very pleased.
Too bad I couldn't grab his music, too bad I couldn't keep the attention after the first few songs. The gig was musically good but I haven't become a fan.
Hypocrites The Lie Static Dirty Soap Box The Truth Behind Millennium Man Paranoia Ocean Of Stars Not Coming Down Stranded Chain Reaction Into The Sun
Closing act Magenta was the band I had been waiting for. I reviewed some of their recent albums here on DPRP and had been a fan since their Home album. But somehow I had never managed to see them perform live. From their numerous live albums I knew I had missed a lot. So this was to be an evening to remember! And the band didn't disappoint at all, on the contrary!
While preparing all their gear on stage their very charming lead singer Christina Booth told me that it had been extremely difficult to make it to Zoetermeer because of extreme wintery weather conditions in Wales. It had only been because of their excellent bus driver that they had managed to arrive in time. They looked forward to the gig immensely as their 2014 gig in De Boerderij (with Alan Reed as support) never materialized because of both tragic personal circumstances and health problems that struck her. Their last visit to The Netherlands was in 2009 so it was time to make up for that!
At a quarter past nine the band took the stage to start off with Trojan, the longest epic from their latest album We are legend. The sound was great, although the vocals by guitarist Chris Fry and keyboard wizard Rob Reed were too soft in the mix. Yet that didn't prevent them for playing their heart out which didn't go unnoticed for the crowd present. The audience listened intensely, moving with the numerous rhythm changes led by Dan Nelson playing his elegant bass parts in the background besides new drummer Jonathan 'Jiffy' Griffiths who's sheer enthusiasm and energetic playing were great to watch. This rhythm section simply did an excellent job with all those complex twists in pace and tone that characterizes Magenta's music. What a big difference it was from Kerzner's music with all these moments in the music in which pace and loudness were lowered to give room to intricate vocals, acoustic guitar or piano. And what a sheer joy to hear and see high-heeled (!) Christina sing and to experience the good feeling in this band.
The setlist contained three songs from the excellent Twenty-seven club album. The audience was warned that epic Devil at the crossroads would be difficult to play and that they hoped it would turn out right which was, of course, the case. Pearl, the tribute song to Janis Joplin was another one of that album while in The lizard king the band managed to teach us all the right hand clapping just behind the note you expect it to fall; we succeeded! Demons was the only track they payed from the Home album while their debut as well as the Chameleon album were not featured at all. Their last album was featured in Colours while an edited version of Metamorphosis closed the set.
Fortunately they had time to do an encore for which they chose Pride from their breakthrough album Seven. It got an improvisation by Fry and Reed that even surprised Christina completely. And all this music, old or new, was played with an intensity and a devotion as if they played for the first time. Fry was excellent and flawless on both electric and acoustic guitar, either standing, on his knees or lying on the ground, musical genius Rob Reed (with glasses!) glued much of the music together with his subtle keys and piano, meanwhile joking at all in the band. And Christina shone between them, teasing and challenging Fry throughout the gig.
I found it hard to point out highlights in this excellent gig but Anger stood out because of Christina's soft vocals. We all cheered with them, thanking the band for a more than worthy closing gig of a great festival day. I can only hope that it will not take another eight years before Magenta visits The Netherlands again. And furthermore I can only express my feeling that this festival deserves a far bigger audience than was present this Saturday.
Trojan Speechless Greed The Devil At The Crossroads Pearl Colours Anger Demons The Lizard King Metamorphosis