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Summers End, Lydney UK, 7-9 October 2011

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    Posted: October 11 2011 at 17:16

Another year, another Summers End Festival. Over the past 7 years Steven Lamb and Huw Lloyd-Jones have built up the festival from a small one day affair to Britainís largest Progressive Rock festival and one that has offered me the chance to see many bands that normally I would never have come across, and this year was no exception.


Unsurprisingly, ďSummers End timeĒ was kicking in again right from the start with doors opening half an hour late. Normally to be expected and not a problem but unfortunately this year the pub next door had closed down, which with the late pull out of Amplifier was the biggest disappointment of the weekend for most festival goers! Anyway, with the doors open and proceedings under way the opening act of the weekend was Declan Burk. Over the last 5 years or so Burk has been making a name for himself as a guitarist in bands like Darwins Radio and Frost* and now with his own band. I'm not familiar with his solo efforts but given the other two prominent bands he's in it was no surprise to find his music comes in a very similar vein, particularly to that of Darwins Radio. Strong melodies abound with some heavy riffing and though hardly the most challenging of acts, he made for a good opener that got crowd warmed up.

Originally Amplifier where to be co-headlining this festival but two weeks ago were forced to pull out (I gather that their tech crew were making some very unreasonable demands on the organisers) and Antony Kalugin and John Sloman were only too happy to step in. Kalugin's band Sunchild were originally slated to play on the Sunday but visa problems meant they had to pull out and with a gap opening on the Friday as well this meant he could still play at the festival with the help of ex Lonestar guitarist and friend Sloman. Over the years there have been several semi acoustic keyboard/guitar duo's performing at Summers End with varying degrees of success, but I've got to say non have been as good as this pair, they offered up some varied, melodic music that avoided the trap of stripping down the songs to the bare bones with some great playing of a mix of Sunchild and Sloman/Lonestar tracks. At 40 minutes a fairly short set but memorable all the same.

Headliners of the day was eclectic French act Lazuli, who in the process became the first non-English language band to perform at the festival and I'm hoping this can open the door for some of those Italians. My only previous experience of Lazuli is with their debut album Amnesie, which as it turns out is completely unrepresentative of their sound, but with their reputation I was looking forward to this. In a word, they were excellent. Heavy, atmospheric and very different to every other band playing in the festival, they gave an impassioned performance that certainly captured the crowds attention if the shouting dancing and extended applause that met every song is anything to go by. I'll certainly never forget the close up sight of Claude Leonetti playing his Leode (a homemade cross between a chapman stick and a midi trigger pad) one handed with a very high degree of virtuosity. Interaction with the crow was at a minimum since Dominique Leonetti's command of English is limited, for which he apologised for but since most Englishmen have no ability with foreign languages I dont think it was needed! The only real problem was the lack of a bass player as bass parts where left to a backing tape, but I gather the band doesnt have a bassist at the moment. Definitely one of the best live performances I've ever seen and the scrum around the merch desk afterwards told its own story.


Saturday was meant to start at 12 noon and amazingly the doors were only 15 minutes late, a definite improvement! German group Invertigo started the day off. A pretty typical Neo-Prog band which are 10-a-penny. Decent melodies, songs and playing but nothing to make the band stand out from the literally dozens of others that sound very similar and that I've seen at the festival. Overall just a bit bland for me and the singers voice tended to get rather flat at times as well.

Casual Silence where next on for what has turned out to be their last performance as the band announced they were splitting up after the show. This band has a fairly typical heavy prog sound to them that can be entertaining and I suspect works best in a live setting. Having said that it took them a couple of songs to get going but once they did they proved to good live act keeping the audience interested and definitely a step up from the opening group. Bassist Eric Smits was in for a busy afternoon as he's recently joined Dutch prog metal band Day Six, who were on next.

One thing I've noticed this year is that it seems like there was a lot of drop outs from the bill, one of which was American band K2, and in their place came Day Six. I was at new sister prog metal festival Fused Festival this past April where Day Six held the Sunday afternoon main slot so I knew what I was in for and it only took a few seconds for the main riff of opener Massive Glacial Wall to kick in for front man Robbie van Stiphout to launch into his hugely animated on stage antics, complete with full on gurning! Day Six could uncharitably be called a Dream Theater clone, though have much better use of softer, more melodic sections that are as big a part of their music as the metal is. This combination, along with the highly expressive van Stiphout, makes for a great show and they gave one of the best performances of the weekend, particularly with the way they dealt with the power failure halfway through their set, picking up the song effortlessly once the juice had been turned back on.

After the break it was the first of the days main acts, The Tangent. Anyone thatís seen them recently, or heard new album COMM, will know that Andy Tillison has found an exceptional new guitarist in Luke Machin but only three weeks ago new bass player Dan Mashal, from Luke's other band Concrete Lake, was added to replace Jonathan Barrett who left for medical reasons. If Tillison hadnít said that Dan had only been in the band for three weeks thereís no way I would have known from his playing. I saw the band earlier in the year and I'll say it now, this was a far better performance. The addition of Mashal in particular has really given them a real boost on stage as he brings a flare and energy to the bass that has been missing since Jonas Reingold left the band, and he cant be much older than 20! With the exception of World that We Drive Through, most of the set was from the two newest albums and was performed brilliantly with an energy I've not seen from this band before, even when Beardfish made half the line-up, and they introduced an element of improvisation to their music that's all too lacking in modern bands. Tillison worked his usual rapport with the audience with his jokes on the band being split between young 'uns and oldies going down well and spent a bit of time really talking up Mashal and Machin's other band, Concrete Lake. I'm a big fan of The Tangent but in recent years they seem to have slipped away from the consciousness of many prog fans since a few certain Swedes moved on, but on the strength on Saturdays performance I can see that trend reversing now.

Headlining act for Saturday was Arena, returning after several years on hold whilst the members worked on/in other bands. I've got to admit that Arena have been a bit hit and miss for me as though I greatly enjoy Immortal? and Peppers Ghost, but supposed masterpiece The Visitor does nothing for me and I'd been hearing from other at the festival that they gave a less than stellar performance on the bands first gig with new singer Paul Manzi, so I was worried this would turn out to be a bit of an anticlimax. I didnít need to worry as during the break the band didnít mind the punters sticking around whilst they did the sound check and the quick run through of part of one of the new songs got everybodies attention and raised expectations quite a bit. Arena play heavy and relatively simple, for prog, songs with space for solos and its a very effective approach, particularly since John Mitchel and Clive Nolan don't go mad with the solos. This was another very strong performance that really got the crowd going and the double act of Manzi's jovial new boy and Nolan's grumpy old sod worked brilliantly. An assured performance and the new material proved as strong as the rest of their set.


Amazingly, the doors opened on time on Sunday morning, so I was worried that something was wrong!Thankfully nothing was and we were about to get one of the most amazing sets of the weekend from openers Concrete Lake. Sundays tends to start of a little sleepy with most of the crowd taking it easy, conserving energy for the main acts later in the day, but not so this year. After the stunning performance of The Tangent the night before, everybody was eagerly awaiting to see what Concrete Lake were like and packed the hall, and the band didn't disappoint. Taking the place of Unto Us, who had to pull out with only a weeks notice when singer Huw came down with a chest infection, Concrete Lake are best described as the UK's answer to Pain of Salvation circa The Perfect Element/ Remedy Lane (no doubt where the name comes from) complete with triple vocal harmonies and Luke Machin surprising with a voice that could match Daniel Gildenlow for range, if not for power. They led off with a track that starts with Machin playing a complex fret tapping melody over a riff and this set the tone for the whole set. This is a band that gladly takes its PoS influence but doesnít get bogged down by it, forging their own sound and considering they havenít even got an album out yet the whole band gave a very mature performance with all 5 of them proving to be very skilled and the ending of each song being met by rapturous applause, shouting and whistling. The first stand out moment was probably when Andy Tillison joined them on stage for a song and fitted in brilliantly. The second would be when the main set ended and the crowd started demanding an encore. In the six years I've been going to the festival I've never seen the crowd call for an encore from an opening act, and I was even more surprised when the stage manager offered to let them have one, which was massively appreciated by me and the rest of the audience. I get the feeling this is the kind of performance that will set the band on to a very fast rise in the prog world and I can confidently predict they will soon surpass Haken as the UK's most appreciated prog metal band once they have an album out. This was one hard act to follow.

So up steps Credo. Over the years Credo have been a band that have shown a lot of promise but for various reasons havenít been able to fulfil it. 2011 seems to be the year they are turning it around as new album Against Reason has been drawing rave reviews everywhere, even here on PA which is noticeably more hostile to Neo-Prog bands than some other sites. A typical neo prog band, heavily drawing on the sounds of early Marillion, IQ, Pendragon and Pallas, thay have one big advantage over similar bands like Saturdays opener, Invertigo. They are bloody good at what they do. Having been around a while they've perfected their take on this music and the result is total confidence in themselves and excellent shows like this. Having been on tour all summer they've got into the groove of things a bit more so they were also better than when I saw them earlier in the year and left a very happy crowd behind. Given my personal preferences I was always going to enjoy Concrete Lake more than Credo, but its hard to imagine too many other bands that could have taken this slot at such short notice as they did (replacing Sunchild) and done as well.

Headspace where the main act of Sunday afternoon and we finally get a Wakeman performing at Summers End in Adam. A progressive metal band in the vein of Threshold (unsurprising given Damien Wilson's involvement) they certainly set out to rock the place. This was their first live performance in several years but it didn't show, I suspect they've spent a lot of time together recently knocking together the new material which should form the first album. And it was the material from this forthcoming album as well as the EP that made up the set, and a damn good set it was with Wilson and Adam Wakeman both on particularly good form. I think its safe to say they achieved what they set out to do and thats thoroughly entertain everyone.

After the break Magenta were next up for their first gig in 18 months whilst they had been working on the new album, Chameleon, which was launched at Summers End. The Welsh group have had a long association with the festival, headlining the first one and appearing several times since, plus a semi acoustic trio performance and the Winters End festival so its hardly a surprise to see this as the venue of their return gig. Magenta have always been a much stronger live band than on CD for me as they get a much better mix of rocking out and the more restrained aspect of their music than in studio, which tends to lean too much to the latter for my taste. And it was clear they enjoyed being back on stage with Chris Fry even ending the last song of the main set (Metamorphosis) in the crowd.

Last band of the weekend was Canterbury legends Caravan, making their return to action for the first time in quite a few years and hot of the heels of a sell out performance at Sheppardís Bush Empire the night before (so a bit of a step down for this one!). Until recently I'd never really been sold on Caravan but in the last few months they've grown me, so I was really looking forward to this like everybody else. They've undoubtedly still got it and played the likes of Golf Girl, The Dog The Dog He's at it Again, In the Land of Grey and Pink, Smoking Gun, Fingers in the Till, Love to Love you and the big one, Nine Feet Underground really well. In fact, I'd say the truncated version of the epic they played is better than the original recorded all those years ago. By the end half the crowd was dancing around (including Antony Kalugin, who'd stuck around the whole weekend) and the rest of us were watching amazed at the skill being displayed, particularly by Geoffrey Richardson who played everything from the spoons to viola. An excellent end to a great weekend.

This was my sixth straight Summers End, having only missed the first one, and for me its the best one yet. Caravan, The Tangent, Concrete Lake (who Huw took all of 10 minutes to sign up for next May's Fused Festival) and Lazuli gave phenomenal shows and rank amongst the best live acts I've ever seen. Credo, Day Six, Magenta, Arena and Headspace gave the expected high quality performances and Declan Burk, Antony Kalugin and Casual Silence entertained quite well, with only Invertigo not doing much for me, I cant wait until next years festival, I just hope next time they dont run out of Stronbow half way through Sunday! Wink

Spending more than I should on Prog since 2005

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote anaesthetist Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: October 12 2011 at 09:09
 A much better review than mine(didn't realise there was a review section on the forum)  Embarrassed
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