Summer's End 2014

Summer’s End Festival 2014

Many thanks to Martin Reijman for the use of his photos.
[You can view more of his images at ]

The Palmer Centre, Chepstow (26th Sept. 2014)
Chepstow School, Chepstow (27th & 28th Sept. 2014)

It’s that time again! Every year the wonderful Summer’s End Festival is one of the highlights of my calendar and something to really look forward to. A fantastic event organised by true enthusiasts, it is a rare beast these days and it deserves to be supported so hats off and salutes to all those involved with putting it on and a thank you for dealing with all the associated hassles. For those of us who attend every year I can only say that your efforts are hugely appreciated and long may the festival continue.

Now in its tenth year, 2014 sees a change of venue – to two venues in fact – as the event grows in stature and fully comes of age. The Friday night was hosted in the, er, compact environs of The Palmer Centre while the rest of the weekend was up the road in the much more expansive Chepstow School which proved to be the perfect setting with spacious surroundings both inside and out. The very pleasant environment also gave the opportunity to hold acoustic sets during the gaps between bands on the main stage which is a great improvement as it keeps the momentum of the day going and is something that I’ve been hoping could be arranged for some time. I was initially sorry about the move from the spiritual Summer’s End home of the Town Hall in Lydney but the school proved to be a more than adequate replacement. They even got the acoustic guys out onto the streets of Chepstow to drum up a little local interest.

So, without further ado, an answer to the question “Well what went on then?”

Friday, 26th September 2014

As noted, the Palmer was somewhat cramped and very hot indeed so the decision not to hold the whole weekend here was well taken. Upon arrival it was clear that a number of those present preferred being outside to being in the hall itself and when I got inside I realised why – the heat was extreme. The bar and stalls were crammed into an adjoining room so although functional the Palmer was not right for an event of this kind. But the show went on with…

Lifesigns (UK)

The sound for Lifesigns was immediately too loud for such a small room and this seemed to put some people off but the levels soon improved and from where I was standing, in front of guitarist Niko Tsonev stage left, the sound was excellent from around the third song on.

The band immediately impressed with their emphasis on quality songwriting integrating fine musicianship and all four of the band members were noteworthy, particularly new recruits Tsonev and Jon Poole. Poole will be familiar to many as guitarist with Cardiacs for many years but tonight he showed that he’s no slouch on bass either while Tsonev, who supplied stunt guitar in Steven Wilson’s band for later shows on the Grace For Drowning tour, is a fantastic player with a unique style and a deft way of adding sublimely sinuous lines to the songs.

These guys all know how to put on a great performance and with the impressive vocals of keyboardist John Young and solid rhythms from ‘Frosty’ Beadle it made for an entertaining first set for Summer’s End 2014.

Voice In My Head
Open Skies
Fridge Full Of Stars
At The End Of The World

Line up:
John Young – Keyboards, Vocals
Martin ‘Frosty’ Beedle – Drums & Percussion
Niko Tsonev – Guitars
Jon Poole – Bass, Backing Vocals

Links: Website | Facebook

This year I’d made a point of not listening to material from any of the bands that I was not already familiar with in order to go in with no preconceptions and get the full live impact.

Lifesigns were one of those bands so I have nothing to base my opinion on but those I talked too who were more familiar with the band find this live line-up to be much more dynamic and give a grittier edge to the material.

Lifesigns - John Young

Overall a stylish opener that went down very well in the room.

Touchstone (UK)

With KingBathmat having to pull out a few weeks before festival weekend the decision was taken to stick with the two remaining bands and give them longer to play so after a full set from Lifesigns Touchstone had a similar hour and a half slot.

They presented themselves very strongly with masses of confidence, again the volume was a little loud but not too bad and the band put on a good show with singer Kim Sevoir immediately getting the crowd on side.

I’d previously seen Touchstone some years ago as a support act and thoroughly enjoyed them. Over the course of a full set I felt that the material, although particularly melodic, remained a little straightforward for my tastes, getting a bit samey and lacking in variety. The structures didn’t vary a great deal from regular rock but occasionally pushed the boundaries, the band driven along by the hard pounding drums of Henry Rogers.

It was certainly a good performance and received resounding applause from the still full house at the end who were won over by the exemplary musicianship and Sevoir’s cheeky banter.

So, two fine bands but one disappointing venue.

Strange Days
Throw Them To The Sky
Half Moon Meadow
Mad Hatters
Ocean Down
The City Sleeps
Black Tide
Spirit Of The Age
Oceans Of Time

Line up:
Kim Sevoir – Vocals
Rob Cottingham – Keyboards, Vocals
Adam Hodgson – Guitars
Paul ‘MOO’ Moorghen – Bass
Henry Rogers – Drums

Links: Website | Facebook

Saturday, 27th September 2014

The shift of venue for the rest of the weekend to Chepstow School proved to be more than a blessing; the hall was excellent with a large stage and plenty of room for merchandise and stalls, the foot-weary also able to pull out chairs and take the weight off. There was a separate room with tables adjoining the kitchen facilities where the bar had been set up giving a relaxing space to eat, drink and catch up. As a bonus this also made for a great spot to host the first ever Summer’s End acoustic stage which was enthusiastically attended throughout the weekend. Couple this with a foyer containing comfy chairs and outside areas which were very popular given the pleasant weather and you have the perfect venue and a huge improvement on the Town Hall in Lydney. Apparently there was one complaint from neighbours about the noise but this does seem particularly unreasonable given the fact that the school is set back a fair way from residential properties – another benefit over Lydney.

Starting the day a little later than billed were…

Argos (D)

This German outfit were another band that I knew nothing about. I have since learnt that this was only their second gig and they had only had time for a brief soundcheck but you wouldn’t have known it as the sound in the hall was excellent and they came across very well as a unit.

They played their music, influenced by ’70s prog sounds, with care and attention to detail and it made for an entertaining hour or so, the audience clearly enjoying.

Killer shared more than just the title with Van der Graaf Generator, the mix of Mellotron flutes and Hammond also bringing Genesis to mind and it made for a good melodic opener rooted in prog tradition. The guitar of Rico Florczak was impressive and as the set developed the band gained in confidence. Gentle Giant influences infiltrated into Black Cat, sung by bassist Thomas Klarmannn who also added flute to several numbers.

Canterbury sounds emerged here and there such as in Cruel Symmetry, the longest track of the set, which also featured a VdGG feel, quirky Gentle Giant mid-section and hints of fusion.

Lost On The Playground
Black Cat
Cruel Symmetry
A Seasonal Affair
The Gatekeeper
The Story Of Flying Robert

Line up:
Thomas Klarmann – Bass, Flute, Vocals
Robert Gozon – Keyboards, Vocals
Ulf Jacobs – Drums & Percussion, Vocals
Rico Florczac – Guitars
Thilo Brauss – Keyboards

Links: MySpace | Facebook

Final song The Story Of Flying Robert delivered a whimsical Caravan vibe and I even detected a hint of Kraftwerk in Divergence!

The stage announcement by keys man and main vocalist Robert Gozon set the tone for a relaxed atmosphere, the double keyboard setup filling out the sound to allow Robert to leave his position now and then to concentrate on his singing which sometimes crept into Peter Hammill territory.

Argos were the perfect opener for the day as the music was easy to absorb given the familiarity of the influences to most of those present but they successfully delivered it in a fresh and appealing way. A band that I will need to check out in further detail.

Argos - Thomas Klarmann

Frequency Drift (D)

The seven members of Frequency Drift filled the large stage with the equipment necessary to translate their intricate and atmospheric music to a live setting. The sound was perfect and really allowed the music to shine. As always a huge thanks is due to Nick, the festival’s regular sound man, who worked on most of the bands over the weekend and who always does a fantastic job.

And there was a lot for him to manage with Frequency Drift; cello, flute, whistles and harp amongst the more regular rock band instruments and keyboard textures of mainman Andreas Hack. It was also great to see a digital Mellotron/Chamberlain on stage and well used by harpist Nerissa Schwarz!

Despite the delicacy of some of the instrumentation the band were surprisingly heavy at times but the minutest detail was audible in the sound as it shifted from one extreme to the other. Isa Fallenbacher did a superb job with the lead vocals as an acoustic edge was retained by using the cello as a lead instrument and focal point. The guitar, bass and drums came to the fore throughout to add drive and power and the set was supremely enjoyable from start to finish.

Sagittarius A*

Line up:
Isa Fallenbacher – Vocals
Sibylle Friz – Cello
Andreas Hack – Keyboards, Guitar
Christian Hack – Guitar
Wolfgang Ostermann – Drums
Wolfgang Riess – Bass
Nerissa Schwarz – Harp, Mellotron

Links: Website | Facebook

Frequency Drift now have a wealth of material to choose from but the bulk of the set was taken from their recent Over album with one track each from Laid To Rest and Ghosts…. Perhaps surprisingly nothing was played from the newest release and second of 2014, the collection of unreleased material Summer, despite it containing a track called Summer’s End which would have been a particularly appropriate addition.

The band were deservedly very popular in the room and won a lot of new fans, evident as the merch table was swept clean in minutes.

One of the bands of the festival for me.

Frequency Drift - Sibylle Friz & Wolfgang Riess

Neo Deals – (Acoustic stage) (UK)

And so to the first band on the new acoustic stage. The mid-afternoon slot was given to Neo Deals who are Rich and Si from Also Eden (hence the name, do you see what they did there!?).

With their voices and two acoustic guitars Neo Deals play a blend of adapted Also Eden numbers plus covers – only the former for this set, although as another festival development the acoustic acts went down into Chepstow town to play for the Saturday shoppers where Rich and Si were complemented for the best version of Radiohead’s Fake Plastic Trees that one chap had ever heard.

The Test
Extend & Embrace
Dream Without A Dream
Seeing Red

Line up:
Rich Harding – Guitar, Vocals
Si Rogers – Guitar, Vocals

Links: Website

Their set re-worked versions of songs more familiar in their full band versions and cast them in a new light, certainly a promising start to the acoustic event that was very well received. With upcoming dates Neo Deals are well worth catching if you get the opportunity.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see the full set this time – people to see and not enough time! – which was a shame as I thoroughly enjoyed what I did catch and it was a very pleasant diversion over a beer and a nice way to spend the time whilst the main stage was being changed over.

Neo Deals - Rich & Si

DeeExpus (UK)

Next up on the main stage were DeeExpus, another unknown for me but a band that I’d been wanting to see for some time given the reaction to their latest album.

As the band kicked in the sound was noticeably louder, particularly the drums which were very in your face, and a lot of the finesse was missing which is a bit of a shame as having since heard King Of Number 33 the intricacies didn’t come across too well.

They began confidently with the near half hour title track of the King… album but soon had some technical difficulties that resulted in leader Andy Ditchfield stopping the band, apologising and then beginning it all again. They got through it this time but it’s a tall order to launch such a large slab of music at a new listener and it didn’t make the same impression on me as the album version has since.

The King Of Number 33
Take Me Out
Me And My Downfall

Line up:
Andy Ditchfield – Guitar, Vocals
Henry Rogers – Drums
Dave Anderson – Bass
Micky McCrystal – Guitar
Mike Varty – Keyboards

Links: Website | Facebook

There was a bit of an awkward moment when Andy thanked the CRS for inviting them to play at Summer’s End but no matter, he makes for an engaging and energetic frontman with real passion for what he does.

Keyboardist Mike Varty provided some, as always, fine playing which verged on Marillion-esque at times and stunt guitarist Micky McCrystal impressed with some flashy soloing. Drummer Henry Rogers – in his second set of the weekend after playing with Touchstone the night before – once again added plenty of muscle. I addition, the harmony vocals were very good.

DeeExpus played material from all their releases to date including the Porcupine Tree homage PTtee which went down well. Lots of movement and energy so despite the sound quibbles an enjoyable set.

DeeExpus - Andy Ditchfield

Tom Slatter – (Acoustic stage) (UK)

Back out to the acoustic stage for Tom Slatter. I thoroughly enjoyed his Blackwater EP and was looking forward to hearing what he could do armed with only his acoustic guitar. Tom is an engaging singer with a resonant voice and an unorthodox songwriter whose songs push the boundaries of what can be expected from the solo acoustic guitar troubadour, straying into the darkest of corners. There is a strange mind at work here but one that makes for a compelling and fascinating listen.

During the busking trip into Chepstow Tom apparently regaled passers by with a song about the execution of two clowns (there should be more songs about this subject!) at the site of the old town gallows. For the festival set Tom gave us the 5-part Miser’s Will, introducing each part of the story as it flowed into one long piece. After that we got, amongst other things, the title track from the highly recommended Blackwater, and all too quickly it was over. An excellent set by another great solo talent who appeared to have won over plenty of new fans.

The Miser’s Will
– The Cartographer’s Tale
– What The Orderly Saw
– Watermen’s Square
– The Engineer
– Reading The Will
Sing For A Sail

Line up:
Tom Slatter – Guitar, Vocals

Links: Website | Facebook

The United Progressive Fraternity (AUS/UK/D)

This was one of the main draws on the bill for me, the first ever show by this collective centred around ex-members of Unitopia who so wowed the festival in 2010. Rounding out the band are sax and keys man Marek Arnold who may be familiar for his work with Toxic Smile and Seven Steps To the Green Door, young bassist Dan Mash from Maschine and who also spent a couple of years playing with The Tangent, plus the ubiquitous Guy Manning who adds his own brand of magic on keys, acoustic guitar and voice. Together they make up quite a team, all the more impressive in that they only met up in full for the first time a few days before this performance.

The band seemed slightly unsure to start but soon got into the swing of it and provided a set built on tracks from the forthcoming UPF album, Fall In Love With The World, topped off with a melding of two Unitopia classics. The album features a number of guest appearances and Jon Anderson’s contribution to the upbeat lead song The Water was recreated by having Jon present “in a form where he cannot be seen” from backing tracks.

The interactions between the players was quite stunning given that they’d had so little time to get to know each other.

The Water
Travelling Man
Don’t Look Back
Tesla/Garden [amalgamation of Unitopia tracks]

Line up:
Mark Trueack – Vocals
Guy Manning – Keyboards, Vocals, Guitar
Matt Williams – Guitars
David Hopgood – Drums
Dan Mash – Bass
Marek Arnold – Sax
Tim Irrgang – Percussion

Links: Website | Facebook

Of the Unitopia members, guitarist Matt Williams and drummer David Hopgood appeared confident from the start while singer Mark Trueack seemed less sure of himself. By the end of the set however he was almost reaching the heights that he hit with Unitopia. Tim Irrgang’s percussion and the sax of Marek Arnold take the music in new directions, particularly Arnold’s quite wonderful additions, but Dan Mash was the one that really made the difference for me. I’ve been a fan of Dan’s since he first played SE with Concrete Lake (who now go by the name Maschine) and later his stint with The Tangent but tonight he was simply awesome, adding a dynamic and funky edge to the songs that saw them grow in stature before your eyes. A real talent.

The set mixed extended pieces with shorter songs culminating with the double punch of Tesla and The Garden including an enthusiastic singalong from the crowd.

Overall a very good performance and one that I’m sure they will build on with future shows. Not as confident as Unitopia but a great start and the environmental nature of the lyrics fits well with their positive attitude. A band to watch.

The United Progressive Fraternity - Mark Trueack

The United Progressive Fraternity - Dan Mash & Matt Williams

Matt Stevens – (Acoustic stage) (UK)

Another break and back to the acoustic stage for Matt Stevens’ spectacular performance. A fantastic set as always, the enthralled crowd were treated to a looping masterclass filled with energy and enthusiasm. Matt is a bear of a man but that didn’t stop him throwing himself around the tiny performance area, giving his all as he usually does. Matt plays an acoustic guitar like no one else but add in the layers of sound and it becomes an otherworldly experience that is always a joy to witness. Ending the hyperactive set, which included his solo version of The Fierce And The Dead’s Ark, with Big Sky and then downing a well deserved pint of lager, that is certainly the way to do it! This man should be widely recognised for his talent and dedication to what he does but for now he’s our little secret. If you haven’t had the opportunity to see Matt live, rectify this as soon as you can.

Burning Bandstands
Ark [The Fierce and the Dead cover]
Big Sky

Line up:
Matt Stevens – Guitar & Loops

Links: Website | Facebook

New Trolls (I)

Saturday’s headliners were another new one for me, Italian veterans New Trolls. Their history has been a particularly tortuous trail filled with band splits, reformations, fallings out, reconciliations, court cases and band renamings that render it almost impossible to comprehend who – or what – the band are going to be. Despite existing in one form or another (often at the same time!) since 1967 this was the first time that New Trolls had ever played a show in the UK, this version of the band led by founding member Vittorio De Scalzi on keys, vocals and flute. Most of the rest of the band looked like they were probably not born when New Trolls originally appeared but no matter as they gave their all in what turned out to be a thrilling performance.

But it didn’t seem to bode well initially as much coming and going on the stage, extended conversations with the mixing desk in Italian and a seemingly never ending soundcheck tried the patience of the audience who were beginning to flag at the end of a long day. Eventually, and well past the advertised start time they were ready to go…

Una Notte sul Montecalvo
– Improvvisazioni nella sala vuota
– Allegro
– Adagio
– Andante Cadenza con moto
– Shadows
– Ouverture
– Dance with the rain
– Barock and roll
– Seven Season
– I tempo: Vivace
– II tempo: Andante (Most dear lady)
– III tempo: Moderato (Fare you well dove)
Le Roi Soleil
La prima goccia bagna il viso

Line up:
Vittorio De Scalzi – Keyboards, Vocals, Flute
Andrea Maddalone – Guitar, Vocals
Francesco Bellia – Bass, Vocals
Giorgio Bellia – Drums, Vocals
Matteo Ferrario – Violin

Links: Website | Facebook

…and the impact was simply stunning, much as The Enid had been at SE a couple of years ago. Opening up with a rampage through their bombastic version of Mussorgsky’s Night On A Bare Mountain, this was a thoroughly enjoyable amalgamation of prog rock and classical with the Italian Baroque featuring prominently. The whole set was just bonkers and wonderful throughout, an authentic RPI sound shot through with superb keys from De Scalzi and some of the best 4-part harmonies I’ve ever heard – absolutely spot on and brilliantly executed. The wonderful electric violin of Matteo Ferrario is central to the classically influenced sound, the setlist featuring a large selection from the Concerto Grosso albums plus a variety of other pieces.

Vittorio De Scalzi is a supremely engaging frontman who immediately got everyone on side, his enthusiasm for the band’s music palpable, and the set was nothing short of a triumph that sent me and many others weary prog heads to bed refreshed.

New Trolls

New Trolls Vittorio De Scalzi

Sunday, 28th September 2014

And so to the final day of what was already turning into a classic Summer’s End – and it actually started on time! Another lovely day meant that there was plenty of scope for sitting outdoors but even initially it seemed like a larger turnout than the previous day, probably due to the “Magenta Effect” and the emotional effect of their return to live performance. Nice to see that there were plenty in the hall for the first band of the day…

Colourflow (UK)

Colourflow are a new band formed by ex-members of Also Eden and Unto Us with excellent vocals from Laura Bayston who did a good job of working the crowd.

They made for an entertaining start to the Sunday programme but it got a bit samey after a while and didn’t stray too far from straight rock. Not really prog but good vocals and a solid band. It got a bit too loud, particularly the drums again, and there was nothing too diverting in the material.

A little strange as a choice for Summer’s End in a slot that could have been given to a more off-the-wall band as this year there were no real wildcards like Knifeworld or Thumpermonkey as have been on the bill in recent years.

The Fear
Shallow Waters
Hole In My Head
Out Of My Mind

Line up:
Laura Bayston – Vocals
Steve Dunn – Bass
Andy Gelband – Guitar
Chris Habicht – Drums
Ian Hodson – Keyboards

Links: Website | Facebook

Verbal Delirium (GR)

Another band that I’d never heard before, this time from Greece, but they immediately had me sitting up and paying attention and by the end I was completely sold on their take on prog. Singer Jargon delivered a great performance filled with energy and emotion whilst maintaining an elusive aura. He is certainly an impressive frontman but his vocals were also excellent and he delivered the songs with precision. The 6-piece band ranged in a semi-circle around the front of the stage, drummer behind, with Jargon originally on keys but he soon left his rig to perform from stage front as the band worked through a selection of tracks from their two albums plus a preview track from album Number 3 in the shape of The Decayed Reflection.

The sound was filled out by the sax, flute and additional keys from Nikolas Nikolopoulos as the band nailed their parts and easily won over the crowd. Lullaby was an impressive mix of soft sounds and avant bursts and ending the set with the final two tracks from second release From The Small Hours Of Weakness was a great move as these covered a lot of ground with traditional flavours of Greece coming through in Sudden Winter and a more modernistic spaciness in Aeons, an atmospheric and moody extended piece.

So Close and Yet So Far Away
Dance Of The Dead
Dancing Generation
The Decayed Reflection
Sudden Winter

Line up:
Jargon – Keyboards, Vocals
George Pagidas – Bass
Nikos Terzis – Piano
George Kyriakidis – Guitars
Stelios Pavlou – Drums
Nikolas Nikolopoulos – Saxophone, Flute, Mellotron

Links: BandCamp | Facebook

An emotional high point of the set came in Sudden Winter which Jargon dedicated to his mother who has recently recovered from illness. By the end he was overcome with it all and the tears were plain to see.

An excellent set by a fine band from a distant corner of Europe. This is the kind of thing that Summer’s End pulls off year after year; having bands perform who you would not ordinarily get the opportunity to see but who consistently impress with their individuality and talent.

Verbal Delirium

Saul Blease – (Acoustic stage) (UK)

Talented young singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Saul Blease was a late addition to the festival line-up but first onto the acoustic stage today, running through a selection of tracks from his soon to be released debut album, Daylight.

He has a fine voice and accompanied himself on keyboard through songs that have a very individual character. Again I unfortunately missed some of his set but another worthy addition to the now expanded festival line-up.

Blue Monday
Bleeding Soul

Line up:
Saul Blease – Vocals, Keyboard

Links: Website | Facebook

Tin Spirits (UK)

An intriguing addition to the bill, Tin Spirits were of prime interest to me for the inclusion of Big Big Train and XTC man Dave Gregory in their line-up. I’ve been enjoying their Scorch album and was looking forward to seeing how it translated to the stage.

The answer? Very well indeed. From instrumental opener Carnivore it was obvious that the band were both highly skilled and well drilled, coming across throughout the set as self-deprecating and funny with Mark Kilminster making for an entertaining frontman and fine singer too with a nice tone to his voice. With the rest of the band providing great harmonies, Summer Now had an XTC vibe courtesy of Dave’s guitar, Mark wearing the hat he’d bought for the video shoot – “I’m bloody well going to get my money’s worth!”.

Dave and Daniel Steinhardt’s guitars worked well together with slide added for Old Hands and heaviness spicing things up when required. Shades of Wishbone Ash’s twin lead appeared on occasion, such as on the nice and edgy Binary Man, Gregory’s tone melodic, Daniel’s heavier.

Summer Now
Old Hands
Binary Man
Little Eyes
Wrapped And Tied
Garden State
Red [King Crimson cover]

Line up:
Mark Kilminster – Vocals, Bass
Dave Gregory – Guitars
Daniel Steinhardt – Guitars
Doug Mussard – Drums

Links: Website | Facebook

The sound throughout was fantastic and the levels just right, the set ending with two epics in the shape of the beautiful and melodic Garden State and Broken from their debut release, a song with which I was unfamiliar.

The set had been filled with excellent songs but fairly straight to this point, the “but is it prog?” question not far away. Then something of a surprise with a quite splendid run through of King Crimson’s Red to finish. Excellent guitars bang on to what you’d expect to hear and thundering rhythms, a fantastic way to end and it received a tumultuous response. When I’m in charge every gig will end like this!

Tin Spirits


Guy Manning – (Acoustic stage) (UK)

Guy Manning is always good value and tonight was no exception with jokes and good-humoured banter peppering his set, including an unexpectedly entertaining story about sheep insemination. He covered some of my favourite songs from his long back catalogue including Margaret McDonald, In Swingtime and, in particular, the wonderful In My Life which is always a pleasure to hear. We also got impersonations of Sean Connery and Jon Anderson, the latter following on from Guy’s attempts to add ‘live’ Jon to UPF’s set the previous day, accompanied by brief snippets of Roundabout and Starship Trooper, plus a story about what it’s like to have a dentist for a father as a preamble to a song about panic attacks. All in all a wonderful half hour or so from man who is more than worth seeing in whatever guise he performs in.

Margaret McDonald
Wondrin’ Aloud (Jethro Tull cover)
In Swingtime
Night And The Devil
In My Life
Silly Grandad Songs
Tears In The Rain

Line up:
Guy Manning – Vocals, Guitar

Links: Website | Facebook

Magenta (UK)

With the evening still running late – but things slowly catching up – the sounds of Yes’ Cinema as played by Magenta as their intro sent us rushing back into the hall. They play this piece very well indeed and it’s always a fine way to start, Christina Booth appearing on stage at the end as the band steam into Glitterball from Chameleon. This first full show after Christina’s recent illness was always going to be emotional but it turned into a quite unforgettable set with Tina on top form and the band pulling out all the stops, feeding off the support of the packed and enthusiastic crowd.

The wonderful setlist covered songs from all eras of Magenta’s history and became a celebration of the band. They really could do nothing wrong with fantastic soloing from guitarist Chris Fry and keyboard maestro Rob Reed backed by the sublime rhythm section of Steve Roberts and Dan Nelson from Godsticks who continue to grow and go from strength to strength. Pearl was heart rending, RAW lived up to its title with full force screaming from Tina and The Visionary was hugely emotional but it was the encore of Pride that brought the house down. Tina has always delivered this song beautifully but tonight she outdid herself; quite astonishing. At the end the place justifiably erupted.

Cinema (Yes cover)
The Lizard King
Towers Of Hope
The White Witch
The Visionary
~ Encore

Line up:
Christina Booth – Vocals
Rob Reed – Keyboards, Vocals
Chris Fry – Guitars
Dan Nelson – Bass
Steve Roberts – Drums

Links: Website | Facebook

Absolutely superb. Magenta are back and better than ever, easily the band of the weekend for me. A fantastic band thoroughly enjoying themselves playing exquisite music with panache.

This band really do have everything and in another, more sensible, universe they would be a national treasure.



Unto Us – (Acoustic stage) (UK)

While discussing and generally recovering from the brilliant Magenta set we were a bit late getting out to the acoustic stage for Unto Us and missed the first couple of songs which is a shame and my bad as the rest of the set was superb with excellent stripped down covers of The Moodies’ Nights In White Satin and Radiohead’s High And Dry. The band was laid back and comfortable with guitar, bass and simple drums supporting the wonderful voice of Huw Lloyd-Jones. Huw is a charismatic and likeable frontman who really knows how to deliver a song and in Unto Us’s In A Lifetime he has the right song, themed on looking back with your children at their lives growing up. It was made all the more special tonight as Huw’s three children, all involved in helping to run the festival, were there to watch, clearly enjoying what they heard. A great way to close the acoustic stage which had been a marvellous addition to Summer’s End this year.

Towers Of Babel
Nights In White Satin [Moody Blues cover]
High And Dry [Radiohead cover]
In A Lifetime

Line up:
Huw Lloyd-Jones – Vocals
Lee Blu-Sky – Bass
Tom Ennis – Guitar
Rohan Jordan-Shah – Drums

Links: Website | Facebook

Curved Air (UK)

Curved Air are a band I’ve been aware of for years but never really heard, other than the obvious songs like Back Street Luv, so I was looking forward to seeing them and getting an insight into their music.

By the time the intro began and the band arrived on stage the audience was certainly depleted, a regular occurrence with the Sunday night at Summer’s End, the pressures of a return to work on Monday looming large for those who travel a long distance to be there. Tonight it seemed to be even more of an issue given the large number of people who turned out specifically for Magenta but the band began in fine fashion with the instrumental Spider. Violinist Paul Sax introduced vocalist Sonja Kristina for It Happened Today as “our guiding light” in honour of the award that Sonja had recently received from Prog magazine. Initially the vocals appeared a little strained but were more pleasing for Melinda (More Or Less) which also featured Sonja on acoustic guitar.

The band were very tight and well drilled throughout with impressive contributions from all, guitarist Kirby Gregory particularly impressive whilst Sax’s violin added a different sonic layer.

Propositions saw Sonja screaming as if her life depended on it while violin histrionics and gurning from Sax were the order of the day for another instrumental to close the set, this time Vivaldi.

Spider (instrumental)
It Happened Today
Young Mother
Stay Human
Time Games
Melinda (More Or Less)
Images and Signs
Marie Antoinette
Purple Speed Queen
Vivaldi (instrumental)
~ Encore
Back Street Luv

Line up:
Sonja Kristina – Vocals, Guitar
Florian Pilkington-Miksa – Drums
Kirby Gregory – Guitar
Paul Sax – Violin
Chris Harris – Bass
Robert Norton – Keyboards

Links: Website | Facebook

The band were certainly solid and able to work their way dextrously through the material, but unfortunately it left me a little cold and didn’t draw me into Curved Air’s world as a new listener.

Sonja returned for the inevitable Back Street Luv encore which went down well with those who stayed until the end.

It was always going to be a big ask to round off the festival after a set like the one Magenta had given us and Curved Air gave it their best shot. Ultimately it wasn’t to be their night but there are sure to be others for this rejuvenated band.

Curved Air - Sonja Kristina & Kirby Gregory

A summing up…

Summer’s End is a very special festival for an awful lot of people. It has real heart and all those involved in putting it on every year do so because they really care about the music. There is always a really good vibe and everyone present enjoys each others company, as well as the wonderful sounds made by all the musicians, whether familiar or not. Prog being prog, there are as many opinions on the bands as there are people in attendance, but that’s fine, and the beauty of Summer’s End is that more often that not the bands selected to play are a revelation. For that reason you can happily take the ones that aren’t to your taste in your stride and I for one am more than happy to let Huw and Lambsie decide if a band is worth listening to, I’ll still turn up whoever it is as the event now transcends the line-up.

This weekend at the end of September or early October is something to savour and this year the setting (for the Saturday and Sunday at least) made it all the better. Attendance seemed to be slightly down this time so if you haven’t been before or are someone that used to go but now doesn’t, please consider getting along to the next one. It helps to keep a unique event going but in addition to that you’d also avoid missing out on a lovely environment where good music, good like-minded friends – oh, and good beer – makes for a good time for all.

As always then, a huge ‘thank you’ and hopefully we’ll all do it again next year.

Summer’s End Links
Websites: Summer’s End Festival | Facebook