Concert Reviews Summer's End XII 2016

Published on 6th November 2016

Summer’s End Festival 2016

The Drill Hall, Chepstow
30th September to 2nd October 2016

[With photos by Tony Colvill, David Glaves, Phil Lively and Leo Trimming]

For the second year The Drill Hall, on the banks of the River Wye in Chepstow, is the host venue for one of the most eagerly anticipated weekends of the year. Now in its twelfth year and as much a social gathering for meeting up with friends old and new as a musical event, this year the U.K.’s longest running and best loved progressive rock festival succeeded in selling out and there certainly seemed to be plenty of new faces and more people in attendance than last year, particularly on the Friday night. The uniquely relaxed and friendly feel that organisers Stephen Lambe and Huw Lloyd-Jones have built over the years remains and somehow, amidst it all, they always manage to book fantastic bands and get some of the best sound around (thanks as ever to sound wizard Nick!).

This year many of the TPA crew stayed together in a lovely spot in the Wye Valley, a few miles out of town, and someone had invited Phil Lively…

Phil: Imagine that someone who knows nothing about prog and is also a qualified idiot was going to a prog rock festival and wrote a review. A stranger in a strange land, perhaps? Well, imagine no further. That strange land being Chepstow: Gateway to the West and Prog Capital of the World.

I was confused when I discovered prog. I thought I knew what prog was – Yes and Genesis and Van der Graaf Generator. After wandering off for a couple of decades into industrial rock and other genres I thought that was rediscovering Progressive Rock. What I heard had not, to a greater or lesser extent, moved on. I confess that I was confused as to why it was called ‘progressive’. But now I don’t care. The yardstick is whether it is good music, not whether it is derivative. ‘Prog’ is just a new word, derived from ‘progressive’. The music is, at least in structure and composition, partly derived from other music, but this doesn’t really matter! So I’m not that well acquainted with prog as a genre. I can’t even say I love all the music by any one Progressive Rock band. I love some progressive rock by some bands and I love bands who can, at some point in their career, produce anything approaching an album’s worth of material that I enjoy. I own only two tee-shirts that proclaim my fanaticism for any bands and they’re both Nine Inch Nails shirts. I wore these heavily washed out garments all weekend. Nobody cared.

Everyone from TPA who attended the festival in Chepstow (Gateway to the West and Prog Capital of the World) is going to give reviews of the bands that will be better informed than mine. Their opinions can probably be relied on as coming from a credible authority. In fact, you might even question what I was doing there! If you have read this far then it will come as no surprise that I was unfamiliar with the music of almost all of the bands at this year’s festival. This makes me a blank canvas, ready to have some impressions made upon it. For this reason I’m going to give a high level overview of the festival in general but point out the musical highlights, without prejudice to any of the other bands, all of whom put on tremendous shows. The two main reasons that I went were,

Reason 1: I love live music and there was bound to be music that I was discovering for the first time, and I enjoy an adventure. I wasn’t disappointed there.

Reason 2: Meeting the people I have so enjoyed talking with on social media for so long now was a big driver for me and if you’re wondering whether I’m referring to you then you’re right – it was – and I wasn’t disappointed there, either.
I stayed with a bunch of reviewers from TPA and one of the performing artists so accommodation would prove to be a blast even if I didn’t enjoy some of the bands. I have to be truthful: there were bands that were not my cup of tea.

These are some of my notes, cobbled together into a sort of journal:

“Arrived! Why Am I Here? This is not some kind of existential crisis. Converted barn is nice. Wow – there’s Bose Surround Sound and a projector. Might have to nick that. Tony and Jez have stolen the bunks. I get to sleep with Leo. Kim and Peter are very witty. I think I’m going to enjoy the company of my Barn Mates. No reflection on either band, I am too tired to enjoy this. After a 4½ hour drive I want some cocoa and bed. Rock ‘n’ Roll! I am a man of a certain age! I’m a grumpy, tired old Greeboid. To the venue!!! There’s a tall lady with blue hair standing outside. I flashed my NIN shirt at her, which was our pre-arranged signal. Got a hug through the car window. Which is how I met Emma Roebuck in person for the first time. A giant scout hut with an enormous stage (The Drill Hall, not Emma!). Brilliant. Glad it is small enough to allow the bands to get some audience feedback.”

Friday, 30th Sep 2016

The Drill Hall is a peculiar old place but already seems like a good fit for Summer’s End, although no decision has yet been made as to where the festival will be located in 2017. It was a pleasant location to be for the entire weekend, although the limited number of available chairs this year was noted by many. It’s not a large venue but with parking, food and drink available on site and only a short walk to the restaurants and hostelries of the town it works well.

The weather was good for the whole weekend and lovely for a stroll through the town or along the river during the afternoon breaks, the Autumnal air leaving the evenings chillier, but what was going on inside the Hall? With a pretty full house already in, first band on…

Ghost Community (UK)

Leo: This new band, featuring Matty Cohen previously of The Reasoning and Magenta, opened the festival with a rousing set, the emphasis on ‘Rock’ rather than ‘Prog’. It was an energetic start, finished off with the singer wielding a rather worrying looking wand-like device whilst they sang an idiosyncratic version of The Buggles’ classic pop hit Video Killed The Radio (Prog Rock?) Star (!!). Such eccentricity went down well with the punters. I have to be honest that this was not a band that struck a chord with this reviewer, but there were many in the crowd who expressed great satisfaction with their rocking set. Sometimes things just don’t click with some, but it does for others (nice hair though!).

Jez: It was very pleasing to see such a good turn out for the Friday evening, indicative of the fully formed event nature of SE these days – very little picking and choosing sessions, just turn up and see what happens. First up, Ghost Community. I’m not familiar with their music although there are some familiar faces in the line-up in bassist Matt Cohen (The Reasoning, Magenta), keyboardist Moray MacDonald (Godsticks) and guitarist Simon Rogers (Also Eden). They certainly put on a solid and well played show, a little light on prog for me with the emphasis more on old school hard rock, courtesy of frontman John Paul Vaughan’s flamboyant performance, but they went down very well, spicing the set up with a snatch of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir as a mid-set segue and a completely unexpected rendition of The Buggles’ Video Killed the Radio Star to wind things up. A good band with potential and probably the right sort of act to kick things off

Rise Up
Mirror Lakes
Anything and Everything
Blue December Morning
(Led Zeppelin – Kashmir segue)
Ghost Community
Cycle of Life
Video Killed The Radio Star (The Buggles cover)

Line up:
Matthew Cohen – Bass
Simon Rogers – Guitar
Jake Bradford-Sharp – Drums
Moray Macdonald – Keyboards
John Paul Vaughan – Vocals

Website | Facebook |

Ghost Community - photo by David Glaves

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Magic Pie (N)

Leo: Magic by name, Magic by nature. Having been forced to pull out of their proposed appearance at SE 2015, this year they were invited back to headline Friday night. This slick and talented Norwegian band greatly entertained the crowd with an outstanding performance, full of great harmony vocals, sometimes reminiscent of Queen. Erling Henanger showed skill and flair with keyboards, particularly on early classic Pointless Masquerade which was a Prog Tour de Force of great musicianship and melodies. Charismatic and charming lead vocalist Eiríkur Hauksson connected well with the crowd and sang with strength and feeling, backed with excellent guitars from Kim Stenberg (electric) and Eirik Hanssen (acoustic). Jan Torkild Johannessen and Lars Petter Holstad provided the powerful and rhythmical foundation, the whole band really rocking, especially for closing epic, the hook filled King for a Day. Well worth a year’s wait, and what a great start to the festival – certainly Kings of the First Day. An outstanding performance – thanks lads!

Jez: After having to vacate their slot on last year’s bill, Magic Pie successfully made it to the stage this time where they played a storming set, professional and varied with superb 5-part harmonies. They are clearly comfortable on stage and performed a highly enjoyable set, some straight ahead songs mixed in with the more complex. Some of the tracks completely drew me in while others were a little too ‘straight’ for me and, not being familiar with their music, the closing near half hour title track from last year’s King For A Day album could have done with a little pruning but was still a splendid way to end the night. A very impressive band.

Phil: Soundcheck in front of the whole audience. WOW amazing harmonies! I think I like Magic Pie. They are very much playing to the audience. Completely possible – intimate little venue. They seem to be enjoying themselves and so is the audience. They also seem to have Alex Lifeson on bass. Which is nice. Unfortunately fatigue won. I nodded off during a rather long (well, I think it was rather long) last song. How much more Rock ‘n’ Roll could I be!?!

Back to the converted barn. Whipped out my Stick (despite the court order) and performed my solo arrangement of Postcard by Steven Wilson, then played Genesis’ Entangled as a duo with Peter Jones from Tiger Moth Tales. Now THAT was a proper highlight for me.

Intro: Full Circle Poetry
Pointless Masquerade
The Silent Giant
Tears Gone Dry
Slightly Mad
King For A Day

Line up:
Eirikur Hauksson – Vocals, Guitar
Lars Petter Holstad – Bass, Backing Vocals
Erling Henanger – Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Jan Torkild Johannessen – Drums
Eirik Hannsen – Vocals, Acoustic Guitar
Kim Steinberg – Guitars, Vocals

Website | Facebook

Magic Pie - photo by Tony Colvill

Magic Pie - photo by David GlavesMagic Pie - photo by David Glaves

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Saturday, 1st October 2016

A lovely day greets us as we drive back into Chepstow, park up and stroll to the Drill Hall. No fire brigade this year but there is great expectation that something special is about to happen…

Tiger Moth Tales (UK)

Jez: Saturday and one of the most anticipated sets of the weekend, multi-instrumentalist Peter Jones’ Tiger Moth Tales, a one man band expanded for live performance with the collaboration of the members of Red Bazar, with whom Peter has recently been working. And what a set it was, Peter winning many new friends with a stunning performance on keys, guitar (sometimes at the same time!), vocals and saxophone, ably and punchily backed to bring his eccentric and whimsical songs to life. The between songs banter was hilarious, the whole show setting up the day beautifully. A highlight for me was but the whole set was wonderful, raved about by many over the course of the weekend, and rightly so. This was a performance that deserved a much higher place on the bill – more full band shows please Pete!

Mel: A break from tradition for me this year, only a Saturday visit to my favourite festival rather than the full weekend. It’s always a good time to catch up with like-minded friends, and this year a reunion with some fellow TPA reviewers, even if it is just for a day. The opening act was Tiger Moth Tales who gave the day a different start to last year’s “blazing” set from The Fierce and the Dead. Led by the talented multi-instrumentalist Peter Jones, they gave us a bright start with their whimsically symphonic songs, somewhat reminiscent perhaps of early Genesis. With a full band behind him for support, it gave the songs an exciting live sound, coupled with Peter’s witty banter to create a very good start to the day.

Don’t Let Go, Feels Alright
The Quest For Beauty
The First Lament
The Merry Vicar
A Visit To Chigwick
Tigers In The Butter

Line up:
Peter Jones – Keyboards, Guitar, Saxophone, Vocals
Andy Wilson – Guitar
Paul Comerie – Drums
Mick Wilson – Bass
Gary Marsh – Keyboards, Backing Vocals

Website | Facebook | Bandcamp

Tiger Moth Tales - photo by Phil Lively

Leo: I posted this on Facebook just after this gig, and I feel it still sums up the impact of this fantastic performance: “Oh My! What an incredible concert. Peter Jones is a genius and the band were brilliant. From the lunacy of The Merry Vicar to the nostalgic lyricism of A Visit to Chigwick we were taken on a journey of beauty – the crowd were blown away. The finale of Tigers in the Butter was scintillating and brought a tear to my eye, such was its perfection.”

Looking back I am still in awe at the excellence of this performance. Peter Jones was a revelation, simultaneously playing keyboards and guitars at some points, along with a saxophone at other times. His singing voice is a joy and conveys a range of emotions from maniacal comedy to wistful melancholy. However, this was not a triumph solely based on one player as he was backed by a very talented band, clearly enjoying the ecstatic reception from the packed midday audience. Gary Marsh’s keyboards helped fill out Jones’ musical pictures, whilst Paul Comerie deftly switched from quietly phrased percussion to complicated prog passages to full out rock power. Mick Wilson on bass and fancy shoes prowled the stage with an infectious grin, underpinning the performance and clearly just loving the moment. On the other side of the stage his brother Andy showed great versatility and skill, switching from electric to acoustic guitar with equal aplomb. The extended finale of Tigers in the Butter was extraordinary, particularly with Jones’ guitar solo – one of the great festival performances in my experience… and only an hour long! The Tiger Moth Tales band also play as Red Bazar, now with Peter Jones as well, and if this show was an indication of their quality and confidence on stage then they are also a band to track down a live setting – such as ‘Masquerade’ in London in December! Maybe they could be invited back to Summer’s End next year as Red Bazar? It would certainly be a popular choice as at the end of the night Stephen Lambe went through all the bands that had played, and upon mentioning Tiger Moth Tales the crowd went bananas again – considerably more than for any other artist mentioned.

Phil: “Cold water. Tony Colville’s sausages. Yummy. Fry-up, wash-up. To the venue…!”
Wow. Anyone who knows anyone in the prog community on Facebook will no doubt have already heard that Tiger Moth Tales were, quite simply, the act who set a very high bar for the rest of the acts that weekend. For me their set ended and I felt that it had made the whole trip worthwhile! Even if I hadn’t seen any other bands I could happily have gone home, such was the sense of completeness I felt. Peter Jones’ talents as a multi-instrumentalist translate seamlessly from his albums to the stage. Whilst Peter IS Tiger Moth Tales he was supplemented and complemented by members of the (mostly) instrumental band Red Bazar, who now include Peter on vocals for their latest Tales from the Bookcase album. The personnel may now be interchangeable for Red Bazar and TMT but they are two separate musical entities.

So astonishingly good were the band that I didn’t take notes. I didn’t want to spoil my experience. Critics of Tiger Moth Tales may say that Peter is too entrenched in the musical styles of his early influences (they would probably say the same thing about Big Big Train), and whilst it is true that there is a nostalgic element to the content and the way the songs are constructed and executed I think that this criticism misses the point. What Peter has actually managed to do is harness the magic formulae that made people fall in love with the music that they remember and that so influenced him. He uses these ingredients to create his own music. Anyway, Peter played a hugely engaging set, during which I developed a strange bulge in my throat and my eyes became inexplicably wet. Not a small achievement considering my Facebook Enemies used to call me ‘Spock’ or ‘Sheldon’ (a massive compliment, if you ask me so…Hah!).

Tiger Moth Tales - photo by Tony Colvill

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Sylvium (NL)

Mel: After a short turn around we were ready to go again with the second act of the day, Sylvium from the Netherlands. They gave a set of polished symphonic prog rock, but not being familiar with their work I found at times there was little dynamic variation in their songs, and although they played a good set it was just not for me.

Leo: This talented Dutch band kept the ball rolling for the festival in a Floydian manner. They provided a set of soundscapes and sweeping songs which won over some new fans. In truth they had a tough time following Tiger Moth Tales, which still had the hall buzzing, but they played an assured and professional set which showed promise.

Jez: Another new band to me but Sylvium came highly recommended before their set. Their symphonic sounds were strongly delivered but didn’t quite engage and I was left with the feeling that it had just washed over me rather than being absorbed and fully taken in. No doubt nothing to do with the band who played very well, but the music didn’t seem to stray much from it’s core sound and lacked range, probably my fault and I suspect that I need to listen to them again, which indeed I will.

Signal to Noise
Fade In/Out
Altered State
Purified Media

Line up:
Ben van Gastel – Guitars
Richard de Geest – Vocals, Guitar
Antal Nusselder – Synths & Samples
Rich Huybens – Bass & Bass Pedals
Fred den Hartog – Drums

Website | Facebook

Sylvium - photo by David Glaves

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Seven Steps To The Green Door (D)

Jez: Due to unforeseen circumstances I missed the start of SSTTGD’s set but when I walked in they were already playing a blinder. Jazzy sax from Marek Arnold (in the first of his two appearances of the weekend) and the duo of vocalists who played off each other beautifully, particularly worthy of note being Jana Pöche whose vocals were sublime – all the more impressive as I understand that she had only joined the band two weeks previously with limited time to learn the parts. The playing was superb and the music certainly worth investigating further, a highly recommended live experience.

Leo: One of the most unorthodox shows of the weekend came from German band Seven Steps to the Green Door, with interesting Jazz inflected, high-powered Prog Rock. Led by Marek Arnold (also of United Progressive Fraternity, Damanek and Cyril), they played an entertaining show of quirky songs. Selling their album Fetish inside a stocking at the Merch stall was an indication that this was not your usual Prog band, and they won a lot of new fans with their idiosyncratic brand of music. To be honest I was a little more taken by the stocking than the music… but that may just be me because many in the hall were very impressed with their show and seemed less inclined towards the fetishistic marketing!

Mel: Third act of the day, Germany’s Seven Steps to the Green Door provided a great set, tinged with jazzy influences and some odd time signatures. They have two singers who sang both together and separately, I felt they sounded better when Jana Pöche sang alone or where they worked as a duo, in a live setting Sören Flechsig sounded a little weak on his own for me. That said, a very good performances all round, enjoyable and interesting songs making for a very pleasant afternoon. Now it was time for the first of the two breaks in the day, a chance for a stroll into town for some food.

The?Book Pt1:
– Prologue
– The Empty Room
Paid for glance
My lovely mr. singing club
Last Lullaby
The?Book Pt2:
– The dividing water
– Last supper
– The green door – looking for the last solution
Still searching

Line up:
Marek Arnold – Keys, Saxophone, Flute
Ulf Reinhardt – Drums
Heiko Rehm – Bass
Sören Flechsig – Vocals
Jana Pöche – Vocals
Stephan Pankow – Guitar

Website | Facebook

Seven Steps To The Green Door - photo by Tony Colvill

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Heather Findlay Band (UK)

Jez: It’s been a long time since Heather Findlay left Mostly Autumn and I haven’t seen her live in over a decade but she certainly still has the charisma and voice to pull off a set comprising her more recent material, solo and as part of Odin Dragonfly, with a splash of added Mostly Autumn in the slot vacated at short notice by Knight Area. With a band including drummer Henry Rogers (who would grace the stage again next day with Damanek) and Heather’s Mostly Autumn and Odin Dragonfly colleague Angela Gordon on keys, flute and other blown things, there was certainly the talent to make for an interesting set. It probably lacked a little variety but the songs that did something different certainly grabbed my attention and spiced things up. That said it was highly enjoyable stuff, the addition of Heather and Angela’s children as additional backing singers at the end a nice touch.

Leo: The Heather Findlay band were a very late replacement for Dutch band Knight Area. Heather and her skilful band kicked off Saturday night with a folk infused rock show, clearly heavily influenced by her days with Mostly Autumn. The rather touching finale included a young backing vocal section consisting of band members’ children, which went down very well with the crowd. This was a band full of skill and melodies, but did not really ignite the whole crowd with passion in my view.

Not currently available

Line up:
Heather Findlay – Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Woodwind
Angela Gordon – Keyboards, Backing Vocals, Flute, Woodwind
Henry Rogers – Drums
Sarah Dean – Harp, Appalacian Dulcimer, Keyboards, Woodwind, Percussion, Backing Vocals
Martin Ledger – Guitars, Backing Vocals
Stuart Fletcher – Bass

Website | Facebook

Mel: The evening act this year was The Heather Findlay Band, who came in as a replacement for Knight Arena. Heather has grown well into her role as the front woman of her band, showing a good rapport with band members and the audience, they delivered their folk-tinged prog rock with enthusiasm. The set included songs from throughout her career to include some Odin Dragonfly and even Mostly Autumn, ably supported by an excellent band which includes her long time collaborator Angela Gordon. The final song of the set, MA’s Shrinking Violet saw Heather’s boys Harlan and Drake along with Angela’s daughter Scarlett join them on stage, an event that the kids and the audience appeared to enjoy.

Heather Findlay Band - photo by Tony Colvill

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Leo: The veteran Prog Masters did what they do best – fantastic Prog with a great show of stunning visuals and wonderful songs, all played brilliantly and with a dash of humour, as shown by their comical blustering response to this reviewer’s heckle of ‘Can the next one be a bit Proggier?’ after a typically dramatic foray into a progressive epic. They began with a new as yet untitled song which was classic IQ in tone, quality and atmosphere. The show was bookended with a couple of old favourites in The Wake and the less commonly played Gothic masterpiece Widow’s Peak with the lengthy finale to the Subterranea concept album, The Narrow Margin, making an unexpected and welcome return to the set list, along with memorable ‘journey’ visuals. Guiding Light is a particular favourite for this reviewer and it was played with great sensitivity alternating with controlled power, touching on the hearts of more than one listener thinking wistfully about the ‘What if…?’ moments in their lives. However, it was the tracks from their most recent The Road of Bones album which seemed to have the most impact and resonance, particularly the sinister title track and the deeply felt Until the End. Quite an achievement for a band to be producing some of their best material over 30 years into their career (take note other even more long-standing Prog bands!!) and these songs seem to be settling well within the set alongside older, more well known material. I have followed this band since 1983, they are the soundtrack to my life and I make no claims about objectivity! To me they are still one of the greatest Prog bands ever, and they proved their stature yet again. Great end to a great day.

Intro/New Track (untitled)
The Wake
The Magic Roundabout
From The Outside In
The Road Of Bones
The Narrow Margin
Guiding Light
Until The End
Widow’s Peak
~ Encore:
Out Of Nowhere

Line up:
Paul Cook – Drums
Neil Durant – Keyboards
Tim Esau – Bass
Michael Holmes – Guitars
Peter Nicholls – Lead Vocal

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Mel: The hall was cleared for the next break to allow IQ to set up, upon returning we eagerly awaited the arrival of the day’s headliners. Being a fan I was looking forward to this set but was a little disappointed that for the early songs of the set the mix was not right, Peter’s vocals were not clear enough and Mike’s guitar appeared buried in the sound. I noted that they had their own sound man, it always amazes me when bands do not take up the services of the regular festival sound guy as he always gets it pretty much spot on. Personal gripe over! The sound did improve throughout the set and the band put on a professional and exciting show. Alas, I did not make it to the end this year, suffering from a back problem and standing for most the day meant I had to call it a night earlier than I would have liked. (Note to the organisers, we are all getting older and there were a lot less chairs available this year). Roll on Summer’s End 2017!

Jez: IQ are always a big draw for me and the setlist they chose was impressive on paper, but sadly after the burst of highly welcome nostalgia in the selections from The Wake the tracks from The Road of Bones came across as a little plodding. I like the songs and I know there’s atmosphere to build but they seemed to be able to do it a little more succinctly in the past. The sound was also off to start with, Peter Nicholls low in the mix and too much bass, although this was rectified by the second half of the set, the band seeming to respond as a result and they finished in fine style with excellent versions of Guiding Light and Widow’s Peak. With impressive visuals throughout IQ are a class act, this might not have been the best IQ show I’ve ever seen but by the end they were as good as anyone.

IQ - photo by Phil Lively

Phil: The lead singer, evidently the love child of Neal Tennant and Peter Dinklage-On-Stilts (from the well-established Monmouthshire Dinklage-On-Stilts family), led an extremely accomplished bunch of musician fellas assembled as a prog rock outfit to universal public approval, despite sounding very little like either the Pet Shop Boys or anyone from Game Of Thrones. There were whoops of approval that would have shamed the most discerning and dignified hillbilly American audience as they drew from their 35 year back catalogue to produce a set that was seriously likely to put the other acts (except Tiger Moth Tales) to shame on that night in Chepstow (Gateway to the West and Prog Capital of the World). Inexplicably and unbelievably uninitiated though I am in the prog world of IQ, the band played an entertaining and faultless set and I particularly enjoyed the songs that I believe were from The Road Of Bones. The most sustained coordinated clapping ever experienced by any audience of a similar size ever brought IQ back on for their encore and Peter Dinklage-On-Stilts reacted calmly and comically to some high quality heckling from, I suspect, The Progressive Aspect’s own Leo Trimming. Despite being asked to do something a bit more proggy, Mr Dinklage, I mean Nicholls, pointed out that as his Mum didn’t know where he was he could emphatically and repeatedly remind the audience just how fucking prog they were now after 35 years. Would recommend.

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Sunday, 2nd October 2016

‘Can you make the next one a bit proggier?!’

Back again, the mist still hanging over the Wye, but inside conditions were just right for another fun day of wonderful music, starting with…

Firefly Burning (UK)

Leo: Summer’s End always like to throw in a ‘curve ball’ band and this year it was Firefly Burning, booked as a result of their performance at last year’s Eppyfest in Stroud. They enchanted the Summer’s End crowd with gentle and beautiful acoustic music, beguiling songs of loss and love. Heck, they even threw in an impressive and entrancing cover of a Portishead number! This young band gave a chilled and shimmering performance – lovely stuff to start the day.

Jez: This is one of the parts of Summer’s End that generally produces the goods for me – something a little different. And so it was, Firefly Burning making a beautifully fragile and delicately detailed sound fronted by the absolutely wonderful vocals of Bea Hankey. As the opening act for a Sunday lunchtime it was a feast of gorgeous tranquillity and interesting sounds, the cover choices of Portishead and pj harvey inspired and a lovely change from the de rigueur classic prog covers that are chosen by many. The strings were sublime and John Barber’s switch from keys to Gamelan inspired percussion the icing on a particularly chocolatey and thickly iced cake. Completely entrancing and I hope to get the opportunity to see them play again soon.

Phil: “Slept like the dead. There was some snoring, not all of it mine. Cold water. Tony Colville’s sausages. Yummy. Fry-up, washing-up (with quality traditional Welsh swearing battle with Jez). Dilemma: Same NIN Tee-shirt today or the other NIN Tee-shirt? To the venue…!”

Little Boat
We are a Bomb
Wandering Star (Portishead cover)
White Noise
Breathe Shallow
is this Desire (pj harvey cover)
It Won’t be Long

Line up:
Bea Hankey – Voice
Jack Ross – Guitars, Percussion
James Redwood Violin, Mandolin
John Barber – Piano, Gamelan, Synths
Sam Glazer – Cello

Website | Facebook | Bandcamp

The “Wildcard Slot” of the festival is traditionally held at Sunday lunchtime. If it were not for the audience being so affable I could see this being a tough gig because it’s usually a band who are not your traditional prog. I missed a short part of the first song whilst trying to find a place to park my Fiesta in Chepstow (Gateway to the West and Prog Capital of the World), but I came into the room and made my way to where I knew I would find Barn-Mates, Peter “Tiger-Prog-Moth-God” Jones and his lovely wife Kim. Not only did I enjoy their company, but there might be a chair on which to rest my old bones. As I made my way through the hall I heard sounds that were unlike those made by all of the other bands – and they were beautiful. Guitar, cello, violin, an array of percussive sounds and beautiful harmonies were the backdrop to what I can only describe as the voice of an angel. I made my way to the side of the stage and watched the set from there, paying no attention to my bones. An utterly charming noise it was. They did a P J Harvey song and Wandering Star by Portishead but I think it was all original apart from those. They also did two songs that were still being written, though they sounded finished to me! So impressed was I that I headed for the merch desk to buy their two albums. So impressed were the rest of the audience that they had beaten me to it and the albums were sold out. I decided that when I left Chepstow (Gateway to the West and Prog Capital of the World) I would be doing an interweb search on that Google and would be buying their entire back catalogue. I have absolutely no doubt that anyone who was lucky enough to get copies will not be disappointed. For me this was exciting and new – progressive, if you will, and they became the second highlight of the weekend.

“Prog overload/can’t tell sound checks from live sets/why am I in the car park? Not hearing any freshly washed Mellotron from here. Need a beer. CURRY! YAY!!!”

Firefly Burning - photo by Phil Lively

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Damanek (UK/D/AUS)

Jez: This was an intriguing proposition: Guy Manning’s new outfit with Marek Arnold (seen yesterday with Seven Steps to the Green Door), Sean Timms (Southern Empire, ex-Unitopia) and Dan Mash (Maschine, ex-The Tangent), three of these last seen as part of The United Progressive Fraternity when they played SE in 2014. No album, no songs released, no expectations? Well, with the band padded out for this performance by guitarist Luke Machin and drummer Henry Rogers this was a mouthwatering possibility. The good news is that as a live unit they completely delivered. The songs, all seemingly written by Manning, continue the ecological bent of UPF but with added political bite which give them more of an edge. As usual Guy was on top form, immediately getting the audience on side and keeping the humour levels high. There was much to recommend in the songs, such as The Big Parade which offered a light-hearted and upbeat veneer for the much darker content. The interplay between the musicians was top notch, Arnold’s contributions as always sublime and Luke Machin letting rip with a couple of finely judged solos. I await the album with enthusiasm.

Nanabohzo and the Rainbow
Long Time, Shadow Falls
The Cosmic Score
Oil Over Arabia
Big Parade
Dark Sun

Line up:
Guy Manning – Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards
Sean Timms – Keyboards, Vocals
Marek Arnold – Saxophone, Keyboards
Dan Mash – Bass
~ With:
Luke Machin – Guitar
Henry Rogers – Drums

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Leo: This was a peculiar but impressive debut from Guy Manning’s new band – a sort of Prog ‘supergroup’ with band members such as Sean Timms (Southern Empire / ex-Unitopia), Marek Arnold (Seven Steps to the Green Door/ Cyril and United Progressive Fraternity), Dan Mash, Luke Machin (both Maschine) and a cracking drummer in Henry Rogers, they had great pedigree. They performed an interesting mixture of full on Prog with some jazz and folk elements, and even a Vaudevillian anti-war song! Manning’s usual penchant for thought provoking themes in his songs gave us plenty of ecological and political lyrics upon which to ponder. However, being a completely new band with new songs their set lacked the highs of hearing old favourites, and they admirably kept away from the easy step of filling their set with ‘covers’ of songs from their multitude of other projects. Nevertheless, their set went down well with the crowd who recognized a quality band in development.

Damanek - photo by David Glaves

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Strangefish (UK)

Leo: Neither Fish nor that Strange, this was a band that solidly pounded out mainstream Prog Rock. Reported to be the ‘roister doisters’ of Northern Prog they certainly had an entertaining and irreverent manner about them with various inflatable objects entering the stage. They clearly know how to rock out and have a very entertaining front man, complimented by a talented but often giggling female vocalist. Many in the crowd loved them – personally, I need a bit more Strangeness or maybe just a bit more Fish? Nevertheless, they acquitted themselves well and entertained the keen audience.

Jez: I was not previously familiar with Strangefish but they certainly pulled out all the stops to build an entertaining set comprising several songs from forthcoming new album The Spotlight Effect, due for release in the New Year. Aching bones got the better of me and resulted in my choosing to sit this one out so I missed a lot of the visuals which clearly went down well with the crowd – if I’d actually known it was going to be a show full of visual comedy I’d have made more of an effort to prop myself up on something, so sorry for that! Sound wise, it was solid and well performed with some excellent vocal duets between Steve Taylor and Jo Whittaker, the material generally not straying far from their basic template, although the ones that did certainly pricked my ears up.

Progress In Reverse
Spotlight Effect
Have You Seen The Light
Keep The Exits Clear
Shifting Sands and Turning Tides
Reflections/This Is Me
Up To You
Take A Holiday

Line up:
Steve Taylor – Vocals
Jo Whittaker – Vocals
Bob – Guitar
Paul O’Neill – Keyboards
Carl Howard – Bass & Bass Pedals
Dave Whittaker – Drums & Percussion

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Strangefish - photo by Tony Colvill

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Karnataka (UK)

Leo: This stirring performance from Celtic inflected band Karnataka was enthusiastically received by the crowd. In Hayley Griffiths they certainly have a very confident and assured singer with a commanding stage presence, whom had plenty of the crowd eating out of her hand, metaphorically of course! Strangely, this reviewer was less swept away with their brand of rock, although I could see why they appeal to many prog fans. To be fair, they finally won me over by time they impressively blazed through the epic finale Secrets of Angels which was touchingly dedicated to sadly departed fan, Ian White. They returned to encore with a powerful and rousing finale of Led Zep’s Kashmir (No, really!!).

Jez: I’ve seen Karnataka a number of times over the years, each in a seemingly different incarnation. The current one with singer Hayley Griffiths is perhaps the most forthright and confident, now that she has settled into her role as the last time I saw them was shortly after she joined and she appeared a little unsure. She is now an enthralling performer with a quite stunning voice, the operatic elements being used to heighten the impact. The band in their current line-up are consummate performers with keyboardist Cagri Tozluoglu impressively filling out the sound and drummer Jimmy Pallagrosi a master showman, even playing standing up on occasion. But somehow, despite being received with great enthusiasm by the majority of those present, for me they have lost something and are now more about bombast and style over actual substance. Certainly a fine live band they are looking towards the stadiums – which you can’t blame them for – and have a sound of the right scale to fill one, but as a result they have lost some of the more fragile appeal that worked well for me, the music less dynamic and the detail often drowned out behind the ‘wall of sound’ delivery. Still a fine live act though and probably more professional than ever.

Road to Cairo
Poison Ivy
Talk to me
Fairytale Lies
Serpent and the Sea
Because of You
Forbidden Dreams
Secrets of Angels
Kashmir (Led Zeppelin cover)

Line up:
Hayley Griffiths – Vocals
Ian Jones – Bass
Enrico Pinna – Guitars, Vocals
Cagri Tozluoglu – Keyboards
Jimmy Pallagrosi – Drums

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Karnataka - photo by David Glaves

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Jez: When RPWL last played Summer’s End back in 2009 they had left me a little cold. After this performance I am much more enthusiastic; the music was more dynamic and the Pink Floyd influences played down, the band turning in an engaging and warm performance that says a great deal about them as players, having largely escaped the shadows of their major influence to become their own men. The choice of Floyd cover this time was as obscure as could be, and all the better for that, fitting well within the set to bring the night to a conclusion with a pleasing psychedelic swirl that was missing from the rest of the weekend. Yogi Lang took his time to explain the songs’ influenced and this was an intimate performance, as far removed from most people’s perception of a rock concert as can be imagined. Kalle Wallner was very impressive throughout, as were the rhythm section while Markus Jehle successfully built the sweeping soundscapes upon which the others performed. RPWL are certainly a band that have increased in stature for me after this show and I look forward to seeing them again.

Swords and Guns
Breathe In, Breathe Out
The Gentle Art of Swimming
3 Lights
The Fisherman
Embryo (Pink Floyd cover)
~ Encore:
Hole in the Sky

Line up:
Yogi Lang – Vocals
Kalle Wallner – Guitars
Markus Jehle – Keyboards
Marc Turiaux – Drums
Werner Taus – Bass

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Leo: A marvellous festival was concluded by wonderfully atmospheric progressive rock from this high class German band. Last slated to appear in 2014, RPWL had to withdraw but have finally made it to Wales to fulfil their commitment, triumphantly and with a professional performance of quality. The band, led by the scholarly but somewhat avuncular Yogi Lang on vocals and occasional keyboards, features drummer Marc Turiaux and bassist Werner Taus who created the musical canvas upon which the band framed their music, including keyboard master Markus Jehle, who painted beautiful and stark musical soundscapes throughout this assured show. Lang exuded cool charm as he calmly explained the origins and contexts of each song as they progressed through their impressive musical history, including an explanation that the 3 Lights are not religious symbols but the lights seen on the front of German trains at night, coming to fetch him away as a young man – “not a religious song but a spiritual one” he concluded. These were interesting keyholes into the heart of the songs. The simple but effective visuals for this song were repeated throughout the show, particularly the puppet silhouettes in the background of their most epic, and in my view their best song, the wonderfully evocative and atmospheric The Fisherman. On a more light hearted and straightforward path they played the anthemic Roses, sung on the album version by ex-Genesis man Ray Wilson. RPWL, named with the initials of the names of their four founding members, have never hidden their roots, starting out as a Pink Floyd covers band. Many of their songs still resonate with Floyd influences, built upon by the distinctive RPWL sound. They closed with a brilliant cover of obscure Pink Floyd song The Embryo, which was never recorded in the studio by Floyd. This show piece number was a setting in which the stellar guitar skills of Kalle Wallner were most prominently featured in all their glory. The encore of Hole in the Sky was punctuated by dialogue from Aliens, a memorable way to finish the set and the whole weekend.

RPWL - photo by Leo Trimming

Phil: I dipped in and out on all of the bands for the rest of the day and the next band that I settled down to watch were Sunday’s headliners, RPWL. I left it so late to research the bands and their music that by the time I got around to it the festival was already upon me. RPWL started as a Pink Floyd cover band but I didn’t know this before they reminded us, as I know nothing. So, apart from a couple of videos that I had watched on YouFaceMyTubeSpace this was all new to me. I watched from behind a bass bin on the drummer and bass players’ side of the stage. I hope that they take this as a compliment: I would have had no idea that they cut their teeth on Floyd. To me they were a refreshing metallic prog alternative to some of the bands from earlier in the day. Nevertheless, RPWL did doff their caps respectfully to their roots in performing a little-known Pink Floyd track which has not been committed to tape. To me it sounded like RPWL. The power-house rhythm section drove the whole band forward throughout the set and Yogi would often just leave the spotlight to play keyboards and let the band get on with it. I suspect that Yogi is pretty shy. His attempts to engage the audience between songs went well, despite his obvious discomfort but he was clearly happier on stage during the songs. I got the impression that he is not the kind of lead-vocalist driven by ego, preferring to view the band as a sum of its parts and I found this a particularly endearing aspect of the whole performance.

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A summing up…

Leo: The musical highlights for this reviewer were the three headline bands, Magic Pie, IQ and RPWL – but such is the mystifyingly different effect music has upon us all there would be some whom would vehemently disagree and proclaim other bands as their highlights. Each to their own. Nevertheless, the one band which seemed to unite everyone in agreeing they had seen something truly special was the triumph of Tiger Moth Tales – one of those rare moments which will really live long in the memory. ‘We live our lives in Fantasy’ indeed… brilliant, just utterly brilliant.

On a more personal note this was the first Summer’s End where I shared accommodation with some ‘acquaintances’ with whom I shared a mutual interest in music but had met only briefly a few times. After a fantastic weekend in which we shared music, food, drink and companionship (and hardly stopped laughing) I can safely say those acquaintances are now firm friends – that’s the beauty of good music and good company. Encore 2017 ?!

Mel: Overall an enjoyable day, good music and catching up with old friends, no real stand out moment (like Discipline last year) for me. Although I was impressed by Tiger Moth Tales, Peter Jones talent, and discovering Seven Steps to the Green Door.

Phil: “Monday: Slept like the dead. Again. There was more snoring, not all of it mine. HOT water. Tony Colvill’s sausages. Yummy. Fry-up, wash-up. No Tee-Shirt Dilemma. To the venue… Wait… Oh! Bye-bye Chepstow: Gateway to the West and Prog Capital of the World. Until next year!”

Jez: Summer’s End continues to be a very special festival for me but this year it took on a different dimension as this is the first year that I have actually stayed in the area for the whole weekend. The friendship and camaraderie of my barn mates shifted my focus away from the music and more to the peripheral shared experience of living with a disparate bunch of people and enjoying a good laugh. Washing up has never been so sweary! It was noticeable and very pleasing that attendance was up, the small hall filled to bursting for most of the bands. Summer’s End appears to have come of age. It has matured and developed a unique feel with real heart that all involved put every effort into maintaining. As usual, opinions varied widely on the merits of the bands who played but that’s the way it should be and hats off to everyone who performed. A big cheer for sound guy extraordinaire Nick as every year he gets the best out of the varying sounds that are thrown his way. I just don’t understand why some bands insist on bringing their own sound man – they always suffer as a result. And of course an extra special mention to Huw and Lambsie who continue to go the extra mile to make SE the best they can – Thank You!

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