We are Seven is the latest live release by Welsh progressive rock stalwarts Magenta, laying out in full their classic Seven and their most recent album We Are Legend. These are contrasting albums, displaying their musical versatility and fecund imagination, more or less bookending their career so far from one of their earliest albums right up to date. Released with their usual eye for high quality production and value for money this release comes available as a 2 CD or 2 DVD set of their show at the Robin 2 at Bilston on 8th April 2018.
They commence their show with a sparkling version of 2006 single Speechless, which acts as an ‘hors d’ouevre’ for the two full albums yet to come. As a warm up it certainly blows away any cobwebs with Rob Reed fluidly playing synth and keyboards alongside Christina Booth showing her great vocal prowess in this anthemic song. Magenta then launch into Trojan, the epic sci-fi tale opening to We are Legend. A Vangelis type cinematic synth intro explodes into squealing guitars from Chris Fry over a juggernaut of thundering bass and titanic drums from Dan Nelson and Jiffy Griffiths. Against this immense wall of rock Rob Reed sprays electronic sounds more akin to Depeche Mode at times in a melting pot of musical ideas. Magenta present this stirring piece very faithfully to the original recording, in a rare outing of the whole piece as they had previously been only playing an edited down version. We are Legend was a significant development for Magenta as it introduced unusual elements not previously associated with the band, such as drum loops, sequencers, dashes of dance music rhythm and heavy guitars. This comes across like a crazed soundtrack for a Japanese Manga cartoon and yet those elements are all skilfully interwoven within the usual Magenta palette of sound in this spectacular live version, although at 26 minutes long one will need some stamina for this epic!
Vincent van Gogh is the subject of the apt musical vortex Colours, my personal highlight of We are Legend. A musical box intro erupts into staccato, textured sounds, later evolving into flute like keyboard melodies (which makes one ask why they didn’t use the flautist deployed for the second half of the show?). Chris Fry shows his great versatility with some subtle blues inflected guitar joined by Hammond organ keys from Reed. Magenta pack so much in to this song and do it all with such assurance and style, imaginatively portraying van Gogh’s perception of the world in swirling vibrant colours. Legend, based on the post-apocalyptic movies Omega Man and I Am Legend completes the first album performance with a return to the dramatic sci-fi perspective of Trojan. This is a dark story of zombies which Magenta faithfully perform with suitably stabbing musical menace close to the album version – and that may be one slight reservation about such album performance shows and releases. Faithfully presenting much loved albums may be popular, but they do limit the opportunity for improvisation in the songs or much in the way of surprises in the setlists.
As an apparent ‘palate cleanser’ between main courses, Magenta insert the lovely Prekestolen, taken from 2008 album Metamorphosis. Before this song on the DVD version Booth introduces the ‘Magenta children’ to the stage, Karla Powell on oboe and Katie Axelsen on flute, whom she suggest add “beautiful warmth to the band”, and she’s not wrong. Rob Reed lays down a lilting piano melody to which the oboe and flute add a lush, gorgeous texture. Christina Booth’s voice shines in this gem and she seamlessly and touchingly concludes with a line from Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge over Troubled Waters: “When tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all…” It’s unexpected and beautiful – a highlight of this album.
The second disc features Magenta’s classic 2004 album Seven, still regarded by many (including this reviewer) as the strongest album of their career. Gluttony kicks it off in great style in a song which clearly indicates the high regard Reed and Fry have for Yes, a clear inspiration here. Chris Fry’s guitar goes stratospheric at times, whilst driving it all along is Reed’s at times frankly bonkers Hammond and synths. This performance also features some fine backing vocals from Reed and Fry, and Nelson and Griffiths power the whole piece along skilfully. Gluttony is a personal favourite of mine, and this live version is Magenta at their best. The DVD version also displays some great light effects and watching Chris Fry in action on the guitar in this song is utterly mesmeric as he finishes it all off soloing maniacally on his knees. A truly outstanding all round performance. Envy in contrast is a showcase for Christina Booth’s flowing mellifluous vocals. The oboe and flute accompaniment adds subtlety and warmth, and the talented Rob Reed trips delicately through an understated organ section. The whole piece rises magnificently with a fluid Fry solo gliding smoothly over the woodwind backing. This is definitely a song which benefits hugely from the fuller, orchestral sound this performance has given it compared to the already fine album version. The same could be said for Lust, which always had orchestral keyboard sounds, particularly in the fanfare opening. Anger has never sounded quite as graceful as it does on this live version with Booth resplendent on vocals, and Fry showing his versatile skills both on delicately played acoustic and electric guitars. Sloth shows a more soulful side for the band leading up to a bluesy Fry solo and then Booth vocalising elegiacally over Reed’s gentle piano – it’s an emotional ending to the main show.
Magenta return to play one of their best live songs, the sumptuous The Lizard King from 2013’s The Twenty-Seven Club (on the DVD version). The oboe and flute add more colour and warmth to this wonderful song, as Booth rightfully suggested, and the whole thing swings along on a wave of Reed’s keyboards. The show finally concludes with Pride, intelligently moved to the end of the show from its album position as its upbeat feel and sheer joyous excitement make it an ideal song upon which to wrap up a gig. Jonathan ‘Jiffy’ Griffiths shows his versatile percussive skills, mixing power and subtlety with ease. The middle section of this show has become a real live Magenta gig highlight as Fry lays down breath-taking guitar lines before exchanging solos with Reed throwing in rippling keyboard lines and reels… dare I say it – one could almost dance!
This is clearly a release in two parts. The We are Legend section is musically spectacular, although those familiar with the album may have been wanting a few more ‘off piste’ elements. The second half Seven section particularly stands out as it presents a well-known classic with added woodwind and variations, which has helped the music grow and breath outside the studio. Seven songs benefit from 14 years of being played in concert, which helps songs to develop in a live context, in comparison to the much more recent and less played We are Legend (or maybe I just prefer Seven?!).
The DVD version is fairly straightforward visually with little in the way of special effects or gimmicks in it’s presentation – with a band this great such frills are not really needed. Just watching them in scintillating action is sufficient entertainment.
However, what is outstanding about the DVD version is that once again Rob Reed has given us a release in glorious 5.1 surround sound, a format he particularly favours. For those fortunate enough to have such systems it is well worth getting the DVD version as the sound is balanced perfectly and you more or less feel like you were in the room as they play – and that’s always a good feeling with Magenta!
As fans who have seen Magenta will know well they are an absolutely outstanding live band, and this will be an essential memento. For those yet to see them or not able to see them We are Seven is the next best thing… you’ll DEFINITELY want to see them after seeing or hearing this album.
01. Speechless (5:25)
02. Trojan (26:52)
03. Colours (11:19)
04. Legend (12:13)
05. Prekestolen (4:04)
06. The Lizard King (5:19)
Time – 64:12
01. Gluttony (12:26)
02. Envy (9:47)
03. Lust (12:50)
04. Anger (7:03)
05, Greed (7:09)
06. Sloth (10:01)
07. Pride (14:21)
Time – 73:37
Total Time – 137:49
07. The Lizard King
Robert Reed – Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Christina Booth – Vocals
Chris Fry – Acoustic & Electric Guitar, Backing Vocals
Dan Nelson – Bass Guitar
Jonathan ‘Jiffy’ Griffiths – Drums & Percussion
Karla Powell – Oboe
Katie Axelsen – Flute
Record Label: Tigermoth Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 26th October 2018
– Revolutions (2001)
– Seven (2004)
– Home (2006)
– New York Suite (2006) (‘Home’ and ‘New York Suite’ were combined and re-released 2010)
– The Singles (2007)
– Metamorphosis (2008)
– Chameleon (2011)
– The Twenty Seven Club (2013)
– The Singles: Complete (2 CD) (2015)
– We Are Legend (2017)