The Drill Hall, Chepstow
4th to 6th October 2019
The annual pilgrimage for many fans to the charming border town of Chepstow in South Wales for the annual progressive rock festival was just as popular as ever this year with many familiar faces, keen to see artists and friends old and new. Lovingly and expertly curated by Stephen Lambe and Huw Lloyd-Jones, Summer’s End has easily become the best festival of its kind in Britain, presenting established bands and introducing newer acts from home and abroad.
The weekend did not get off to an auspicious start as one of the TPA gang was immediately greeted by a pigeon crapping on his head as he got out of his car.
Leo Trimming had to tolerate the rest of the weekend hearing others saying that it was a sign of luck… presumably by people who had not been shat on from a great height!
TPA was represented by Leo Trimming (LT), Stan Siarkiewicz (photos) and the brothers Graham (GT) and Owy Thomas (OT), and in this piece, they give their brief impressions of each artist.
Friday 4th October 2019
THE KENTISH SPIRES
This was an interesting opening band for the festival, although a late and significant line-up change in singers left some fans a little bewildered, with female singer Lucie V being replaced by a male singer, Nigel Voyle. I was unfamiliar with their material but it did seem that some was clearly more suited to a female voice. Nevertheless, the band showed some skilled musicianship, combining rock with folk. Notably, woodwind /sax player Chris Egan displayed great talent, especially in a fascinating solo with an unusual electronic woodwind instrument called a wind synth, however one could not escape the feeling that perhaps this was not what some fans had been expecting. (LT)
Blimey… Norway’s Masters of Progressive Rock overwhelmed any stragglers at Summer’s End with a dazzling display of melodic, poetic and beguiling old school ‘Prog’.
Flutes, violins, Mellotron sounds, fine electric guitars, majestic keys and deft drumming were all there in joyful abundance… it’s like the last 45 years simply didn’t happen, and so what, if they do it so well live. This was eye-opening in its beauty and power, simply outstanding. It was going to take some doing for bands later in the weekend to match this performance. And they played a completely new song… it was great but I didn’t catch its name… possibly ‘Proggy McProgface’… but perhaps not… they won me over, and compared to their album for this listener the live experience was a revelation. None more Prog!
A few drinks with Wobbler in the pub afterwards showed what a friendly festival this has become so with no pigeons in sight, the first night of the festival ended on a much higher note for LT than it had begun! (LT)
Saturday 5th October 2019
THE FAR MEADOW
Saturday commenced with an impressive opening set from British band The Far Meadow. Elliot Minn gave a fine display of keyboards, driven along powerfully by Paul Bringloe on drums and Keith Buckman on bass. Marguerita Alexandrou was rather low in the mix, which was disappointing as she has a good voice, but she fronted a polished band well.
However, as the set progressed the undoubted star of the show was the very skilful guitar player, Denis Warren, whose skills went down well with a good early crowd.
I saw this band a year or so ago at HRH Prog and in all honesty they didn’t blow me away (and may not have done themselves justice), but this was a far slicker and more impressive performance. Indeed, as time has gone on since the Summer’s End show, my memory of them indicates I was more impressed than I first realised. As Paul Bringloe has since said to me, they nearly got me this time – indeed, I think he may be right and I may need to investigate their album Foreign Land.
This was undoubtedly a good start to Day 2. (LT)
I have to admit I was not expecting much from Norwegian band The Windmill, as I was a little underwhelmed by the brief excerpts I had heard on the web. That just goes to show you cannot rely on such things, as in actuality I was thoroughly entertained by them. At times they evidenced jazz influences in structure, and at other times presented a more straightforward rock structures – they were certainly varied in style. Their playing was solid with a particularly impressive rhythm section, and the band clearly possess some not inconsiderable talent, especially the Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown look-a-like on the keyboards. The overtly ‘Prog’ elements were well done with the band at one point launching into a version of The Court of the Crimson King. Initially I thought that indicated a Prog montage was in the offing, however, what followed was what sounded like a complex scrawling (and apparently truncated) instrumental epic. Nevertheless, the overall performance was great fun. (OT)
The Room impressed me at the recent Cambridge Rock Festival, and at Summer’s End they proved that their performance had not been a one-off. The band tend to wear their hearts on their sleeves, and their songs can be pretty emotional. Given the problems with singer Martin Wilson’s son’s health lately, it’s lucky they were here at all, but the band pull together in a great show of strength and spirit. Bassist Andy Rowe introduces Drowning in Sound with a heartfelt tribute to the recently departed Barrie Masters of Eddie and the Hot Rods, the first band he ever saw. They nail the song, one of the strongest from their latest album Caught By the Machine. Other favourites in the set include Bodies on the Road and the closer It’s Not My Home. A passionate performance from a band I’m growing to love. (GT)
COMEDY OF ERRORS
The evening session commenced in fine style with this wonderful Scottish melodic progressive rock band. They played an entertaining set from across their career. Keyboardist Jim Johnston was rather hidden away at the back, nevertheless he was crucial and outstanding in weaving their music together. The double guitar attack of Sam McCulloch and Mark Spalding really widened their musical palette as they intertwined beautifully – Spalding was particularly impressive in his solos. Bruce Levick and John Fitzgerald drove this imaginative band on skilfully on drums and bass.
Frontman Joe Cairney charismatically sang from his heart with power, and even sang the finale from amidst the crowd. Comedy of Errors play an enjoyable and emotional brand of melodic prog, coloured with great keyboards, embroidered with dazzling guitars and sang passionately. They certainly made me smile. (LT)
I have to admit that whilst I am now aware that they have been around for some time, I was not familiar with Phideaux until the run-up to this year’s Summer’s End when I heard some of their material on internet radio, and along with knowing I was going to see them, I took the plunge with their latest album, Infernal, the concluding part of a conceptual trilogy which has been developing for some years.
Their set got off to a rocky start, with technical difficulties with a guitar amp. However, it didn’t take too long, after the sound settled down somewhat, for the band to fully recover from this setback. A fair proportion of Infernal was aired, including most notably for me Hydrogen to Love, one of the more left-field tracks from the album, which particularly impressed. The band draw comparisons to me with avant and chamber prog artistes, such as Thinking Plague and 5 Uus, although with at times the more trad influences, as cited by the band themselves, of Jethro Tull. Overall a highly impressive performance and definitely one of the sets of the weekend for me. I shall be investigating their back catalogue forthwith. (OT)
[… and just to show how different views can be of the same artist…]
My Summer’s End started with a pigeon crapping on my head and as I could only do the first two days, it ended with this quirky American Prog band.
It’s taken me a while to process that performance… but the weekend definitely ended a lot better!!
Phideaux Xavier came on with a bizarre blue jacket with an enormous collar, not seen since Timelords on Gallifrey in ’70s Dr.Who… he was DEFINITELY displaying his inner ‘PROG’! Fronting a 10-piece band, Xavier launched into an ambitious show of complex, dense progressive rock.
Sadly, the early momentum was somewhat hindered by a persistent technical problem – squeezing ten musicians onto the Drill Hall stage with a limited set-up time was a big ask, to be honest. Playing with three keyboardists, two guitarists, one violinist, drummer and bassist, along with two backing vocalists, Phideaux were aiming BIG!!!
Their story-filled epic songs populated with characters are ornate and baroque with hints of folk, and even echoes of Jethro Tull at times. I was particularly impressed with Tempest of Mutiny with its maritime theme. However, whilst they may have impressed me mentally with their commitment and skill in conveying complex songs, they did not grab me emotionally for some strange reason. Their eccentric show seemed to split the audience between those feeling bewitched or bewildered… and sometimes both!
Feedback after the show ranged from ‘one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen’ to ‘WTF was that?’ with much head-scratching. Many in the crowd loved it – others, like me, were impressed most of the time but may not have felt touched… and, if I’m totally honest, a little bit bored at times… and whisper it quietly, but my dear wife slept through most of it (to be fair that was probably more to do with being a little ‘refreshed’ and still coping with a virus and a long week at work! At least Phideaux matched the achievement of Frost* a couple of years ago who also sent her off to sleep!!).
I think being more familiar with the songs would have helped my enjoyment so I did invest in a couple of CDs as I recognised there was definitely something there even if I didn’t totally ‘get’ it this time. Like I said, impressed but not moved. (LT)
Sunday 6th October 2019
So first up on Sunday afternoon was Rise (formerly Talitha Rise), which is basically Jo Beth Young along with her fine band, the Abandoned Orchestra. There was a good crowd for the first act of the day and they were rewarded with a bewitching and mesmeric performance of her haunting music, taken from her new album Strangers. It’s part Prog, part folk, slightly Gothic at times, and Jo Beth has a superb voice, a little reminiscent of Tori Amos at times perhaps, with some lovely violin accompaniment. A gentle start to the day, and well received. (GT)
After a short break, Mayra Orchestra take to the stage. Fronted by singer/songwriter Maartje Dekker, resplendent in a striking headdress, the music is at once dramatic and very different. Gut-wrenching cello provides an eerie soundscape backing for Maartje’s strident voice. Most of the rest of the band comprises members of Sky Architect, who will be remembered for their superb set at last year’s SE. With such empathy between players familiar with each other, the band is tight and inventive, the songs interesting and engaging. Tom Luchies provides a magic moment when he pulls off one of the guitar solos of the weekend towards the end of the set. Superb stuff. (GT)
THIS WINTER MACHINE
This Winter Machine opened the festival a couple of years ago, and were promoted to third on the bill on the final day this time where they made the most of the honour. I’m not very familiar with the band, but clearly a large section of the crowd were, and enthusiastically enjoyed their brand of accessible Neo-Prog (horrible phrase!), which they performed very well. The band worked hard and created quite an atmosphere for a mid-Sunday slot. This was not ground-breaking, but this polished band were talented and enjoyable. (GT)
HASSE FRÖBERG AND MUSICAL COMPANION
One of the two main singers in The Flower Kings, this is Fröberg’s own band, and unsurprisingly they tend to occupy similar sonic territory to TFK. Also unsurprisingly, the band are all top drawer musicians and play with flair and passion. Hasse seemed happy and relaxed as they featured some of the songs from brand new release Parallel Life, as well as favourites from their previous three albums. One thing which did surprise me was to discover that drummer Ola Strandberg can also play guitar and sing very well! Wonderful set, and please come back soon! (GT)
Having seen this band twice on their last visit to these shores, my expectations were high for District 97. I was not disappointed. The band are not an easy listen – edgy and insisting on difficult time signatures and meters, and do not compromise, and I love them for it.
Leslie Hunt is one of the best frontwomen in rock, full stop. She has a fabulous voice, amazing stage presence, and inhabits each song so fully it’s almost scary! They divided their set into two parts, the first half-hour or so dedicated to old songs, and then played new album Screens in full. For most bands, that would be a brave move at best, but this is District 97, and they pull it off brilliantly. I’m struggling to think of a band playing what could loosely be described as Prog-metal who are anywhere near the same league as this mob from Chicago. Band of the festival for me, no argument. (GT)
All photos by Stan Siarkiewicz, used with his kind permission.
Summer’s End Festival – Website | Facebook
Comedy of Errors – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp
District 97 – Website | Facebook | Twitter | Bandcamp
Hasse Fröberg & Musical Companion – Website | Facebook
Mayra Orchestra – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp
Phideaux – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp
Rise – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp
The Far Meadow – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp
The Kentish Spires – Facebook | Bandcamp
The Room – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp
The Windmill – Website | Facebook
This Winter Machine – Website | Facebook | Twitter
Wobbler – Facebook | Bandcamp