Published on 29th August 2021
Prog for Peart Festival – Day Two
Abingdon United Football Club, Oxfordshire
13th & 14th August 2021
After a fantastic first day (which you can read about HERE), Prog for Peart continues…
[David:] Fresh from their Jager Stage appearance at the Bloodstock Festival on Thursday, 3-piece instrumental progressive metal band Axiom kicked off Saturday very well indeed. Formed in 2017 by – in their own words – ‘3 bearded buddies’, Zaid Crowe (guitar), Stuart Drinkwater (bass) and Josh Ainsworth (drums), they played an enthusiastic, powerful, complex and yet melodic set of math rock, djent and progressive metal, with funky elements – which to my ears was in that Intervals/Plini/Animals As Leaders-style.
Starting off with Slumber and then Scared from their 2019 Metathesis EP, their engaging stage presence succeeded in building up the lunchtime audience who might not otherwise listen to this style of prog. Hidden was multi-faceted as it switched from heavier to more melodic passages. Patience, written during lockdown and being played for the first time, was more mellow, expressive, and even jazzy in places. Believe had a funky swagger and Blood in the Water and Serpentine were well-received and showed a refreshing light and shade to their instrumental interplay. A good way to blow away the morning cobwebs.
THE WOOD DEMONS
[David:] London-based The Wood Demons began their set just after 1pm and proved to be one of the surprise highlights of the festival. Consisting of Simon Carbery (lead vocals & guitar), Rick Startin (keyboards, vocals & guitar), John Silver (bass), Naomi Belshaw (electric violin) and Ed Kontargyris (drums), the group have an intriguing, eclectic and quite unique mix of styles, with elements of progressive rock, psychedelia, alternative rock, ambient, folk and classical/cinematic touches. The whole set consisted of tracks from their impressive 2020 release, The Angels of Peckham Rye.
Naomi’s rich and soaring violin solo over Rick’s atmospheric keyboards on opening track Interminable Beige Thing soon dispelled any view that we were seeing some generic folk-rock band. This is further emphasised when Ed’s pounding drums and Simon’s strong guitar riffing start Starstruck, with urgent chanted lyrics. Yet you get a soothing, reflective violin interlude before the pace picks up again at the end. John’s bass dominates the start of The Odd Particle before lovely symphonic rock keyboards and classical violin lines add layering to chimed guitar notes.
The folk music influence is strongest on Big Game Fishing, with gentle acoustic guitar and clear English pastoral vocals from Simon, and then some lovely wistful Mellotron and violin. By contrast, Arithmomania is an epic mix of dynamic instrumentation and chanted numbers reflecting on the scale and magnitude of the world around us. Almost a late ’60s psychedelic/spacey feel at times and the contrasting light and shade impresses again. The band finished with the Eastern-tinged The Angels of Peckham Rye and from the audience reaction at the end – and the move to the merchandise desk – this is a new band with a lot of potential.
[Leo:] Outstanding set of folk inflected and fascinating progressive rock with wonderful spectral violin and classy but restrained guitar. The multi-instrumentalist keyboard player was particularly effective on the title track of their Angels of Peckham Rye album. Added to that was a cracking rhythm section and you have a great set… the Merch stall did good business afterwards, which is always a good indication of how well a band went down. This sort of band is one of the main reasons I love coming to these festivals – never heard of them but they put on a great show and I joined the queue at the Merch!
[David:] Flutatious provided an energetic and very enjoyable early afternoon set that got most of the audience bobbing and dancing. The band came together as a result of an inspiring trip to the Isle of Skye over a decade ago and have been a popular act over the years, especially at their many festival appearances. Their intriguing blend of Celtic-inspired folk, psychedelic, progressive and trance is catchy and melodic, with jigs and reels aplenty to keep any festival crowd happy. They consist of Michelle Devonshire (flute), Stella Ferguson (violin) and Andy Faulkner (guitar), supported by a rhythm section of Bill Forwell (bass) and Malcolm Price (drums).
Classically trained Michelle has a charismatic stage presence and started the jig-like Push the Button before moving on to Wendel the Witch with its intricate flute patterns, supported by Stella’s flowing violin over a progressive soundscape. Spacechick flowed well and had some nice guitar soloing, and Through Space and Time was heavier, featuring vocals from Stella which broke up the spacey instrumentation nicely. Jazzy Jig and Consumption maintained the atmosphere, with Glen Row Stomp showing the band’s mellower side, at the start at least, before finishing with Tha I Ban. The instrumental interplay, enthusiasm on stage and complexity of the compositions impressed and although the set was generally at a similar tempo, it was pitched just right for a festival audience who like a bit of a dance!
[Leo:] Well, that was quite something – an infectious and fun rock fuelled Jig of a Gig. Excellent flute and violin interwoven with some fine guitar lines and all fine bass and drums. Consumption was a standout piece and the crowd responded to the energy the band put out… there may have been ‘Prog Reeling’ at the front of the stage by TPA’s very own Leo Trimming and Rosamund Tomlins… and I usually need to have consumed bucketloads of beer to dance – but I’d only had a pint! Just great fun.
[David:] Leon Russell’s Warmrain were only playing their third live gig, but they put in a lovely, atmospheric, and melancholic performance in the late afternoon. The setlist was drawn almost entirely from their excellent, introspective, Back Above the Clouds concept album from 2019, and it was great to hear those songs played in a live setting at last. Leon Russell (vocals & guitar) was joined by Matt Lerwill on lead guitar, Oscar Behrens on drums and Will Hall drafted in on bass.
The band started strongly with the album’s opening track, Fading Star, a slow, desolate tempo and poignant lyrics sung with real feeling about the loss of heroes, gradually build into a more powerful mid-section with Eastern overtones from Matt’s expressive guitar work, driven by Oscar’s pounding drums. There are echoes of The Pineapple Thief and early Porcupine Tree for sure, along with a Floydian, Airbag-like dreaminess, but shaped into something uniquely Warmrain. The EP track Keep Going was an appropriate choice to follow, and behind the yearning lyrics, Oscar’s drumming propelled much of the music hypnotically before reaching a delicate, contemplative conclusion.
The band’s radically different version of Here Comes the Rain Again went down well with the audience, with the slowed-down lyrics adding more poignancy. Luminous Star and the stratospheric Equilibrium flowed wonderfully, whilst Absent Friends bought us back full circle to the subject of loss. From the perspective of the current pandemic, and even Neil Peart’s premature death, this beautiful song has even more depth and meaning. Leon’s mellow vocals were full of emotion and Matt’s soaring guitar solo was stunning. “Raise a glass to someone who means a lot to you who is no longer here physically”, said Leon. It was one of the most singular and emotional moments of the festival for many of us and the perfect way to end a quality slow-burner of a performance. I hope we see more of Warmrain live and in the studio in the years to come.
[Leo:] An impressive quality set from Brighton’s Warmrain in only their third gig. Atmospheric and often mellow, Warmrain played an assured show largely drawn from their excellent album Back Above the Clouds, but they also threw in a great cover of Here Comes the Rain Again by The Eurythmics… very different from the original. Guitarist Matt Lerwill was outstanding on guitar alongside Leon J. Russell on rhythm guitar. Russell’s fine vocals were suffused with great feeling. Indeed, it was quite a touching and emotional set, providing a great contrast in the line-up. Their final song, the beautiful Absent Friends, and Leon’s touching introduction left many with ‘something in their eye’ at the end. This emotion laden and finely judged performance marked Warmrain out as a class band with the confidence to play atmospheric and subtle rock, with hopefully a lot more to come from them.
[David:] Nick Jackson’s IT go back as far as 1994, but after many line-up changes and periods of inactivity, it was with the arrival of Andy Rowberry on lead guitar and 2009’s Departure album that led to the current incarnation of the band. 2017’s politically-charged We’re All In This Together was well-received at the time and further built the band’s fanbase. With Mark Gatland on bass guitar (who appeared the previous day with Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate) and Tom Ashcroft on drums, the band performed a diverse and energetic, guitar-led rock set with neo-prog influences and hints of Porcupine Tree.
Killing Me provides an upbeat start to the set, with a driving, up-beat rhythm and powerful descending guitar riffs and its catchy chorus, before a nice drop in pace for the reflective, flowing The Working Man and some subtle guitar work from Andy. Mark’s bass rumble keeps Gamble the Dream moving along smartly as Nick put real passion into the vocals. Standback provided a stately atmosphere with a nice melodic feel and the audience were swaying and nodding to Tom’s background drum beat before Andy is given room for a slow, soaring guitar solo towards the end. I Won’t Pray on Sunday, a track from 1994 destined to be re-recorded, sounded very promising, before another relatively old track, the instrumental Stay Tuned. Voices starts delicately, but soon gained power over the taped words of George Galloway (sadly, still somewhat relevant even now). The highlight of the performance is undoubtedly The Path of Least Resistance, an epic track starting with taped helicopter sounds and building up slowly to its memorable chorus and some wonderfully controlled ensemble playing across the many changing tempos. Just time to get everyone moving around with Revolution (or the ‘Proggy Time Warp’ as I still affectionally think of it). Very much a professionally performed and engaging set from the band.
THE EMERALD DAWN
[David:] The St. Ives-based symphonic progressive rock quartet The Emerald Dawn have been creating quite a buzz in the prog community of late – especially with their well-received 2021 release, To Touch the Sky. Their Prog For Peart appearance was highly anticipated by most and they delivered in spades with a powerful, assured and truly epic performance on the Saturday evening. Led by the soaring psychedelic/jazzy electric guitar flourishes of Ally Carter, the sweeping, atmospheric keyboards of Tree Stewart and backed by the expressive bass of Dave Greenaway and the versatility of Tom Jackson’s drums, the band delivered four epic prog tracks to an attentive festival audience.
Starting with the darkly atmospheric As Darkness Falls (from 2019’s Nocturne), Ally’s twisting, demonic guitar was soon joined by Tree’s grandiose and cinematic keyboards, with Dave and Tom keeping things nice and busy in the background. As I Stood Transfixed (from the latest album) features delicate acoustic guitar strumming from Tree over Ally’s distorted guitar runs, and Tom’s rolling drums. A saxophone solo brings some nice variety before Tree’s haunting, ethereal vocals and flute float over the dreamy soundscape, with stabs of light and shade following as the keyboards take hold and the guitar solo sings.
Shadow in Light (from the 2014 debut, Searching for the Lost Key) displays a similar epic symphonic sweep. The busy, live interplay between the band members is especially noticeable and Ally’s guitar is heavier at times. The popular The Child Within, (from Nocturne) ends proceedings, and the 20-minutes just fly past. Tree’s yearning vocals truly shine as the multi-faceted dark tale unfolds and builds progressively to a cathartic conclusion. A huge ovation greets the band, and it is truly deserved for this talented, engaging and likeable set of musicians. As Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman might have said on his radio show – “Prog? Not ‘arf!”
[Leo:] Wow! What a fantastic set from The Emerald Dawn, who enchanted and enthralled the audience with a magical set of finely played multi-layered and ambitious songs. Definitely winning the award for ‘Proggiest Band of the Weekend’, they put on a great show filled with complex, atmospheric and riveting music – sometimes ethereal and mystical, sometimes dramatic and stirring, but always fascinating. A cracking rhythm section (an often underestimated element of a good band) provided excellent support for the two main fulcrums – Ally Carter’s skilfully artful guitar pieces, saxophone and charismatic presence alongside Tree Stewart’s remarkably versatile mastery of keyboards, 12-string guitar and flute… and her striking vocals; she really is rather a mesmerising star. Squeezing four epic songs into their set, it felt over all too soon and the crowd absolutely loved them. This isn’t background music, the intensity and focus of a live performance really put it into the right context, displaying much more fully their art and imagination. If you get a chance to see them live, JUST GO! They really are something else live. I suspect after shows like this, word of mouth will spread and demand should grow for them to make that long journey from the wilds of Cornwall.
[David:] The late evening slot was taken up by an enjoyable and professional performance by 6-piece melodic rock group The Room. Hailing from the South-East of England, they were formed in 2010 by former Grey Lady Down vocalist Martin Wilson and bassist Andy Rowe and have been steadily joined by experienced, like-minded musicians. Their third studio release, 2019’s Caught By the Machine, has been well-received, and most of the tracks played here came from it.
Opening up with The Golden Ones, the band’s classic melodic rock style gets the audience nodding appreciatively, and this continues into Run. Twin guitar work from Steve Anderson and Eric Bouillette combine nicely and Martin’s confident, expressive vocals push the songs through brightly. Andy’s bass and backing vocals and Chris York’s tight drumming keep it all solid, whilst new keyboardist Chris Teeder adds support and Magnum-like flourishes as necessary. Those looking for overtly proggy touches won’t necessarily find them in The Room beyond the occasional keyboard runs from Chris and a neo-prog hint at times, but what you do get is classic rock with accessible and sweeping melodies played by top class musicians working seamlessly together.
Older material, such as melodramatic Full Circle and Screaming Through the Noise, fit in well with the newer songs, including the moving and reflective Vanished, which contains a number of soaring solos. Some nice humour and interplay between Andy and Martin create a fun atmosphere as the heat builds on stage. Carrie pushes through powerfully and Clover and Bodies on the Road are sprightly, melodic highlights of the set. The Hunter benefits from being played live, and when the dynamic epic It’s Not My Home closes the performance, many of the more traditional prog fans in the audience have been won over by the band’s enthusiasm and enjoyment in getting back to live performances at last.
[David:] All great parties should end with a dance and a singalong, and for fans of classic-era Rush that’s what they got at the end of Saturday night with Yorkshire-based Rush tribute band Bravado. For many of us of a certain age, Rush’s prog-orientated rock remains deep in our DNA and was the springboard to many other musical discoveries in the decades to come. Pod Pearson (bass, vocals, synthesisers & pedals), Neil Smith (guitars) and Dean Cousins (drums & percussion) recreated the freshness of those days very effectively, with Pod’s appearance capturing Geddy Lee’s persona remarkably well.
Even when restricted to a festival set time limit, the guys shot through a surprisingly large selection of tracks: Bastille Day, Subdivisions, the prelude to Hemispheres, Red Barchetta, 2112 (Parts I to VII), Lakeside Park, Limelight, most of By-Tor and the Snow Dog and Closer to the Heart – taking us well past midnight. This was incredibly complex music and if the odd tiny omission and mistiming might have showed itself occasionally in the ‘chaos of battle’ and a boiling hot stage, it was completely understandable and took nothing away from the pleasure both the band and the audience had with this closing performance.
…and, of course, as the lights came on, it was a final reminder of the departed Neil Peart and the real reason behind this hugely enjoyable and well-organised prog music festival. Hopefully Mark Cunningham and the team will have raised several thousand pounds for Glioblastoma Multiforme research. Here’s to Prog For Peart 2022, hopefully!
Photographs courtesy of Mike Berry Photography (except Bravado image, by Leo Trimming)
You can read the report from Day One of the Festival HERE.