Abingdon United Football Club, Oxfordshire
1st & 2nd July, 2022
A year ago, the first outing of this wonderful little festival, in aid of Glioblastoma Multiforme Research (for the particular form of brain cancer that ultimately took the life of the Rush drummer Neil Peart at the age of 67), was a welcome delight and a terrific success, partly because it was pretty much the first major event anyone could get to post-lockdown/COVID 19 restrictions, but also because of its marvellous line-up! This second event was absolutely as good as the first.
There were a few notable audience absences compared to last time, but this was not altogether surprising as the rescheduled gigs from pandemic restriction time – plus a few long booked holidays – had been seriously mounting up. Nevertheless, a stalwart group of music revellers congregated gleefully once more in the lovely Oxfordshire town of Abingdon, to meet, chat, make merry, and watch some of the finest live bands around today.
This is a round-up of the mini updates, a tad tweaked and enhanced, that were posted on TPA’s Facebook page during the festival proceedings, with some extra photos.
Starting off with a full-on blast!
A band that imbues a sense of not only impending doom – it’s well and truly present! Dramatic, guitar heavy rock with melodic elements, stunning slidy bass lines, and a truly emphatic tale to tell!
The singer must have got a bit hot in his ‘school’ uniform, as a hospital gown was later revealed, and then more disrobing!
As indicated at the time, I did indeed find out afterwards something of what it all meant – a very personal and poignant tale of inner struggles and outward consequences and effects. The intense drama of the physical performance side didn’t detract at all from the intriguing musicality – it all melded together to sweep us along in full-on performance mode. A band to watch out for again, and hopefully soon, as I simply could not have absorbed it all fully, all at once on first hearing!
THE MIGHTY RA!
Solidly delivering quality heavy driving classic rock but with added melodic twiddling, guitar and keys solos a-plenty, plus a touch of on stage humorous banter about the songs’ subjects.
Best when going off on a little expedition around the theme, and when both vocalists employed their complementary vocals together. Someone at the sound desk certainly liked bassists here as the sound was nicely balanced again, with due equal emphasis smartly revealing the superb playing of intriguing bass lines! New to me, they were very popular with the crowd who embraced their on-stage enthusiasm most warmly.
Politically charged emotive rock songs, with a few proggy-ish elements. Energetic intense frontman John Dexter Jones depicted/presented all those ongoing ‘current affairs’ items that the powers that be would probably wish he hadn’t, plus a few other protest type songs with historical and personal references. Superb interplay between the two guitarists was nicely framed by atmospheric keys and a reliable complementary rhythm section propelling it all along most engagingly.
THE PARADOX TWIN
Simply breathtaking song craftsmanship from the extraordinariness of this unique band, and a fine set of musicians on stage too! A new member, singer Sarah, plus erstwhile album producer John Mitchell making a prog celebrity appearance on supplementary keys, so that Daniel doesn’t have to juggle so much!
Terrific pure prog mastery! A too short set to make up for the lateness that had gradually encroached due to various sound problems and – would we believe it – a blimmin’ fire alarm going off requiring the building’s evacuation right in the middle of their soundcheck! Gagh! No fire in evidence! Nevertheless, their spirits undaunted, they shone forth and, actually, the ideal scenario ensued, leaving everyone wanting more!
WOW! What a show that was! These guys know how to perform! All of them, not just charismatic frontman, the ‘Everyman’-like Mike Morton, have stage presence in bundles! They got the whole place rocking with their particular brand of ‘prock’. Plus genuinely emoting with their powerful sombre numbers with just a hint of politics! We wouldn’t have known that they’d only had one full rehearsal since the addition of the impressive Toby (Tobias Van De Peer) on second lead guitar, and formidable new drummer Chris Taylor, with the resurgence of Gabriele Baldocci on an expansive keys set up that turned out to be hiding the eagerly anticipated, what I call a ‘neck keyboard’ – the ‘keytar’! Stef Dickers gave those crafty basslines a hefty kick, and there was carousing and dancing up front – approaching a mosh-pit!
An absolute revelation – new to me! Multifaceted, delightful, and thought provoking prog, with all the expected elements, stunning guitar, flowing, trickling keys, plus gorgeous sonorous and expressive vocals from Huw Lloyd-Jones – it fair got me right in the gut/heart, and it all sounded so pure and natural as if no effort were required. Some truly emotion inducing songs too, so much so that I hardly took any photos (after managing one reasonable one) as I just wanted to listen and absorb. More of these lads please – and more need to hear them!
Another outstanding band on today’s brilliant line-up; such a varied repertoire! Something for every prog fan here. Pete Jones was on great form, dispensing his quirky humour as well as his fabulous voice and fluid keys playing amid the inventive musicality of the Wilsons: Andy on guitar and Mick on bass. Terrific set, and for me the most definitive prog of the day; at times lyrical jazzy prog metal – glorious! Plus, finishing up with, appropriately, a Rush cover – the favourite, Tom Sawyer!
Our Friday headliner, awesomely powered up and energised despite the lateness of the hour! Super-uplifting anthemic prog songs with a Celtic tinge, and the rich vocals of the ever-swirling and absolutely stunning Sertari – terrific voice there! Luke Machin provided a masterclass with his effortless guitar virtuosity, and leader Ian Jones’ sterling bass foundations, along with their impressive drummer, supported the whole shebang to create a tumultuous and special end to the day’s offerings!
One small aspect of presentation that left me yearning, but in a good way (although I understand the difficulties and problematic logistics) – the keyboards are such a significant factor in the music that I would have liked to have seen a physical presence up there but, hey, we can’t have everything in life now can we?! “Always leave the audience wanting more!” is a well known idiom; well, they certainly did!
They also got the ‘Massive Flow-ey Hair’ award of the day, in my mind at least that’s for sure, as each resplendently endowed member was sporting an impressive set of locks. The visual element of a bit of hair-drama, for me, suits most kinds of multi-narrative prog; only the drummer maybe hadn’t quite read the memo, to let it out of its harness to flail about, while Ian Jones’ unique natural bonce attire almost always appears to pretty much perform all by itself just sitting on his head – I found myself imagining how it would fare if he didn’t wear the bandana! An all round fabulous performance!
BEFORE WE FALL
I’d feared I’d miss them altogether, which was the cause of much trepidation and consternation as I so wanted to hear Huw’s voice again! Thankfully my chariot pretty much flew, and so I heard all but two songs of their set, but Lee Mellows popped the following little update in at my request to help me out as I was still en route at the start:
“An offshoot of Also Eden. Distinctly rockier, but the same strong songwriting and clear, passionate vocals. Punchy, strong sound. Some songs from previous offshoots, some new.”
Featuring Huw Lloyd-Jones, he of the dulcet vocals from Also Eden (from the previous night), this band displayed sheer bouncy uplifting melodic poppy/prog (prop?) incarnate, with a distinctively bright and cheery aspect, perfect for a Sunday mid-day start (thankfully on a bit late actually, allowing my taxi to deposit me at only their third number, after my lift suddenly self-pronounced as containing too high a percentage of alcohol from last night’s carousing to feel safe and responsible enough with me as cargo!).
We also got a Genesis cover – Abacab segueing into Rush’s Xanadu, which Huw announced as entitled ‘Abacabadu’! Marvellous!
[No links as yet]
25 YARD SCREAMER
A three-piece, introspective, slightly metallish, band with absolutely no screaming! In fact the singer/guitarist had a much more melodic than expected voice with natural vibrato and an admirable range. Nimble fingers also plucked out a canny riff; the thundering bass surged forth alongside nifty drumming, and now and again they rocked out veering into head-bangy territory. The Rush tribute aspect was in evidence in the guitar parts. With each song they appeared more varied and intriguing as I seriously warmed to them.
LAST FLIGHT TO PLUTO
Stepping in at short notice (to replace Dame), this was energetic double guitar-led today, (normally there are three, apparently, but sound problems restricted!). Bouncy pop-rock that got a bit proggy towards the end, and a tad bluesy right at the very last notes. The super sweet high voice of engaging and charismatic singer Alice Freya provided a great contrast to everyone else here!
Wielding their prog-metal, with a touch of math rock credentials, Godsticks startled us slap-bang in our faces – imaginary hard hats at the ready. I was somewhat unsuspecting, and so we needed to pay close attention or we’d have been left way behind! I was caught enrapt – this stuff doesn’t wash over easily! Totally immersive complex rhythms, layered buzzy melodies, axe-like then intricate guitar shreds from the two lead guitarists, with strong assured lead vocals from one, and engaging harmonies from the bassist. The stonkier songs induce a bit of enthusiastic head nodding, but the audience is sadly small for such a huge, involved and creative sound.
THE FAR MEADOW
Terrific symphonic jazzy prog musicianship from this delightful band on great form! Eliot Min on keys, and Jon Barry on guitar, seemed to be producing even more notes per millisecond than previously heard! Marguerita Alexandrou’s unique vocals, by turns delicate and strident, superbly complemented the varied repertoire as we were whisked along with the evocative narrative style. A choice selection from their three albums wowed the audience, especially the epic Travelogue, but a new one was mentioned to be forthcoming…
In fine fettle, delivering inspirational rock songs, with classic guitar playing and proggy-ish keys enhancing the vocal-led tracks. The impassioned singing of leader and song writer Phil Stuckey provides an intense focus to this incredibly polished band.
TIGER MOTH TALES
A little trip to the quintessential English environs courtesy of this much-loved band, created by the super talented Peter Jones, employing the redoubtable members of Red Bazar (the pics may look very similar to last night’s). We delighted in a succession of catchy upbeat simple verse/chorus songs but there are always so many more melodic proggy depths to plumb with TMT. The lighter side of prog is as welcome as Red Bazar’s heavier – but it is always presented effortlessly and with no less intricacy than would be expected from this quartet. The simplicity belied the intricate arrangements with Peter on occasion playing keyboards and guitar simultaneously!
The utterly delightful Visit to Chigwick as always resonated with many in the audience and evoked cheers from those whose childhood TV privileges in their formative years remain instantly accessible in their memories. Quirky humour abounded as we were invited into Peter’s world of charming nostalgia with a little sing-a-long to The Merry Vicar and Still Alive. Absolutely uplifting and heart warming!
Our wonderfully majestic headliners rounded off this super festival with appropriate symphonic pomp! As a three piece (erstwhile four – I was a bit sad initially to see no actual bassist, as had been present only a few months ago) they pumped out a formidable soundscape, seemingly mainly based on classical influences (and very happy am I with that!). Occasionally it veered into rather sweet excess as we were swept along, almost sated with the gooey syrup of some of the prevalent themes, but a fantastic guitar/keys combination enthralled as we went! These contrast with the other more prog rock friendly numbers, and the serious messages behind the songs.
The soundcheck had run on a bit and Robert John Godfrey had been chattier than of late despite the midnight curfew, and so the set had to be cut a bit short, nonetheless revealing the varied talents of Karl Thompson, and Jason Ducker, on percussion and guitar respectively.
The charity auction resulted in some very generous donations, all in aid of the aforementioned research, and in return some very intriguing acquisitions were made!
Much thanks and our sincere admiration must go to organiser Mark Cunningham and all the talented technical and back-stage people, plus the delightful ‘front of house’ and bar staff (volunteers), all of whose generous convivial nature served to make this a super two day event – one of my favourite festivals! I certainly hope it’ll be back next year!
[All photos by Rosamund Tomlins]
Prog For Peart – Facebook