‘Everyone’s a VIP Weekend’ – The Platform, Morecambe
Saturday 20th May & Sunday 21st May 2023
Pendragon deliver a wealth of classic neo-prog, including the whole of Love Over Fear and Not of This World, over a thoroughly enjoyable and sun-drenched weekend in Morecambe amongst their loyal fans. Nick Barrett, Clive Nolan and the band show a renewed spirit after a three-year hiatus from live performances and demonstrate why they remain a force to be reckoned with, in the prog world.
The global pandemic was a difficult time for all musicians, but few bands were affected as much as UK neo-prog stalwarts Pendragon, when Covid-19 curtailed their 2020 European tour in March and prevented them promoting their critically acclaimed Love Over Fear album from a few months earlier. With a planned Spring 2022 tour also postponed as the threat of the virus still lingered in the background, it had been over 3 years since the band had been able to play live.
The news that Pendragon were to run three ‘Everyone’s a VIP’ weekends in May 2023 was greeted with much anticipation and excitement by diehard fans, as well as new admirers who had picked up on the stunning Love Over Fear album, their first studio album for almost six years. Styled on the Marillion fan weekends, which have run successfully for many years, the band chose to return to live performing on May 12th and 13th at De Boerderij, Zoetermeer in the Netherlands, on the 20th and 21st at The Platform, Morecambe in the UK, with a third on the 26th and 27th within the We Låve Rock Festival in Hurum, near Oslo in Norway. Each would offer an enhanced fan experience with a Q&A session, band meet-up and signing sessions, an acoustic set and two album-centred sets – one featuring Love Over Fear (essentially the set played prior to the lockdown) and the other featuring many fans’ favourite album, 2001’s Not of This World.
It was back on February 29th 2020 that the band played at The Platform in Morecambe, and the experience was positive enough for them to want to return three years later. It gave fans outside of London, and especially the North and the Midlands, the ability to access affordable accommodation and enjoy the attractions of the popular Lancashire seaside resort in late Spring.
Over a warm and sunny weekend, around 500 prog fans over both days enjoyed a simply stunning feast of music with Pendragon at their very best, and seemingly renewed as they ran through an exhilarating collection of emotionally charged songs, highlighting the light and shade, and power and delicacy that these talented musicians can conjure up.
The Platform – an eclectic and atmospheric entertainment venue, and formally an Edwardian railway station on the Morecambe Promenade – proved a great choice for the weekend, light and airy with a broad stage which is never too far away from the audience. Friendly staff ushered in punters from early evening, with enough time for a quick chat, a pint or two, and a visit to the well-stocked merchandise desk, before Rog Patterson delivered a short support slot with his 12-string acoustic guitar and quirky, edgy and passionate socio-political tales.
I enjoyed his intriguing mix of anarcho-folk, with touches of Roy Harper, Strawbs, Al Stewart, Gordon Giltrap and Ian Anderson peeping out now and then. He coped admirably with the background murmur of old Pendragon friends reuniting after many years, and I’d be interested in seeing him in more intimate settings where his ‘word-mangling’ and ‘string-strangling’ (to use his words) would suit his storytelling and intricate guitar work well.
It wasn’t long before Pendragon came on stage to a huge roar, with Nick Barrett all smiles and looking like he’d just stepped off a sun-drenched Cornish surfing beach, and Clive Nolan sporting an iconic ‘Morecambe and Wise’ T-shirt. Peter Gee, with obligatory baseball cap, and Jan-Vincent Velazco, the epitome of metal cool, settled in as the rhythm section, with Rog Patterson providing 12-string embellishments where necessary. Johanna Stroud and Sally Minnear slotted in at the back as backing vocalists, and suddenly we were off with Love Over Fear, Clive’s keyboard stabs and Nick’s flowing guitar licks beginning proceedings with Everything.
I’ve said before that Love Over Fear was my album of 2020 and it was so important in getting me through lockdown intact. The images of far-flung beaches, fishing villages and blue-green sea were a refreshing contrast to being trapped at home for much of that year, so to hear the album played in its entirety after so long was an emotional and uplifting experience for myself and many around me. The soothing effect of the plaintive, gentle beauty of Starfish and the Moon on the audience was palpable.
With Truth and Lies we were well and truly spellbound as we followed Nick and the band ‘deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole’ with some evocative and resonating guitar and lush keyboard chords. There is a quiet melancholy in Nick’s vocals and playing – which hits an even higher level with the first of so many soaring guitar solos as bass and drums build to provide a strong foundation over which everything else floats.
Nick’s enthusiastic grin was matched by the crowd as his red mandolin strummed the opening bars to the effervescent 360 Degrees – surely one of the most ‘feel-good’ tunes of recent years. Buoyed by Johanna’s beautiful violin playing, the band and fans were soon bopping up and down and clapping along to signal that this was party-time indeed.
The beautiful Soul and the Sea started serenely with atmospheric violin, piano, whispered vocals and subtle drumming from Jan-Vincent, but soon exploded into pure, defiant power, with guitar and keyboards intertwining, and we suddenly all ‘belonged to the sea’. Yet it was only the prelude to one of the evening’s highlights – the sumptuous Eternal Light. From its wistful, strummed beginning through to its heartfelt outpouring of emotion, waves of haunting synths, siren-like backing vocals and a lovely closing guitar solo. Wow!
The cinematic album centrepiece, Water, worked wonderfully, with its swaying, lethargic shifts in tempo before Nick’s now iconic solo soared stratospherically into the evening sky. The contemplative Whirlwind followed and provided a rock pool of calm and mindfulness, before pulsating guitar riffing signalled the start of Who Really Are We? and some quality ensemble work as the crowd clapped and jumped with all their hearts. Closing with the cathartic Afraid of Everything, it had been a mesmerising journey of well over an hour listening to a modern prog masterpiece, played with love and affection.
That was a tough act to follow, but Pendragon were more than equal to it as they delivered a series of classic tracks played with vigour and real feeling. Foreboding keyboard chords and yearning, extended guitar lines took us into a powerful, yet bouncy, neo-prog infused performance of The Walls of Babylon, with an equally impressive and dreamily evocative rendition of Sou’ by Sou’ West from The Wishing Well suite. However, it was the epic This Green and Pleasant Land that delivered another unforgettable highlight for me. The diversity of tempo and intensity and the regretful and yet defiant tone set by the song really resonated with me, in our current cost-of-living crisis, and joining in the memorable refrain of Take only what you need and be on your way with Johanna and Sally was very invigorating.
The classic Paintbox was pure feel-good melodic prog and it was so nice to see it played in its entirety, with the extended musical conclusion as beautiful as ever, while the version of Faces of Light revealed its hope-filled charm and inherent energy very successfully. However, it was the opening power chords of Indigo than unsurprisingly elicited one of the biggest cheers of the evening – and whilst it never quite got into ‘mosh-pit’ territory, much of the audience at the front were nodding and swaying as Nick and Peter prowled the stage with gusto!
Time for a well-received encore of the multi-faceted and nuanced Breaking the Spell to end a performance that will stay long in the memory.
The night ended with an extended acoustic set with Nick, Clive and Peter returning for some acoustic versions of several classics. Many of us weren’t sure if the adrenaline still flowing from the main set would cope with the more delicate and intimate nature of the performance, however the versions of The Voyager, The Black Knight and a particularly thoughtful Fallen Dreams and Angels captured that after-hours mood beautifully. The surprise of the night was Clive’s own solo version of Bring Me Sunshine, as a tribute to the classic Morecambe and Wise comedy duo, with everyone joining in with great enthusiasm and a few laughs as well. A well-pitched King of the Castle seemed to be the end of the set, but Nick was not ready to end proceedings just yet, and despite a few gentle pleadings and wry smiles from Clive, suggesting that they hadn’t rehearsed anything else, an unexpected version of Alaska eventually emerged from some jamming, along with a realisation that it had been about 10 years since they had played this emotive song.
As everyone left for their accommodation or a nearby watering hole, the question was asked: ‘How will they follow that, tomorrow?’ Well, thankfully, they certainly did…
Day 1 Setlist:
Love Over Fear
02. Starfish and the Moon
03. Truth and Lies
04. 360 Degrees
05. Soul and the Sea
06. Eternal Light
09. Who Really Are We?
10. Afraid of Everything
11. The Walls of Babylon (from The Window of Life)
12. The Wishing Well: II. Sou’ by Sou’ West (from Believe)
13. This Green and Pleasant Land (from Passion)
14. Paintbox (from The Masquerade Overture)
15. Faces of Light (from Men Who Climb Mountains)
16. Indigo (from Pure)
17. Breaking the Spell (from The Window of Life)
18. The Voyager (from The World)
19. The Black Knight (from The Jewel)
20. Fallen Dreams and Angels (from Fallen Dreams and Angels)
21. Bring Me Sunshine (Clive Nolan solo tribute to Morecambe and Wise)
22. King of the Castle (from The Masquerade Overture)
23. Alaska (from The Jewel)
Sunday started with a call from organiser Rachel Barrett and the band for all attendees to meet up at the famous statue of Eric Morecambe on the Central Promenade at 11am. It was great to see a healthy turnout and another rendition of Bring Me Sunshine. It was also a great opportunity to touch base with many familiar faces and several new ones – including a couple from Australia I chatted to, as well as several from the European mainland. The camaraderie amongst the band and fans was lovely to see.
The early afternoon saw Nick give a guitar and pedals demonstration and discussion, and then a short Q&A session with Nick, Clive, Peter and Jan-Vincent fielding a range of questions. Another support set from Rog Patterson took place, and the quieter afternoon ambience worked well for those in attendance.
Coming from a period of personal turmoil in Nick’s life at the time (‘It’s the divorce album’, as he wryly describes it), it is further proof that the best art often comes from adversity. It certainly is a tour-de-force and starting with If I Were the Wind (and You Were the Rain), the audience were truly spellbound for the next hour or so.
The dramatic guitar-led introduction echoes across the whole venue. Nick’s clear tones were matched by Peter’s rumbling bass and Jan-Vincent’s expressive and measured drumming. Nick sang the powerful refrain of People, my people. Captain, my captain with intensity and verve, as Clive’s rich, majestic keyboards settled down to delicate piano by the end.
Nick’s vocals have a wonderful ‘everyman’ character to them, which brings an authenticity and poignancy to the lyrics. No more was this demonstrated than with the deeply personal The Dance of the Seven Veils, with its shifts in pace and intensity, from the gentleness of “You were faithless in a twist of fate. You jumped the queue at Traitor’s Gate”, through to the power and energy of “But it’s all over now!” along with that driving guitar and then Jan-Vincent’s thunderous drums climaxing the track.
Clive’s swirling synths and Nick’s signature guitar sound introduce the three-part epic Not of This World, with its continual ebb and flow in depth and intensity. The rhythm section was certainly earning their money tonight, as the audience basked in the beauty of this neo-prog gem. To the shout of “Ridi Pagliacci!” the music switches from the yearning, measured march of “Looking for something, not of this world” and “I’m flesh and blood, I’m a human being” through to the joyous power of Give it to me! and then finally the ethereal, plaintive smoothness of Green Eyed Angel, with atmospheric backing vocals from Sally and Johanna as the sadness of Nick’s closing guitar and Clive’s keyboard chords conclude the song to a huge roar from the fans. No wonder Nick raised his hands in triumph at the end!
The dramatic A Man of Nomadic Traits is another popular choice amongst the punters, with great ensemble work from all the band, including more excellent backing vocals supporting Nick’s vibrant singing and another knockout guitar solo towards the end.
World’s End rounded off the album’s performance beautifully with more bombastic drums from Jan-Vincent, interweaving symphonic keyboard, guitar and bass interplay and reprising previous themes, before we all join in the hopeful and bold lines of “So where are all the lost children? They’re coming home to stay this time!”, which sort of fitted into the idea that this weekend was a sort of homecoming for the band and fans after so many years. The sparkling And Finally allowed the audience to soak up the grandeur of what had just gone before. Despite being 22 years old, Not of This World still sounded as fresh as a daisy.
That wasn’t the end of the evening by any means. The harder-edged, driving and slightly sinister The Freak Show was a refreshing contrast, whilst The Last Waltz from the Queen of Hearts suite, was a romantic and nostalgic return to earlier times with the memorable “Do you remember? Do you recall? The smell of school dining halls and backstreet brawls”. Then the beautiful and dreamy Sister Bluebird saw Nick and Clive’s instrumental interplay cast a spell over the audience.
I’d managed to rein in the emotions to some extent, but sheer exuberance of Nostradamus (Stargazing) got me gently welling-up on the inside. One of the band’s simplest songs, yet somehow it just captured the whole spirit of the weekend so perfectly. The repeating guitar riff, pounding beat and catchy chorus of “Stargazing, groundbreaking, dream making, breathtaking” flowed across the fans like a refreshing tidal wave, and proved to be my enduring earworm in the days that followed.
The classic Master of Illusion was a welcome encore. An epic neo-prog march full of light and shade and compositional diversity, with Clive and Nick in perfect sync. It was further enhanced by a stunning and melodic drum solo from Jan-Vincent, who somehow managed to conjure up the genie from the bottle, even after two hours of intense playing.
Then it was just time for a thoughtful rendition of Am I Really Losing You?… and suddenly it was over. The band took their bows and waved their goodbyes, and everyone realised they had been treated to a very special weekend.
Thanks to all concerned for a truly memorable weekend that brought a whole lot of sunshine to us all, will hopefully be repeated soon.
…and if this live review has convinced any readers of The Progressive Aspect to revisit Pendragon’s rich and varied back catalogue, it has been time well spent writing it up!
Photographs by David Edwards are supplemented by those of Jeff Cooper, Derek Harland and Roger Kelly, used with sincere thanks.
Day 2 Setlist:
Not of This World
01. If I Were the Wind (and You Were the Rain)
02. Dance of the Seven Veils, Part 1: Faithless
03. Dance of the Seven Veils, Part 2: All Over Now
04. Not of This World, Part 1: Not of This World
05. Not of This World, Part 2: Give It to Me
06. Not of This World, Part 3: Green Eyed Angel
07. A Man of Nomadic Traits
08. World’s End, Part 1: The Lost Children
09. World’s End, Part 2: And Finally
10. The Freak Show (from Pure)
11. Queen of Hearts, Part III: The Last Waltz (from The World)
12. Sister Bluebird (from Fallen Dreams and Angels)
13. Nostradamus (Stargazing) (from The Window of Life)
14. Masters of Illusion (with drum solo) (from The Masquerade Overture)
15. Am I Really Losing You? (from The Window of Life)
Nick Barrett – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Mandolin
Clive Nolan – Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Peter Gee – Bass, Keyboards
Jan-Vincent Velazco – Drums
Rog Patterson – 12-string Guitar
Johanna Stroud – Violin, Backing Vocals
Sally Minnear – Backing Vocals