Abingdon United Football Club, Oxfordshire
7th July, 2023
TPA were once again back at Abingdon United Football Club in Oxfordshire for the third iteration of Prog For Peart festival, with sixteen bands to entertain the prog faithful over two days, all in aid of research into Glioblastoma Multiforme – the brain cancer that claimed the life of Rush drumming legend Neil Peart. Organiser Mark Cunningham and his team worked tirelessly to make it another very enjoyable, friendly, intimate and wonderfully musical event. Here, David Edwards collects the updates he posted over the event – edited and enhanced as necessary – to hopefully capture the spirit of this great festival, and honour some of the superb performances from the musicians, with insightful contributions from TPA colleague Leo Trimming.
Photographs kindly supplied by Jim Donnelly of AnaXa Images. Please contact Jim if you’re interested in full-sized copies of any of those used in this review.
[You can read the report for Day Two HERE.]
The festival kicks off powerfully with a fine slab of classic, old school British heavy metal/hard rock from Vine Messiah. Fans of the likes of Iron Maiden and the NWOBHM, as well as ’80s heavy metal, would find much to enjoy here. Hints of more modern metal were also in the mix, but it was all tempered by some great melody and interplay. They started impressively with the epic End of Days from new album Lonely Apostate and then showed a nice musical range with the more acoustic Earth Beneath My Feet, followed by Heart Made of Stone. In Rob Shepherd they have a powerful and menacing vocalist (with an ‘Angry Anderson’ stage vibe!). The twin guitars of Mick Smith and Steve Lewis worked well, and Vic Wilson and Andy Phillips gave a dense rhythmic foundation. After another song from the new album (The Ghost Returns) and a powerful Crucify (from Empire) they ended with another new track, Somewhere Somehow, which started with gentle atmospheric guitar before bursting into full-blown melodic rock power, with a touch of The Cult at times. Not too much traditional prog as such, other than the extended song structures and more complex musical interplay, but it was all done very professionally. A good wake-up call to the early festival attendees and fans of quality classic rock should certainly check them out in the near future.
The Hampshire/Surrey prog rock band played a solid enough set at the Fusion 4 festival earlier in the year, but I felt they really nailed it with this performance. They seemed more relaxed and integrated as they delivered some lovely proggy instrumentation, supported by the sci-fi conceptual narrative vocals from Mike Waters and Charlotte Jones (who I’d have loved to have heard slightly higher in the sound mix). Dave Stanton’s guitar work and Mike Bridge’s powerful bass drove the likes of Green Mars, Khalia and a spirited The Spinner through to the end. Tom Williams and Jonathan Wills supported the sound and Jez Davies provided the keyboard complexity. The powerful, bouzouki-led Nomads was great fun too and showed the light and shade that the band can offer. The more intimate festival setting and early time slot suited them, and Viriditas certainly raised the festival’s prog quotient.
Energy crisis? What energy crisis? If you could connect EBB to the National Grid there would be plenty for everyone! As they did at Fusion 4, they stunned the audience with a wonderfully feisty, sensual and intense set of prog and straight-on power rock. Erin Bennett drove her band on incessantly, with Kitty Biscuits weaving her magic and the other musicians meshing seamlessly. Nikki Francis and Suna Dasi added the prog texture, whilst Bad Dog and Anna Fraser kept the tight rhythmic thrust. Much of the set came from their superb debut album, Mad and Killing Time, although they started with new song Silent Savour. Tension built-up and twisted wonderfully and The Animal Said ‘I’ provided some well-judged light and shade. After some more new songs, Nieu and Cost & Consequence, the band continued with beautiful prog instrumental Violet is Tits, followed by Suffering (also destined for the forthcoming new EP). The popular Mary Jane ended proceedings perfectly to great applause. Impossible to pigeonhole – just see them live!
Well, it would be a hard act to follow EBB at the best of times – but praise to the acclaimed Israeli composer and guitarist Yuval Ron and the other talented musicians in this trio for making some truly vibrant, complex and yet surprisingly melodic prog. Imagine if Joe Satriani played prog? Virtuoso, mischievous jazz/rock guitar-led complexity (Akkerman / Holdsworth?) and never without a smile on Yuval’s face. As complex as any math rock group, but with charm and emotion to back the pyrotechnics. Victor Nissim excelled on bass and Yatziv Caspi did a fine job on drums. Dressed as NASA astronauts, they produced a dreamy and flowing afternoon performance with tracks from the Somewhere in the Universe, Someone Hits a Drum! album, starting with Gravitational Lensing, then WiFi in Emerald City and finally I Believe in Astronauts. Despite the shortened set (due to traffic related delays!) it was as refreshing as a chilled spritzer! I think we believe in astronauts too!
[David] I’ve followed the musical career of Lee Abraham for a long time, but never seen him live, so this teatime session was rather special. Starting off with powerful riff-laden versions of Corridors of Power (from 2014’s Distant Days) and then The Mirror (from 2009’s Black and White), the band hit a real high with the more recent Counting Down – with Lee handling the Pete Jones vocals very well and displaying some truly special guitar soloing. Rob Arnold’s keyboards and Ken Bryant’s bass dove-tailed beautifully, whilst Gerald Mulligan kept it all tight on the drums. Time for a stunning Awaken (from 2019’s Comatose) before finishing to huge applause. It was a rather special set.
[Leo] A great late afternoon set from Lee Abraham with a cracking band; fine keys from Rob Arnold, fantastic drums with Gerald Mulligan and a solid rhythmic bass from Ken Bryant. A varied setlist started with a powerful Corridors of Power followed by The Mirror from my fave Black and White album. The spectacular Counting Down, from Lee’s latest album of the same name, was spectacular with some characteristically flowing, rippling solos and some very solid vocals from Lee too. Lee has used eminent vocalists such as Marc Atkinson and Peter Jones on his solo albums, but these are Lee Abraham’s songs – he should be singing them, and he did them justice, from the heart. Awaken from his remarkable Comatose album finished off a great set full of fine melodic progressive rock and stellar guitar work which went down a storm with the crowd.
Despite an extended soundcheck and some initial balancing issues, by the second track Zio were in full flow with a confident and enthusiastic amalgam of eclectic styles. Driven forward by the sheer energy and bravado of the superb Charlie Bramald and the beautiful siren-like tones of the angelic Hayley Griffiths, they played songs ranging from power ballads, rock musical-like duets, pop, full-blown prog and even some symphonic metal moments, to the delight of an increasingly animated audience. Highlights included Untenable, Amused, Shorrama and Jupiter (although sadly no time for Lonely Diamond due to the extended technical issues). Olivier Castan sparkled on keyboards, whilst Marc Fascia’s guitar and Alex Lofoco’s expressive bass complemented the vocals so well. Add in a touch of Rush and Pink Floyd snippets, some flute from Charlie and a stunning drum solo from Jimmy Pallagrosi (played with a Neil Peart mask at the end!) and all it needed was the kitchen sink thrown on stage to have it all. A whirlwind of a performance, leaving us all enjoyably dizzy by the end!
Sometimes you can think too much about whether a particular band is prog or not at such festivals. On the face of it, Doris Brendel and her band are raunchy, old-school, blues rock with the archetypal sassy vocals and driving swagger. Yet as the set progressed it was clear to see they had so much more to them. Doris is a force of nature with her Janis Joplin-like singing, with Lee Dunham excelling on guitar, adding both light and shade. Ewan McIntosh was iconic on bass and Sam White was thunderous on drums. Takes One To Know One was an impressive blues-laden calling card and Losing It and the popular Latest Fantasy all hit home well. There was a keyboard-driven complexity on most tracks (although supplied by tape due to the keyboardist’s absence), atmospheric pipes from Doris, extended song structures and a steam-punk persona. Rock and a Hard Place (from new album Pigs Might Fly) built up a nice head of steam, and The One was a great closer. The result was a highly entertaining and infectious set by quality musicians and a great singer leading powerfully from the front. Forget the musical genre pigeonholing, this was classic rock in all its many beautiful guises!
[David] The anticipation of Robin Armstrong’s Cosmograf performing live at the festival was huge. Sadly, a build-up of soundcheck delays during the evening meant that in the end the band were only able to play for less than an hour before the midnight curfew. However, what was played was very special indeed and fully appreciated by the enthusiastic audience. Starting with the wonderfully nostalgic Bakelite Switch (from When Age Has Done Its Duty) and then the newer British Made, Robin and his band, with Lee Abraham guesting on guitar, weaved a musical spell for fans as they created those emotional soundscapes. Robin’s distinctive, plaintive vocals worked beautifully. The heavier Rapprapante, the evocative White Car and the poignancy of Regretful Refrain showed how Robin was able to orchestrate the music from the front with acoustic and electric guitar and keyboards to great effect. Kyle Fenton drove the beat, along with Alistair Martin’s vibrant bass. Unfortunately, after The Smoke and the Flame there was only time for the spritely The Motorway before proceedings needed to end (no time for The Man Left in Space, amongst others), but it was a great way to finish and there was some stunning guitar interplay between Robin and Lee that truly delighted the appreciative audience. A pity, for sure, but Cosmograf undoubtedly demonstrated how good the music can be when played live. Well done, guys!
[Leo] Finishing off Day 1 in great style with an assured set of brilliantly played rock music, Robin Armstrong was his usually understated self, but was the centre and heart of this fine band, playing guitars and keys with calm control and great skill. However, it is the great quality of his emotive vocals, ranging from impassioned to touching fragility, that stood out in this fine performance. Alongside him, Lee Abraham (on stage for the second time) gave his characteristic flowing and inspired display on guitars. Long time Cosmograf drummer Kyle Fenton drove this fine band on with power and rhythmic flair and with a dazzlingly lit bass Alistair Martin nailed down the low end with precision and fluidity. This is a class live outfit. Starting with one of their best songs, Bakelite Switch was a sure-fire way to stamp their class on the evening. The E-type Jaguar riffs of British Made and the melancholy of Regretful Refrain represented the excellence of Cosmograf’s latest impressive album Heroic Materials. A rocking Rattrapante raised the energy and excitement levels, whilst the spectral White Car with its ferocious finale cast a spell over the room. The Smoke and the Flame sounded massive, but all too soon we were into the final song – the magnificent visions of The Motorway – a classic synthesis of the pastoral and personal with the imaginative and powerful, with a particularly thrilling finale of Lee and Robin trading guitar solos to bring things to a spectacular close. Cosmograf were just bloody outstanding. My only complaint? Delays earlier in the day led to the band having to drop four main songs from their set and a possible encore due to the curfew. When we’re missing classics such The Reaper’s Song and The Man Left in Space, that is SO disappointing for the crowd and the band, and with no disrespect to earlier bands, there should have been cuts earlier on to sets and NOT to the main act! Of course, that’s an incentive to get along to another Cosmograf gig in future to see a full set. Thanks, Cosmograf – you were great!
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