Sci-Fi Rock Night, The Fiddler’s Elbow, Camden, London
Thursday, 6th July 2023
This special London Prog Gigs promotion presented three quite different bands under a loose Sci-Fi banner, with the musical/lyrical content, and/or the subjects they explore, conveying the theme. Naturally it seems, devisers of progressive music frequently delve into futuristic ideas; and as for an audience, well, there’s many among us who’ll lap up a bit of a concept, isn’t there?
Splink start the evening with their infectious jazzy space rock swerving its way in and crash landing into the sci-fi theme – allowably stretched a tad for this super talented and altogether lovely bunch of musicians. They carefully chose the spacier elements from their largely jazzy/psychedelic repertoire and new(ish) bassist Andy Crickett gamely donned a physical nod to the theme with his alien-eye specs. The set featured updated tracks from their 2020 album Free, and from 2022’s Kozmosis; entirely instrumental, as usual, apart from a bit of scat-like vocalising on the newer album’s title track, from band founder Matt James. Since 2019, the band has embraced the return of violinist Vikki Ings, now installed front and centre stage with pedals a-plenty, her melodious improvisations, sweeping movements, and wide beaming smile throughout infecting us all via her evident integration into the free-flowing music; her thorough enjoyment and delight was clearly revealed through a series of whoops, that I at first had thought was coming from the audience!
Splink’s philosophy, as per their website and album notes, is ‘No Rules Music’ – in which “perceived restrictions about how certain musical genres should be played” are cast out in favour of “a love of honest music, playing with an open heart”. Not just Vikki, they are all having a whale of a time, and the levity and humour shone through with their first offering (from Free) Slightly Burnt Toast – a gentle warm-up towards the psychedelic splendour of Kosmosis which merged straight into In the Pocket, Matt producing a variety of cosmic guitar sounds, while skilfully operating a synth too. Tim held the reins with solid, at times frenetic, and often jazz-influenced, drumming with various jangly percussion, while Andy’s thunderous five-string bass permeated a satisfyingly grungy texture into Tim’s foundation.
A slight gear change, and set list deviation, revealed a more pastoral tone for Greenlands, then a tinge of eastern influence emerged within Cavendish which followed straight on, the set finishing with the psych-fusion older favourite Canterbury. This track has taken on a new lease of life with the violin now present, interweaving with Matt’s guitar, emphasising even better the nod to the Canterbury scene bands. Combined with its wonderfully catchy bass line, guitar riffs, and clatter-bash-ting drumming, thus was sprinkled over us ever more space-dust sounds emanating from this plucky and engaging foursome.
Slightly Burnt Toast
Kosmosis/In The Pocket
Matt James – Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals
Vikki Ings – Violin
Andy Crickett – Bass
Tim Chapman – Drums & Percussion
Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate always seem to have something new on the go. They are an incredibly prolific band, releasing an album each year since 2017, and almost every year since their incarnation in 2009. In duo form tonight, writers and musicians Malcolm Galloway and Mark Gatland fitted the evening’s theme perfectly as they are often influenced by sci-fi writers. They make subtly multi-factored music inspired by subjects such as AI, as well as ecological, historical, and other political issues, focussing on how humans appear to find it impossible to learn from previous behaviours, calamity, and catastrophic events. On the face of it, the cliché description ‘dystopian’ might come to mind, and there’s certainly an element of that present, but, in complete contrast, Malcolm is a most likeable and droll frontman, able to engage instantly with the audience, utilising his natural warmth and quick-witted brain to offset the seriousness of the subjects when introducing the songs. For this performance in particular, hope won through the bleakness, via the profound soul-searching relatability also accessible within the backing melodies of the chosen songs, and Malcolm’s expressive performance: his intense guitar playing, with extensive impassioned solos, and his singing, often speech orientated or taking the form almost of recitative – so much so that sometimes I could say he almost veered into a very English sort of rap! Goodness! In prog? Well, HOGIA, as they are lovingly known for short, are an almost confounding mixture of prog, alt-rock, and electronica, with the odd funk rhythm popping up, then straying into metal territory at times, and occasionally verging on minimalist tendencies within the music; with all that going on, why not a bit of rap too?
Malcolm and Mark always seem to get thoroughly emotionally charged during their time on stage, Malcolm‘s expression almost painfully etched with the force of his playing/singing, and his voice changed character accordingly; mostly direct and informative, at times harsh almost rasping, then plaintive. Mark rarely ever stands still, and this evening he made no exception, literally bouncing about, every aspect of his grounding bass lines coursing through him like an electrical current – it’s always a delightful challenge to snap a non-blurry photo of him (still didn’t quite make it with mine!).
They presented two songs from the soon to be launched The Light of Ancient Mistakes album (scheduled for 9th September), the lyrical title track and the climate change inspired Burn the World that started innocuously enough but soon gave way to some intense vocals and impressive complementary heavy guitar soloing from Malcolm. The sole track from Out of Mind, the introspective When I Was A Ship, absolutely gave the audience the spine shivers with the atmosphere it created. Skilfully slotted in were two songs from the highly popular Nostalgia for Infinity, ending the set with a third, the perennial favourite and laterally developing Century Rain, with its engrossing underlying repetitive spacey-haunting theme – a most appropriate way to precede our headliners.
The Light of Ancient Mistakes
When I Was A Ship
Burn the World
Nostalgia for Infinity
Malcolm Galloway – Guitar, Vocals, Keyboards (Drums & Percussion as recorded)
Mark Gatland – Bass (Keyboards, Drums & Percussion as recorded)
A great idea from promoter Chris Parkins to create a suitable vehicle here for Yuval Ron to headline, as he is currently not nearly as well known in the UK as he should be, although some of us had caught a glimpse of his talent during an online gig back in May 2020, courtesy of Steve and Lou Gould’s Fusion Music Without Boundaries’ Lockdown Liberation compilation.
The three serious looking musicians dressed in replica NASA spacesuits commanded our attention from the get go, as Yuval excitedly announced “We are the Yuval Ron Trio and we play melodic PROGRESSIVE ROCK!”, before launching into some tracks from the most recent album, 2019’s Somewhere in This Universe, Somebody Hits A Drum, with a couple from Yuval’s earlier project from 2009, Residents of the Future’s album Residence of the Future, that drummer Yatziv Caspi also played on.
Israeli originated Yuval Ron combines symphonic, sci-fi film/TV theme influenced, quirky prog and intricate guitar wrangling, sometimes straying into the metal territories. All of this was conveyed in this evening’s set, and wow, did he pack a lot in! This was music that flowed along at an exhilarating pace, weaving among, and then right over us, all the way up into the ether, inviting us to clamber on for the ride! For those of us who like a bit of in-yer-face virtuosity – and I do – this was completely engrossing from start to finish with barely a let up with the finger-work anywhere, apart from instructions for a jolly bit of audience participation. Seeing people’s wide-eyed wonderment, I was reminded of the initial appraisal of Mozart, as quoted in the famous interchange with Austria’s Emperor Joseph II, “Too many notes!”, although the more correct translation reads as “An extraordinary number of notes!” Oh yes, and so very many delightful notes issuing from Yuval’s guitar that it was hard to keep up, so there was no choice but to submit ourselves to simply appreciating the expertise, the imagery conjured, and the various references.
It was as though a Star Trek-watching, prog/jazz fusion guitar-playing son of John McLaughlin and Allan Holdsworth signed up years ago for a certain entrepreneur’s Galactic programme, got tired of waiting and hitched a lift in a passing spaceship on the way to a Steve Vai masterclass, meeting drummer Yatziv and bassist Victor Nissim there.
Dramatic heavy-psych prog morphed into a right old jazzy groove, getting faster and faster – the concentration etched on all their faces – and if that wasn’t enough, the end of Wifi in Emerald City’s unexpected coda catapulted along at seemingly twice the speed! On occasion, some of us in the audience were a bit too ready to applaud, but Yuval mostly seemed to anticipate this, and as fits a commander, genially indicated to us that there was even more to come. When not wowing us all with his prowess, Yuval nodded along in appreciation of his fellow musicians, clearly relishing it all. Modestly surprised at the call for an encore, as he knew not many of us would know much – if any – of the music before this gig, he was genuinely delighted with the very valid appreciative reception.
With no pedals in sight, and a laptop recreating the keyboards and effects, the focus was almost entirely on Yuval’s dextrous guitar antics. Technical AND emotive, he pushed the boundaries of improvisation on a theme, with more shreds than a rag factory could ever produce within the guitar-led epic-ness. Along with Yatziv’s intense expression, sticks poised at the ready when not either thrashing away or delicately teasing out a rhythm, and Victor’s relaxed posture and attitude that quickly gave way to some lip-biting expressions with some very tricky chords, it all resulted in a three-fold spectacle of monumental proportions!
I had previously read somewhere than the name Ron means ‘mountain of strength’, or ‘ruler’s counsel’ from Scottish/Norse origins, but in Hebrew it means ‘joy’ or ‘song/singing’; so I looked up the name Yuval, and found it means a stream or river, so the fact that we were we experiencing an absolute flowing stream of joy at the hands of the Yuval Ron Trio, was utterly appropriate!
Much thanks is due to Chris Parkins and London Prog Gigs for putting on such a brilliant night with three bands of equal genius, and to The Fiddler’s Elbow pub venue – an extra benefit being their extremely talented sound engineer – for continuing to host such terrific gigs.
YUVAL RON SETLIST
Somewhere in This Universe Somebody Bangs A Drum
Wifi in Emerald City
Shizutani part 2
The Discovery of Phoebe
I Believe in Astronauts
Yuval Ron – Guitar, Laptop
Victor Nissim – Bass
Yatziv Caspi – Drums
All photos by Rosamund Tomlins.