Abingdon Nene Park. Peterborough
Friday 1st September, 2023
Before I start this review, I must apologise that TPA’s reports of the festival only cover the Friday through to Sunday, due to cancelled trains. However, undaunted, myself and Chris Simmons did manage the 7:30am from Newcastle to arrive on the Friday, just before the bands started at 11:00.
The festival is in its first year. It’s a non-profit event for the benefit of live music fans and to provide a platform for not just established artists but for the “up and coming”, some of which have not yet “made it” in conventional terms. The bands also covered a broad spectrum of genres, so we were treated to a mixture of classic rock, prog, blues and even an original NWOBHM act – something for everyone…
Again, and before commencing this review, I must comment on the excellent organisation of the event which made the whole experience intimate and fan friendly. The skills and experience of its organisers, the triumvirate of Andrew Little, Tony Castle and Trevor Cotterell, supported by a hard-working team of volunteers, was outstanding.
There were three stages; two of them, the Swan and Heron, housed in the same central Marquee, but at opposite ends, which allowed the bands to seamlessly alternate. A simple idea, but with flawless execution it meant you didn’t miss any of the headliners. However, if you wanted a breather, then a small idle over to the smaller Kingfisher stage was possible, with no drop in quality of the musicianship on display.
Friday 11.00am, and first up on the Swan stage are the five piece White Heat, serving up some kicking classic rock to start off the morning, and I loved every minute of their show. So much so that there was a real danger of missing the next act on the smaller Kingfisher stage, as I just did not want to leave. The boys gave it their all to a depleted and bleary-eyed early morning audience. Not pausing for breath, we sprinted over to the Kingfisher stage to catch Fluctus Quadratum. Imagine being trapped in a small room with soaring synth riffs reminiscent of Pink Floyd and Marillion, and just as you catch your breath you are hit full in the face with In the Court of the Crimson King. Magnificent.
The next two hours were a blur of fantastic prog, but all subtly different. Messrs Paul Dennis (guitar & keyboards), bassist Mark Bloxsidge and drummer Nik Szymanek, collectively Trilogy, who reformed last year to celebrate their 40th anniversary, served up a powerful mix of melodic guitar rock, reminiscent of ’80s era Rush. Next, with frontman Davy Clinton at the helm, Eyes of Albion entertained the crowd, with their blend of melodic heavy rock.
Then, BAM! Scotland’s EBB hit the Swan stage – their mission to bring prog to the people. Five women, one guy and a very BIG sound, fronted by Erin Bennett.
Playing tracks from their latest album, Mad & Killing Time, guitarist, vocalist and front-person Erin Bennett, along with the enigmatic Kitty Biscuits on vocals and assorted percussion, took command of the stage and the audience. The powerhouse rhythm section Anna Fraser and Bad Dog propelled the band whilst the double keyboard line-up of Nikki Francis and Suna Dasi added power and subtlety in equal measures. Hugely enjoyable.
Straight to the other end of the tent and Haze, where we were treated to the twin-necked guitar attack of the McMahon brothers, and joining them for them on stage was Catrin Ashton who elegantly wove her magical flute work into the songs. Now in their 45th year, they opened their set with The Night taken from Cellar Replayed (1998), before moving on to The Last Post from their latest studio album, 2020’s Back to Bones. They later revisit it with See You on the Other Side and a great version of A Call to Arms. Concluding their set, the band go back to 1984 for a rendition of Mountain. Haze perform an intricate blend of folk, prog and even metal – incredible musicianship flavoured with their own blend of humour. Got to love those wizard hats!
Haze were the only band to appear twice on the bill, as they opened up with their “fun” band Treebeard on Sunday morning – more on them later…
A quick look at the watch and I can’t believe it’s only 3:50 in the afternoon. Now ready on the Swan stage are the delightful Spriggan Mist, a band you just can’t afford to miss – pipes, whistles, wailing guitars and the ethereal vocals of Fay Brotherhood, all held together by the insistent bass lines of Baz Cilia. As if this was not enough, you then have Jadoo tribal dance with a sword wielding belly dancer.
Time for a quick cuppa backstage, then the crowd-pleasing Space Elevator blast out their version of contemporary rock, fronted by flamboyant lead singer ‘The Duchess’, who commanded the stage in her checked cat suit and leather jacket, accompanied by the riff work of guitarist David Young.
Drawing from their three studio albums, their self-titled debut, II and last year’s Persona Non Grata, and powered by the rhythm section of Brian Greene on kit and Chas Maguire on bass, the quartet thundered through their funky, melodic and hard rocking set with authority, truly captivating the audience.
Powerful and foot stomping as this was, we rush over to the Kingfisher stage, which is easy to neglect with all the headline acts in one tent. Luckily, we got there just in time to catch Landmarq, seasoned proggers and firmly established within the UK Prog rock scene and, as always, the set was faultless.
Early evening and time for the most anticipated set of the day – and a chance to watch and listen to Corky Laing’s Mountain.
Age 75, Corky is an actual beast of a drummer, bashing the skins and smiling manically, stopping only to regale the audience with the rock ‘n’ roll origins of each song. A seasoned and entertaining raconteur, he has the audience in the palm of his hands whilst treating us to old favourites like Nantucket Sleighride, Yasgur’s Farm, Long Red, Mississippi Queen and the Bruce/Brown classic Theme from an Imaginary Western.
The story of his two gold discs for the Woodstock live albums is hilarious, as he never actually performed that day. He added the drums in the studio, for both Mountain and Ten Years After’s Going Home, due to the failure of drum mics at the actual performance.
It’s not yet 8:00pm and we still have the headliners Curved Air and Ten Years After. So much great music in one day!
Sonja Kristina and band take to the Heron main stage first, and though everyone may be waiting for some Back Street Luv, there’s a whole set of fantastic music beforehand, with tracks culled from all of Curved Air’s ’70s albums, with the exception of North Star, plus the rocking Stay Human from the 2014’s North Star. One thing that struck home early in the set was the skill and dexterity of the musicians, which brought the material to life. A fitting tribute to the music and all the past members of Curved Air.
With the skies darkening the stage came to life, the music now embellished with spectacular lighting. Sonja Kristina’s voice has lost none of its emotion and power, as she ably demonstrated with a fantastic version of Marie Antoinette. Crowd pleaser Vivaldi allows Grzegorz Gadziomski to captivate the audience. Great set…
Ten Years After still boast original members Chick Churchill (keyboards) and Ric Lee (drums), with Marcus Bonfanti (vocals & guitars) taking on the mantle of the late Alvin Lee. The bass is handled by the legend that is Colin ‘Bomber’ Hodgkinson, who I last saw many moons ago at Donnington as part of the Whitesnake commandos.
Ten Years After still deliver a hard-hitting, twelve-bar blues set, and every song seems to be a classic – Choo Choo Mama, Love Like a Man, Hear Me Calling (featuring a fine organ solo from Chick Curchill), a rip-roaring version of I’m Going Home and, offering a lighter moment, an ‘unplugged version of Portable People…
Phew, all this in one day and still two more to come…
[All live photographs by Chris Simmons]