The Bedford, Balham, London
Sunday, 10th September 2023
A warm early mid-September day kindly greeted both audience and performers as they arrived at this lovely venue buried deep in a more salubrious ’burb of South London. The audience had arrived in good time for the 1:30pm start of this by now established annual fixture in the London prog calendar, and we slowly made our way from pub to stage area, full of anticipation.
Once settled behind our tables, cabaret style, easing us gently into the day’s agenda were Matt Stevens and Kev Feazey of The Fierce and The Dead, with guitar and bass improvisations that started off with gentle waves of sound that put me in mind Manuel Göttsching’s more contemplative works. Matt will later up the ante considerably as he gets to run the gamut of his beloved pedal board, while Kev delivers a solid anchor and stops Matt from playing “tunes” throughout. Kev “only read the manual on the way here” to one of his pedals, “let’s see what it does”. As you might gather, it was all very much on the hoof, as was only to be expected given that the original plan was for Matt to improvise with keyboard whizz Andy Tillison, who was sadly unavoidably detained at home with an ear infection.
The second piece saw Astronomy Domine get the bus to North Manchester via A Forest somewhere near Rushden, and was probably the piece that worked best. Rumbling spires and oscillations aplenty! Kev’s fulsome space whispering turned the last piece quite close to Eugene’s axe, but they got away with it. Their set was not entirely successful but the bits that worked buried the bits that didn’t. A good start to the day,
Four untitled improvisations
Matt Stevens – Guitar, Pedals, Mobile Phone, Mike Stand
Kev Feazey – Bass, Pedals, Voice
Links: Matt’s Facebook | Kev’s Facebook
Next up, all the way from deepest Cornwall of all places, were upcoming (or have they arrived? This scene isn’t my usual haunt, so I dunno!) Britproggers The Emerald Dawn. They like long ’uns do this band, in the hour or so they played, there were all of four songs! I must admit this isn’t something I would normally listen to, but in the spirit of fairness I had listened to the new album before heading south. Live, those songs possess an energy that is only hinted at in the recorded versions, as should be the case for any band worth its pasties in my never ’umble opinion.
The impressive musicianship of the players and the tightness shows a band who know each others’ musical quirks inside out, and Ally Carter’s fine guitar and sax playing and David Greenaway’s nimble fingered six-string bass playing, along with their studious expressions, provide the furrowed-brow fulcrum on which drummer Tom Jackson and keys player, singer, and occasional flautist Tree Stewart perform their own exuberant magic, and a natural focus for this audient’s never wandering attention. You can bet that 75% of gig photos of this band are of Tree in full flight! Mine certainly were.
The Arabesque section in otherwise Celtic-tinged epic Out of Time had my companion and I briefly doing the sand dance – while seated, I hasten to add. That certainly put a smile on my face! Having left my usual jazz, angular, and avant preferences somewhere near Watford Junction, I quite enjoyed that, which may surprise you. It certainly did me!
As Darkness Falls
Shadow in Light
Out of Time
Tree Stewart – Keyboards, Piano, Flute, Vocals
Ally Carter – Guitars, Tenor & Soprano Saxophones, Keyboards
David Greenaway – 6-string Bass Guitar
Tom Jackson – Drums
Links: Website | Facebook | Bandcamp
The afternoon set was headlined by those enduring denizens of my crumbling hometown, The Enid, a band who will be 50 years young next year! Tempus fugit and all that. This was after an hour’s break, during which the audience headed for the noisy pub area, no doubt upping the already shouty ambient volume. In the break, stage manager Graham Harris had the unenviable task of fitting The Enid and their equipment, which included a huge bass drum, on to the relatively small stage area, something that was only partly possible as the two guitarists performed at floor level throughout. Leader, founder and only original member, the irrepressible and unique spirit that is Robert John Godfrey was in fine fettle. Frailer nowadays, as can only be expected, none of us are getting younger, his fire still burns, oh yes, as a fine low level rant against kowtowing to those with the media power showed us only too well.
Still, it’s all about the music in the end, isn’t it? And this latest version of The Enid with the twin guitars is certainly the most powerful I am aware of, though I admit I know little of their deeper history. Their five song set, from across four albums and quite a breadth of history, displayed the originators of true symphonic prog rock in top form, and their music had a polished power and grace that only comes from a deep well of experience and knowledge. Boy, that sentence was as full on as one of their epics! Sorry.
Being a bit of a novice at this trad prog thing, once again I am somewhat unfamiliar with the music, so my ramblings can only give at best an impressionistic take. One thing I would say though, is that the sound was gorgeous with a clarity you don’t often get in small venues. Many congrats to Richard Hunt for that.
Classical flourishes and filmic scores from Robert from behind his bank of keyboards were filled out by the rest of the band, and each number took on its own life, like operettas within a grander whole. First guitarist Jason Ducker – it seems only appropriate to use classical terminology with The Enid – deserves special mention, his playing was understated but full of vim. The highlight for me was closer and fan favourite Dark Hydraulic, which I do know, honest. The gargantuan bass drum at last showed why it was there, and boy, was that version of this staple one heavy mutha! Fabulous! If the gods are smiling, long may Robert John Godfrey delight his audience and confound his critics!
In the Region of the Winter Star
Robert John Godfrey – Keyboards, MC
Jason Ducker – Guitar
Alfredo Randazzo – Guitar
Karl Thompson – Drums
Tim Harries – Bass Guitar
Links: Website | Facebook
And so ends the afternoon on a high. Our group file out to the Lebanese restaurant over the road for some delish comestibles, reasonably priced, and of course convivial company. Suitably sated we return to the pub and the venue to reinstall ourselves behind the tables for Poly-Math, of whom my TPA colleague, the estimable Mr Rowden, has been banging on about recently to anyone who will listen. Having heard their latest album, Zenith, I concur, this feisty group of relative young ’uns (some of them may be under 40 – crikey!) have energy to grab it by the throat and give it a good shaking.
The Brighton/London five-piece are referred to as ‘Math-Rock’, but as this is Blighty we’ll call it Maths-Rock, ok? Haha… labels schmables, who cares? The edgy racket they make as they climb the musical Escher staircase is driven by Joe Branton’s pummelling bass, his guitar held in that odd Mark King posture as he arrhythmically charges round the stage, and Chris Woollison’s rabbit punches on the drums. The rock hard lumps of icing on this filling busting cake is Chris Olsen’s at times Shabaka-like rhythmic sax (there’s a lot of rhythm in this band, you’ve noticed). Sadly Chris was due to leave the band after this gig, which is a shame. I would guess they will need to replace the colour he provided on top of the keyboards and guitar to an otherwise somewhat unrelenting sound.
With a setlist that resembles chapter headings from a geology textbook, Poly-Math lay slabs of heaviosity before us in awkward time signatures, delivered at a suitable volume. Bark like a polygon! Growling prowling tetrahedron! Uberstompf over Balham! My companion noted a fleeting likeness to post-punk skronkers Blurt, and she has a point. If anything, Poly-Math are even more in your face. This band are feral! It will be interesting to see how they develop. They probably didn’t click with the more melodically inclined in the audience, which I guess was most of them, but they still got a decent round of applause. I reckon they must have known I was coming. Heheh…
PS: Jez – you were right!
Alchemy | Terra Incognita
Joe Branton – Bass Guitar
Joshua Gesner – Keyboards
Chris Olsen – Saxophone
Timothy Walters – Guitars
Chris Woollison – Drums
Links: Website | Facebook | Bandcamp
Headlining the whole shebang were Chicagoans District 97 with a rare UK appearance, a bit of a coup for event organiser Chris Parkins I’d say, and this was to be their final gig of a European jaunt, as the band were flying home the next day. There seemed to be quite a few prog-adjacent bands coming out of the North American hinterland fronted by feisty female singers around the turn of the century and beyond, and District 97 are one of those. Somewhat hard to believe given their still relatively youthful appearance, but this band have been going for 17 years!
They are highly musical, as the arpeggios and embellishments in opener Snow Country attest, thrillingly adventurous, and they’re also able to rock like a beast, and by crikey do they need to be powerful to give strong enough backing to deceptively diminutive singer Leslie Hunt, who has a voice that soars across an expansive range, bringing the metaphorical roof down as it goes. She prowls and prances about the stage with a natural gusto that is a joyous sight indeed.
Most of the set was lifted from soon come album Stay for the Ending, advance copies of which were available for us lucky punters to buy at the merch desk. A fine old racket it is too, I can tell ya! A highlight for me was Divided We Fall – “My way or the highway” declaims Leslie, and you wouldn’t argue. Another was the crunching stomp of Deck is Stacked, served with a sizeable dose of Red Hot Chilli Peppers funk. Get that hair shaking! X-Faded’s wonderful display of vocal dexterity and sheer lung power from Leslie was also a sight and sound to behold! The whole set was infused with the energy of a band who are completely into what they do, and most importantly, having a whole lotta fun. Such infectious enthusiasm transmits into the audience who were having a grand old time. I’ll even forgive them the drum solo, which was short but sweet! Phew!
Their hour on stage came to an end, as did the event, all too soon. Until next time…
Divided We Fall
Deck is Stacked
Bread & Yarn
Stay for the Ending
Leslie Hunt – Vocals
Tim Seisser – Bass Guitar
Jonathan Schang – Drums
Jim Tashjian – Guitars
Andrew Lawrence – Keyboards
Links: Website | Facebook | Bandcamp
To sign off, may I say what a well run event this was, particularly the juggling of band switchovers, which as far as us spectators were aware, was pretty seamless. For that, take a bow Graham Harris. Next up in the spotlight are the sound guys Richard Hunt and Jude Benjamin. The sound was superb throughout, no small feat when you consider the numerous level changes needed between acts. A word too for Roger Marsh who gave up his time to man the door, with a smile on his fizzog throughout. Last and definitely by no means least, cheers roaring in his ears, red roses bouncing off his shiny pate, step forward Chris Parkins, without whom, etc etc…
From this onlooker, can I just say what a great day it was – varied and good music, great company, all in pleasant surroundings. What more could one ask? Roll on A Sunday in September 2024!
[Photos by Marc Auger and Rosamund Tomlins, used with great appreciation.]
Stream the whole show on YouTube
Future shows promoted by the London Prog Gigs Facebook page:
Sunday, 22nd October: Hayley Griffiths – Tickets
Wednesday, 1st November: Genesis Piano Project – Tickets
Monday, 6th November: I Am The Manic Whale & Tom Slatter – Tickets
Wednesday, 15th November: Blank Manuskript & Dandelion Charm – Tickets
Sunday, 3rd December: Prog the Forest – Tickets