Trading Boundaries, Fletching
Saturday, 18th November 2023
A few years ago I commenced a review with the following lines:
“Every now and again in the grind of ‘Real Life’ something special happens and it makes you think to yourself, ‘That’s what life is about… that’s why we keep ploughing on, just for those moments.'”
Those words were about the 2017 album Detachment by Barock Project, which blew me away at the time. Well, I could just as easily use the same lines for how I felt about the experience of seeing Barock Project recently at the rather exclusive but wonderful Trading Boundaries, deep in the Sussex countryside. I have been desperate to see this band live ever since that revelatory review over six years ago, hoping they would tour the UK or appear at a festival here. Alas, I came to the conclusion that, for the foreseeable future, if I wanted to see this band in action I would have to go to the only venue they ever appear at in the UK… or go to Italy!
Let’s put this gig in personal context: I had spent the previous three or four weeks suffering with a rather unpleasant and persistent virus, and nearly decided not to make the five hour drive from South Devon as I still felt a little under the weather. However, I dragged my proverbial arse halfway across the country – some pre-gig drinks with my wife and a chat with our old friend Peter Jones certainly helped the recovery process – and then we sat down for a rather delicious meal with a good bottle of wine – this is the sort of gig going experience my wife Bronwen can really appreciate!
Peter Jones (of Camel and Tiger Moth Tales) was the support act, playing a solo acoustic set with guitar and keyboard, based on his Tiger Moth Tales albums. I was surprised to find quite a few of my fellow dinner guests unaware of Peter Jones as ‘Tiger Moth Tales’, or his time with Camel since 2016. It seems there are still plenty of Prog fans yet to hear about the various projects of this very skilled blind musician. Within a few short songs it is safe to say that the crowd was very impressed indeed, marvelling at the quality and warmth of Peter’s voice and his musical skills. Peter focused nearly half of the set on his recent and more acoustically leaning The Turning of the World, including the breezy title song and the nostalgic reflection on the rise of automation and AI sweeping away traditional jobs and crafts in The Lock Keeper.
The most touching new song played was We Will Remember, written in memory of Big Big Train singer David Longdon, who died almost two years to the day before this gig. Peter has always had an ear for melody and words to touch our hearts, and this elegiac song is soaked in sadness but also warmth for a friend. The more upbeat Try lifts the mood before Pete goes down a more pastoral path in Hygge, which is a song Tony Banks could have written at his ’70s peak. No Tiger Moth Tales gig can be complete without the glorious nostalgia of A Visit to Chigwick, which has the usual bewitching effect on the room. Pete wraps up his short but sweet set with his optimistic ‘Lockdown’ song Still Alive. It was not remotely surprising to hear from all those diners who did not know Peter Jones beforehand that they were blown away by the musical skill, vocal excellence and warm charm of the Tiger Moth Tales man… but it is not the last time we would hear from him this evening.
Taking the Dawn
Turning of the World
The Lock Keeper
We Will Remember
A Visit to Chigwick
The anticipation gradually rose in the room as we awaited this highly talented Italian band, and they did not disappoint. These confident, stylish young men strode onto the small stage and immediately captured the room with a flowing and melodic Back to You from their early 2012 album Coffee in Neukolln. This folk-infused romp is a great way to grab the crowd, and even if you do not know the music it doesn’t matter as they sweep you along on their musical wave. The much more recent and very ironic Happy to See You is next up, pulsating and shimmering with sheer class, with finely played piano and great harmony vocals. The ear worm melody and memorable lines of the chorus entice you in, concealing the underlying bitterness of this clever lyric, written by tonight’s support act Peter Jones. Barock Project are an intelligent band, able to touch on interesting ideas and complex emotions within gorgeous and sometimes thrilling musical frameworks. This was going to be quite an evening.
Luca Zabbini on keyboards (and sometimes acoustic guitar) is the focal point of the band, acting almost like a classical composer with his keyboard mastery and excellent vocals. Apparently, one of his main intentions when establishing Barock Project was to combine classical influences with the power of rock, and this is exemplified in the roller coaster ride of Ashes, strangely the only song played at this gig from their most recent 2019 album Seven Seas. Zabbini switched smoothly between delicate piano sections, to soothe the heart, and much more flamboyant and exciting keyboard passages to set the pulses racing.
Detachment was the album which captured my heart in 2017, and they delve into that next, changing the tempo completely as the band, apart from Zabbini, leaves the stage and Peter Jones walks on to sing Alone. Luca delicately plays the piano as Pete wistfully sings a lilting version of this song, able to intuitively interpret the lyrics of another song he wrote with Barock Project. Later in the set Barock Project returned to the brilliant Detachment with an electrifying rendition of Broken, featuring Alex Mari on tremendous lead vocals and some sizzling guitar from Marco Mazzuoccolo. Interestingly, throughout that great song, visible just off stage left sat Pete Jones, mouthing every word of yet another song for which he wrote the lyrics… and he was probably itching to sing it on stage with the band as well!
The album which rather surprisingly features most at this gig is the 2015 release Skyline, with no less than five songs played, starting with the ‘mini-epic’ title track, commencing with Zabbini on acoustic guitar in the style of a sailor’s ballad, with more than a little hint of Jethro Tull. The story takes a dramatic twist about four minutes in when Mazzuoccolo blasts in with a Martin Barre-like guitar riff and outstanding drummer Eric Ombelli clangs the cowbell and a whole battery of drums – just how ‘Prog’ can a band get?! It sounds fantastic and is just great fun as it rolls along with a maritime feel. This epic narrative ploughs forward with increasing power and intricacy, Zabbini carrying everything along on his keyboards, including the sounds of a very Tull like flute passage towards the end. The Skyline album dominates the middle section of the set with the orchestral Overture, the driving rock of Roadkill, the swirling Spinning Away and the expansive Tired, all sweeping forward with such melodic quality and crisp rock power. Alex Mari was particularly impressive on vocals on Roadkill and Tired.
Amidst that sequence of great songs Barock Project treated us to a new song, Lost Ship Tavern, one of the first to be played from the album they are currently writing. This song really stood out and like Skyline it seemed to have quite a nautical feel to its flowing progression. Indeed, this song had such an intoxicating effect that quite unusually in a Prog crowd it induced at least a couple of the seated crowd to get on their feet and dance joyously off to the side… any resemblance to my wife Bronwen is purely coincidental, honest! (She just couldn’t resist the rhythms and sway of the song… and why not?!) If this infectious song is any indication of the quality of the new album then we are definitely in for a great treat. The main gig ended with an energetic version of Rescue Me, another song taken from the Detachment album, and the reception was tumultuous.
Of course, they were not going to leave us hanging on that song and returned for their encore. I was praying I would hear the unmistakable classical intro of their live tour de force Fool’s Epilogue… and I was not to be disappointed. If you want any idea of the excellence and thrill of this album (and the live experience of Barock Project) then I suggest finding a copy of their 2016 live album Vivo, which features a stellar version of this wonderful musical explosion from their Coffee in Neukolln album. This is a truly stunning live number with the whole band in glorious unison, underpinned by Francesco ‘Sherman’ Caliendo’s thunderous bass and Ombelli’s crashing drums. Marco Mazzuoccolo dazzles on electric guitars and Alex Mari’s voice bellows heroically into the storm of this titanic song. All the time, keyboard wizard Zabbini is conjuring magical sounds out of his array of keyboards and just generally orchestrating this fabulous band. There is a thrilling interchange between the keyboards and guitar which never fails to give me an ‘ear-gasm’ in its thrilling flamboyance and sizzling power. Can you tell I like this song?! Well, live it swept all before it with its mixture of classical majesty and electrifying rock. It came to a rousing end and the whole venue were instantly on their feet. Just a fantastic end to a brilliant gig.
I started this piece talking about going there ‘feeling under the weather’, but I can honestly tell you that a dose of Barock Project (along with a fine meal and some good wine) certainly did the trick and next day I felt fine… can Prog cure viruses?! The mind and body are strange things and sometimes you just need to put yourself in a different space to feel differently. After that gig my main feeling was Joy.
It was a long journey but the beauty of this charming venue and the outstanding quality of this wonderful band made it completely worth it. The director of Trading Boundaries, Michael Clifford, is clearly a massive Barock Project fan and basically ‘curates’ them to come to play at his venue. Michael should be commended for supporting them playing in the UK. My advice is, if this band comes to play anywhere near you, I strongly suggest you make the effort to see them… and if they don’t come anywhere near you, then make the effort to travel to see them – you really will not regret it! Barock Project in concert really are spectacular and a very high-class progressive rock band – let’s hope more wake up to this sleeping giant of a mega talented band.
[Photos by Adrian Stonley (used with kind permission – thanks Adrian) and Leo Trimming.]
Back to You
Happy to See You
Alone (featuring Peter Jones)
Lost Ship Tavern (new song)
Luca Zabbini – Vocals, Keyboards, Acoustic Guitars
Marco Mazzuoccolo – Electric Guitars
Francesco ‘Sherman’ Caliendo – Bass Guitar
Eric Ombelli – Drums, Percussion
Alex Mari – Vocals, Acoustic Guitar
Peter Jones – Vocals (for Alone)