IQ Weekend – The Met, Bury
Friday, 19th & Saturday, 20th January 2024
For one weekend in January, the Northern town of Bury in England becomes the beating heart of IQ and their fans. They gather from across the UK, Europe and further afield for two nights at the modest but delightful venue of The Met in the company of this legendary and charismatic melodic progressive rock band. This weekend is not really for the casual gig goer – the hall is filled with many familiar faces who have been following this band literally for decades. During the opening day of the weekend, the IQ fan Facebook group page had been graced with a joyous thread in which fans, whilst clearly travelling to the venue, excitedly recounted their first live encounters with this veteran band. Some fans were able to date their live connection with IQ back to the early ’80s, right up to more recent fans attending their first ever IQ gig experience… and all are welcome. This was my first experience of a full IQ weekend. What struck me was the friendliness of the fans gathering beforehand and in the auditorium. It may sound corny but the ‘IQ family’ really is rather welcoming. Cards on table – I’m a lifelong IQ fan, so this review will inevitably be coloured by my great appreciation of this special band.
The ‘clank tingy tingy’ chimes of Narrow Margin, from Subterranea, immediately tells the crowd that this is not going to be a ‘run of the mill’ show as IQ start the weekend with a nailed on classic epic piece, with distinctive back projected images, including the accelerated train journey, adding to the excitement. The band are clearly in good shape and the crowd ride the crest of a wave – and we have only just started. Soon, the deeper cut of Fading Senses from a fave album of mine, Ever, is showcasing Pete Nicholls’ great quality vocals, and some fine bass work from the underrated Tim Esau. Resistance song Stay Down continues to demonstrate that vocally Pete is on top form, gracing it with such sorrow, as the whole band swings into pulsating action on the thumping Subterranea.
IQ have a history of ‘road testing’ new material in embryonic form, and two new songs are presented over this weekend – Plinth on the opening night, a promising song which moves between intricate beauty (with both Mike Holmes and Tim Esau on 12-string guitars) and more grandiose rock passages, it bodes very well for the next album. Paul Cook’s drumming is particularly impressive in the more complex sections, and the crowd absolutely love it.
IQ later break my heart with the gorgeously beautiful Closer, from Frequency – the opening so delicate and crystalline that it’s impossible for it not to touch one’s Soul… and then there’s the reward of the triumphant and joyous mid-section rise as Neil Durrant’s keyboards blast out as Nicholls sings defiantly. It’s heroic, touching, uplifting and simply blows me away every time. Such a privilege to hear it live again. Definitely one for my ‘Prog Funeral Playlist’ – it will be a LONG funeral!
The main set finishes with the Great War epic Seventh House, another highlight in a career of wonderful songs. However, this performance saw a rarity for me – an error by IQ live! Neil Durrant stumbled on an intricate piano part and it had to be restarted. I heard later that he suffered a bit of cramp. However, two things emerge from this for me; the crowd were patient and did not worry one jot that there had been a slight error – this is live music after all – and the band dealt with it coolly before rolling smoothly on. What this little incident reminded me is that, firstly, IQ are still human, and secondly, this is bloody hard stuff to play! Every Persian rug has to have one error in the stitching so as not to rival the perfection of God – perhaps this was IQ’s ‘Persian Rug’ moment?! Whatever, by the end the crowd are singing along as this sweeping piece rolled toward its dramatic conclusion. Quite a way to finish the main set – but better is to come.
The stage projections are awash with imagery from The Wizard of Oz and The Jungle Book, with snippets of Frankie Goes to Hollywood (Mike Holmes later revealing that he snuck in a quote from Ru Paul’s Drag Race!) which really stokes the atmosphere, IQ returning to the Tardis-like throb of Ten Million Demons from The Road of Bones, and the place is bouncing! IQ adeptly ride the Frequency of the joyous atmosphere to end an excellent opening night.
Another feature of the weekend is the post-gig gathering in the nearby hotel, the band happily mixing with fans who are respectful but pleased to be able to chat with their musical heroes… but how could IQ follow that the next day?
As it turned out, the Friday gig was merely a warm-up for one of the best IQ gigs I have ever seen – and I’ve seen a few! As promised, they play the whole of the classic Dark Matter album for its 20th Anniversary, to be marked by an imminent vinyl re-release. They launch into the magnificent Sacred Sound, which Peter once memorably announced as ‘featuring Professor Neil Durrant’s impressively large organ’. ‘Professor’ Durrant is indeed impressive, and the sound is outstanding, as Nicholls sings about the ‘Last Remaining Days’ over apocalyptic images. The very rarely played Red Dust Shadow is introduced by Nicholls as being about a boy scared at night by his dreams. This gem is quite a highlight, with Mike Holmes’ deft and gentle guitar and Nicholls haunting and vulnerable in his emotive vocals. Another fave of mine follows as the clocks tick and Tim Esau plays an almighty bass to drive along You Never Will – in my view one of the best of IQ’s shorter songs. Born Brilliant follows, with the surprising information from Nicholls that this started out as a ‘bluesy song’ from himself, which Holmes then worked upon! Cookie and Esau drive this leviathan of a song along with crisp precision and power, as Holmes’ spectral guitar wails and swoops over the driving rhythms.
The pinnacle of Dark Matter is the widescreen drama of Harvest of Souls, which Nicholls explains is about questioning the belief that ‘might is right’ (all too sadly still so relevant, with war and conflict in Ukraine and Gaza). Oh, and there’s also the small matter of Judgement Day! Holmes and Esau commence on delicate double 12-string guitars, with Nicholls’ tender voice solemnly intoning, before Durrant and Holmes open up with the triumphant America sequence.
Whilst Harvest of Souls is rightly viewed as a classic piece of epic grandeur, what is underestimated is the memorably moving earworm melodies and exciting rock riffs and hooks in the various different sections, particularly the thrilling passage following the snare drums and the proclamation “Praise the Lord and raise the ammunition high!” IQ go fully apocalyptic as Holmes’ guitar careers off maniacally, with Esau laying down thudding bass and Cookie’s drums exploding all over the place as Durrant paints sky-scraping walls of keyboards… it really doesn’t get much better, and IQ are really on it tonight. They stay absolutely on track through this thrilling epic, locked together to effortlessly create sound magic. The crowd are utterly entranced and roar with approval after the moving ending.
How do you follow that?
Well, you surprise everyone with a bit of a thumping ‘palate cleanser’ from the Paul Menel era Nomzamo album from 1987 in No Love Lost, followed by Durrant’s great synth solo on The Magic Roundabout, from 1985’s The Wake. For the next song, Nicholls announces that Guiding Light is one of his favourite IQ songs, feeling that it encapsulates all that is good about the band – it was very pleasing to hear the singer of one of your favourite bands agreeing with you about one of their best songs, and IQ do it glorious, emotional justice with a great rendition, dripping with harmonic excellence and controlled power.
The second new song of the weekend is Malagonia (a working title) which begins with a dark rumble, keyboards and drums to the fore. It’s great to see and hear Cookie being given more prominence with his deft drumming skills in this rather cosmic piece. A lower key eerie synth laden mid-section finishes with a ‘splash’ and the song develops into a mighty wall of sound, with Nicholls seemingly screaming into the vortex… I just cannot wait for the new album!
The serial killer psycho drama of The Road of Bones is the only song of the weekend which is played on both nights – a quite remarkable feat to play 26 songs over two nights with only one repetition. Nicholls dons white gloves and dark glasses to act out this disturbing tale, with even more menace and intensity than the night before. It really feels like there is something rather special about this Saturday night performance, the crowd entranced with the playing and the outstanding setlist, and the band feeding off the excited energy. After the calm, delicate waters of Shallow Bay, IQ take the gig Headlong into rapture with this joyous hymn from The Wake. The place goes bonkers!
Human Nature, another surprising appearance from Nomzamo, follows in an encore which fizzes with energy and positivity. After 25 brilliant songs spanning across their career, there is still one album that had not been featured. Tales from the Lush Attic is where it all started for this reviewer, 41 years ago, so it’s a great delight to find IQ bringing this marvellous weekend to a close with the delicate and uplifting middle section of The Last Human Gateway. As the crowd sing along like a choir, there is a real sense of communion between band and fans – a perfect way to end a very special weekend. I spoke with various band members after this gig and they all commented on the truly special atmosphere and chemistry of this memorable and magical gig.
IQ remain one of the truly great progressive rock band of the last 40+ years, and this celebratory weekend underlined that quality and reputation. It’s a bloody long way to Bury (although shorter for me than for the fans from overseas) but IQ made it totally worth it… I know where I will be this time next year. Bury my IQ Heart in Bury!
[TPA would like to thank Chris Walkden for his pictures of both nights – used with permission.]
SETLIST (Day One)
The Narrow Margin
From the Outside In
Plinth (New song – working title)
Leap of Faith
The Road of Bones
The Seventh House
Ten Million Demons
SETLIST (Day Two)
Red Dust Shadow
You Never Will
Harvest of Souls
No Love Lost
The Magic Roundabout
Malagonia (New song – working title)
The Road of Bones
Last Human Gateway (Middle Section)
Peter Nicholls – Vocals
Mike Holmes – Electric, Acoustic & 12-string Guitars, Additional Keyboards
Neil Durrant – Piano & Keyboards
Tim Esau – Bass Guitar, 12-string Guitar, Bass Pedals
Paul Cook – Drums & Percussion