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Winter’s End Progressive Rock Festival: Day Two

The The Drill Hall, Chepstow
Friday, 12th April 2024

‘Winter’s End’ is a lovely little festival in the picturesque town of Chepstow just on the Welsh side of the River Severn, held normally in March/April. Fully indoors, it doesn’t matter if it rains, and most accommodation is within ten or twenty minutes walk of the old brick Drill Hall venue, which has the feel of a cosy tin hut and is a few minutes walk from the river and Chepstow Castle.

A really nice bunch of prog rock enthusiasts run the event, and credit is due to head-honchos Stephen Lambe and Huw Lloyd-Jones for always securing a fabulously varied line up, twice a year with ‘Summer’s End’, and to a great crowd of friendly people who attend regularly. Huw, alongside his worthy relatives also runs the bar, and his son plus partner’s business inhabits the kitchen. Their food is truly yummy and the service most friendly and welcoming, and although it’s a completely different, and a sometimes alarmingly tropical climate and ecosystem in there, I’ll be back for the chilli, the vegetable curry, and certainly the cauliflower bites if nothing else!

Discounted tickets are always on sale for the next festival, and loads are snapped up while the prospective attendees are still savouring the aural delights of the current one, despite the line-up not being fully announced, if at all. Of course, this all applies to ‘Summer’s End’, held in October.

Summer's End Progressive Rock Festival

The main impressions I receive from some of those who have yet to wend westward is that, a) it’s a bit out of the way for all those not living in Bristol, Bath, or the whole of Wales, and b) accommodation is hard to come by. This was my second trip, travelling from London by train, and OK, I’ve a head start from there, but it’s really not that bad a journey, despite on this occasion the cancellation of my intended train, and the anticipated vagaries of connecting trains at either Newport as it was with this change of train, or Gloucester, and a person trespassing on the line which delayed me for a further forty-five mins. Three weeks earlier, there had still been a flat available in the converted house where I stayed, five minutes walk away, plus a few places about fifteen minutes further.

More reasons to go are that there is just the one stage, so no clashing of interest, all schedules running like clockwork but with room to breathe if necessary; it’s always with brilliant sound quality, and stunning lighting, as would befit any major concert hall. Generous breaks between the bands at strategic anticipated prime hunger times enabling social mingling with fellow fans and band members alike. Plus, late night drinkie/convo opportunities in the nearby ’Spoons until 1 am, reinforcing the general overall camaraderie.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t even attempt to get away until the Friday this time, so sadly had to forgo the Thursday evening openers, Tribe3, and Jump, but, despite the aforementioned journey, I arrived the next afternoon in good time for a warm welcome from my hosts (complete with scrummy Welsh Cakes) who had actually offered, unnecessarily, to meet me at the station! I settled in and then trundled up the road for the second evening’s entertainment of two wonderful bands.


The Beatrix Players at Winter's End Festival 2024

The pleasingly well attended venue most enthusiastically greeted this seven-piece ensemble, who presented gorgeously crafted songs in a lively prog-classical, sometimes medieval-ish style, mostly representing their recent album Living & Alive. I could detect more than a hint of a nod to a particularly inspirational icon, Kate Bush, particularly her ‘80s’ output as a clear influence in the poppier numbers along with some Tull-like flute trillings. However, these particular songs, as reflective as they were uplifting gave an impression of being both fresh and timeless at the same time.

The Beatrix Players at Winter's End Festival 2024

Band founder, Amy Birks, most recently seen as a solo artist, was clearly relishing her last time on stage for a while as she is shortly to take a brief hiatus for evident family reasons. I found her superbly expressive, deliciously toned voice almost instantly filling my heart with both joy and awe as she effortlessly graced our ears with her impressively wide mezzo-soprano range, and on occasion reminiscent of Annie Haslam, with a natural understated vibrato. As keyboard player, Matthew Lumb, and multi-guitarists Oliver Day and Tom Manning provided the melodious accompaniments, Amy’s mellifluous vocals blended most lushly with harmonies from her drummer Andrew Booker, and also from John Hackett who as usual guested on various flutes, including his intriguing flip-head model which created a warm open sound that so suited the songs on which it was employed.

An extra attending influence also became delightfully apparent, as Amy announced that her soon to emerge new addition to her family was making her embryonic presence firmly felt, as Amy sang – and I’m not surprised, as it was truly beautiful! Singing for two!


The Fierce And The Dead at Winter's End Festival 2024

A complete contrast to the stage’s earlier incumbent (the sort of bill I like), and no longer a 99.9% instrumental band, the erstwhile intrepid four from Rushden, via London, had already developed their set to largely incorporate songs. Yes, actual songs, from their most recent album, News From The Invisible World which was conceived, rehearsed, and recorded remotely during the pandemic and in lockdown times.

A blast of classic choon faves, Magnet (In Your Face), the frenetic 1991, and a couple of Part(s), served to keep the diehard old(er)-school fans happy, and a nice segue, from the new backtracking to old, revealed the truly organic development as Photogenic Love morphed seamlessly into Flint!

The Fierce And The Dead at Winter's End Festival 2024

When announced as the Friday headliner, chief guitar wizzo Matt Stevens had humbly declared that this honour was akin to playing in the Prog World Cup! From the get-go he strode around his quarter of the stage, playing with such ferocity as if fending off a continual demonic possession attempt, while trading killer buzz themes with his stalwart support in the fight against the apocalypse, Steve Cleaton, on the opposite side of the stage. Now firmly ensconced on keyboard, additional vocals, and percussion, Orange Clocks’ Thomas Hunt beavered away at the back, swelling out the sound, making me wonder how they previously managed without him. Tom’s presence not only frees up Matt to concentrate solely on guitar, but shows absolute proof live how far the band have progressed their sound.

Kevin Feazey’s performer/producer multi-brain, and stage confidence, has evolved to effortlessly master singing live alongside chugging bass duties, and what a genuinely individual and sonorous tone he had been hiding all these years! Understated emotion and introspection peeps out and seeps through these odes to modern life’s complexities! I couldn’t see how anyone in the room could fail to have been moved by Nostalgia Now – not just with Kev’s absorbing vocals, but the whole sombre shift in feel, tone, and indeed, speed! The tightest on skins in the world, and of Olympian drumming contender-ship as could ever be, Stuart Marshall, usually to be found driving along those head banger riffs, was finally allowed a slower pace during that most goose bump-inducing track from the newest album. Prior to that, Shake The Jar, plus the surely to become audience sing-a-long favourite Wonderful, and the erstwhile anthem Truck propelled the set along bounce by positive life-affirming bounce! What A Time To Be Alive! Oh yes indeed!

The Fierce And The Dead at Winter's End Festival 2024

[All photos by Rosamund Tomlins]



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