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Progeny Progressive Rock Festival
London, Astoria, 15/16 November 2003


Saturday 15th:

Magenta Richard Sinclair In Cahoots Pallas Kevin Ayres IQ

Sunday 16th:

Kevin Ayres Arena Mostly Autumn The Enid Pendragon

Arrived a little late on Saturday and only caught the last song of the first, female fronted, band so it would be unfair to comment based on that.

A gentleman by the name of Richard Sinclair followed occasionally strumming a guitar, and accompanied by a saxophone. Not sure how this translates into prog rock, but I'm afraid to say it left me very puzzled as to what they were trying to achieve musically.

Seven piece 'In Cahoots' featured drums, percussion (basically another drummer), bass, guitar, piano, cornet and saxophone. The only way to describe this set is freeform jazz. Personally, I prefer it when the lead musicians at least make an effort to play something similar to each other, and attempt to approach the same time signature as the rhythm section at some point.

At last, a prog rock band take the stage and the bar empties out into the auditorium. Scots rockers Pallas launch into a criminally short set (40 minutes, 4 songs), and really leave the crowd begging for more. Alan Reed makes the most of his 40 minutes by jumping around almost every inch of the Astoria stage, and Graeme Murray proves again that the guys aren't short on vocal talent with some fine contributions of his own. 'Crown Of Thorns' just edges it as the highlight track.

Unfortunately, Carl Palmer had to cancel at the eleventh hour due to illness, and was replaced by Kevin Ayres and his band. I should maybe have picked up on the fact that the bar was now very full again, and only half a dozen rows of punters left in front of stage. Again, not too much resemblance to prog here - more a mix of Dire Straits and The Velvet Underground with a dash of blues thrown in. Nothing too exciting, but solid enough, musically, and bearable.

Day 1 headliners 'IQ' succeed in reducing the bar profits significantly with a great 2 hour set featuring 3 video projectors and some "interesting" stage dramatics. I'm not familiar with their music, but thoroughly enjoyed the performance nonetheless. Two medley tracks were introduced as 'newie1' and 'newie2' as they have apparently not completed the songs that comprised them yet. The highlight was undoubtedly 'The Seventh House' with it's accompanying visuals about the futility of the First World War.

Back we come on Sunday to find that the opening slot is again Kevin Ayres - who plays a virtually identical set to Saturday night. I find this strange, as surely extending Pallas' set and thus avoiding repetition for those visiting both days could have better used the time on Saturday. Still, time to have a chat in the bar before venturing inside.

Our first meeting of the day with Clive Nolan follows, with the unplugged version of Arena (Clive on a single keyboard, John Mitchell on acoustic guitar, and Rob Sowden on vocals). One thing you could not accuse these guys of was taking themselves too seriously as they bantered with the crowd and joked their way through a highly entertaining set. Rob certainly put everything in to his performance and all 3 seemed to enjoy themselves.

Next was the moment I had been waiting for, Mostly Autumn. Despite having seen them numerous times already this year, and the fact that they only had an hour of stage time, they once again put in an astounding performance and no doubt won over many new fans. The quality of their set meant it would be very hard for the following acts! I could rave on about this band forever, but I'll just say go and see them live and make your own judgement.

Another band I'm not at all familiar with followed, and while The Enid certainly have their moments when the songs get going, there are just a little too many quiet, slow sections to keep the attention. Enjoyable for the most but would be far more at home in a seated theatre environment I feel. Their fan club seemed to be out in force though, as they were well supported from the floor.

Finally, Clive Nolan returns to a full sized keys rig with Pendragon for 2 hours of true progressive music. Material from 'The Masquerade Overture', 'Not Of This World', 'The World', and 'Window Of Life' albums formed the bulk of the set. The excellent 12 minute epic 'The Voyager' has to be the highlight. Good stage presence from the band keeps the crowd bubbling nicely. I have to say I never realised how good a guitarist Nick Barrett is until seeing him live (first time today), as the guitars are often understated on the CDs in favour of the keyboards.

A great finish to a weekend that didn't always live up to expectations, but was more than worth the entry fee (22 for a weekend ticket), provided that you didn't have to spend too much time in the bar and pay the Astoria's ridiculously high prices for refreshment.

Review: Ian Pollard

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