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Astoria, London 8 November 2003

The third year of the Magician's Birthday and a change of venue from the Shepherd's Bush Empire to the Astoria. I personally prefer the Astoria as a gig venue but of course there is a 10pm curfew as the GAY club starts at 10pm. Tad bizarre if you ask me as the club has a bar licence until 3am - surely they could allow live music until at least 10.30pm?

As a result Focus were on at 7pm & I missed the first two songs of their set. Only keys/vocalist/flautist Thijs van Leer remains from the 70's line-up but he has a very talented band around him, none nore so than the bassist who switched from hard rock to jazz tinged bass runs with ease. Of course the two big UK hits 'Sylvia' and 'Hocus Pocus' were played, but not just once but twice as both made reappearances in the encores! I love both tracks and it was a delight to hear them played live. Plenty of new material as well from the band's recent album, 'Focus 8' that ranged from jazz rock wrokouts to some nimble prog rock passages. Really enjoyed Focus and a great warm-up for Uriah Heep.

Uriah Heep opened in hard rockin' style with 'Easy Livin' - what a great way to open any live show! The band seem to love this annual show and the fans certainly do. They played tracks from across all their eras and highlights for me were 'Stealin' (with great crowd sing-a-longs), 'July Morning', the all -out rock of 'Too Scared To Run' and the acoustic versions of 'The Wizard' and 'Firefly'. Rarer live airings included 'Pilgrim' and 'Cry Freedom'.

The band are such a tight unit and in vocalist Bernie Shaw they have both a natural frontman and talented vocalist. Mick Box is the original Cheshire cat as he seems to love every minute of it. Former vocalist John Lawton joined in on and then Mostly Autumn's Heather Lindlay duetted on 'Lady In Black'. But no John Wetton as previously advertised which was a bit of a let down.

The show finished with the classic 'Other Side of Midnight' that has one of the best guitar riffs of all time. Then we had 'Come Away Melinda' to finish the show bang on 10pm.

Superb as always and roll on next year :) PS How about a new album AND more UK dates next year?

Review: Jason Ritchie

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