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The Assembly, Leamington 27 November 2011

Arena, photo by Andrew Lock

A prog rock feast was the order of the day at the Assembly this Sunday evening headlined by the return of progressive rock supergroup Arena on the eve of the release of their long awaited new album 'The Seventh Degree of Separation', this was also the bands only UK gig this year after a stint around Europe.

Getting the evening started were Haken a young progressive rock band from London who blend their prog with shades of jazz, technically excellent they are a six piece band who are not afraid to experiment musically.

Touchstone, photo by Andrew Lock

Next up one of the most impressive of all British progressive rock bands Touchstone, only a short set this evening but oh so sweet, thankfully the band's masterpiece 'Wintercoast' is restored to its rightful place as set opener, a superb piece of music, dramatic, powerful, and it's atmospheric spoken intro (with a little help from Mr Irons) make it a perfect first number.

The Touchstone set also included 'The City Sleeps' the title track of their breathtaking new album (also a companion piece to Wintercoast and destined to be part of an epic trilogy) and, with band and crowd bouncing as one, the high octane 'Strange Days'.

Touchstone, photo by Andrew Lock

As always with these guys, band on top form and having a ball, Kim Seviour one of the best rock vocalists around seems to get better every time I see them live and they are fast becoming one of my favourite bands.

Arena, photo by Andrew Lock

Arena have a dedicated following amongst the progressive rock fraternity and on the strength of this performance it is easy to see why.

For me the band play heavy, melodic, progressive rock/metal of the very highest quality and with the pedigree of the band members that is no surprise. the line-up includes original Marillion drummer Mick Pointer, It Bites front man John Mitchell and Pendragon keyboard wizard Clive Nolan, the line up is completed by returning bass player John Jowitt and new vocalist Paul Manzi.

With the new album in the shops the day after this gig the band performed a selection of choice material from the release including opening number 'The Great Escape' a grandiose piece of music, with rocking soaring guitar, 'What If?', the unbelievably catchy (dare I see single material in a perfect world), 'One Last Au Revoir', and the heavy rock feel of 'Rapture'.

Arena, photo by Andrew Lock

The bands back catalogue was heavily delved into and standouts included 'A Crack in the Ice' the majestic 'Valley of the Kings' a complex epic piece of music for me at times with a touch of Rush to the sound, the almost folk/prog rock combination of 'The Eyes of Lara Moon', and the final track of the night a superb 'The Visitor'.

The bands style for me combines touches of early Marillion and Genesis, but with the rock/metal touch of bands like Iron Maiden and Rush, for me it makes an excellent combination.

This was a real show, supporting the top quality music, the band used a spectacular lighting set up and impressive stage props based on the new album's art work, the band has strength and depth everywhere and John Mitchell was simply stunning all set on lead guitar,

Clive Nolan managed to produce magic on the keys while headbanging with his blond locks flying, add Mick Pointer's solid drum work, the throbbing bass work of John Jowitt and a confident display by powerful charismatic new vocalist Paul Manzi and you have a very special band and a cracking gig.

Review and photos by Andrew Lock

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