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Assembly, Leamington, 5 May

A fabulous attendance for this rare opportunity to see one of this country's greatest prog rock bands in action on UK soil, the band are quite rightly revered by many of our European neighbours rock loving fraternity and looking at the attendance at this show and the enthusiasm of the audience they also have a large and loyal home following.

As I entered The Assembly the support for the night The Paul Menel Band were already in action so all thoughts of an early bar visit were vanished and it was straight to the music,

Paul is an ex-vocalist of Prog giants IQ and this set included a large selection from that bands popular album Nomanzo in this the album's 25th Anniversary year including with exquisite acoustic guitar by Steve Harris a stirring 'Common Ground', the complex 'Nomzamo' itself with it's Genesis vibe and after teasing us with 'will they/won't they play some blues' a stunning 'Still Life', proving that prog and blues can meet.

For me the band's sound has echoes of early Marillion (no bad thing in my opinion) and Paul's voice for sure has touches of Fish's Marillion era style and emotion, for tonight's gig the line up included a special guest on keyboards, prog rock superstar Martin Orford who has worked with IQ, King Crimson and John Wetton to name a few and when introduced to the crowd he received a fantastic ovation.

Another set highlight was the gentle but lyrically powerful 'She's Up On the Chair Again' and to close their part of the evening a real treat, a cracking cover of Floyd's 'Comfortably Numb', with Steve pulling off the solos to perfection.

I caught just a little of Paul's set at last years Cambridge Rock Festival and was impressed with his vocal delivery and stage presence, this performance just cemented that for me.  The Paul Menel Band release their debut album 'Into Insignificance I Will Pale' later this month and on the strength of this display I'll be queueing up to buy it.

On to Pendragon a band that have been flying high again since the release of the 2008 masterpiece and extremely well received 'Pure' album which showed the band with a rockier edge, this was followed last year by the equally impressive 'Passion'.

Pendragon are as tight, full of power and quality a four piece band as you could ask for and in my opinion like the legendary four piece bands of rock legend like Led Zeppelin is made up of four top of the tree musicians all masters of their craft that gel together perfectly.

Nick Barrett's guitar work is always simply stunning and every Pendragon gig is a show case for all rock guitar lovers, whether he is rocking his way through the aggressive prog/metal numbers or playing in sublime emotive style on the gentler material, his vocal style brings a real heartfelt honesty to the music and as a songwriter/composer he is right at the top of the tree.

Clive Nolan is a fabulously talented keyboard master and musical arranger always adding depth and flourishes to the bands sound while Pete Gee on bass and Scott Higham on drums (the latter for me a real character and a mix of John Bonham, Keith Moon and Thunder's Harry James, a real star) are as solid an engine room a prog/rock machine could ask for.

The set list tonight almost perfect, just the addition of 'Paintbox' for me would have improved it, but with such a high quality back catalogue and a scorching new album to pick from what can you do !!.

The Passion album was - as expected - well represented including the blistering opening brace (also first two numbers on the album) of 'Passion' and 'Empathy', both numbers full of power and awesome riffing.  Other highlights from the current release the thought provoking 'This Green and Pleasant Land' combining beautiful melodies with serious social commentary with the addition of exquisite lead guitar, and 'Skara Brae' full of rich vocal harmonies, a real light and shade number with its segments of both hard edged rock and gentle passages.

From 'Pure' the album that marked the resurgence of the band as a major force in prog rock a pair of high octane rockers 'The Freak Show' and 'Indigo' that albums explosive opener.

Plenty of visits also to the bands epic progressive rock past including the uplifting 'A Man of Nomadic Traits' from the recently re-released 'Not of This World' album, a delightfully upbeat and crowd pleasing 'Nostradamus (Stargazing)' with the crowd in great voice and my track of the night (partly making up for no 'Paintbox'!) a breathtaking 'Breaking the Spell' a spectacular performance of one of the all time great prog rock numbers.

Encores were both epics, firstly the mammoth 'World's End' followed by a pumped up joyous 'Masters of Illusion'.

This was a fabulous gig: a quality support band, a magical performance by the headliners, effective back screens adding to the show, the loyal Pendragon army in fine form and voice, the venue's lighting (plenty of white light for us photographers, thanks guys, owe you a pint!) and sound as always top draw.

Must say the atmosphere at this gig was as good as any I have attended and also a special mention for the Assembly staff for their usual outstanding job including the front of stage security guys the best in the business, an aspect that hadn't gone unnoticed by Nick Barrett.

Review and photos by Andrew Lock

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