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Resonance Festival, London

Live Review

Venue: Balham Bedford, London

Prog's brightest gather for four day fest in Balham, London.

Four days, three stages and one sparkling new fundraising festival. Resonance came about after The Gift frontman Mike Morton’s mother’s tragic death from cancer late last year. It was a huge undertaking, and although Mike had spent many years onstage as a performer, could he pull off such a huge feat? Prog was there to support him...

Thursday: Prog Stage

With Kalamus withdrawing from the bill citing technical difficulties, ex-England keyboard player Robert Webb launches the inaugural Resonance Festival with his masterclass in the Mellotron. Webb’s presentation feels like a school assembly with the keyboardist as the teacher enthusiastically expounding on his favourite subject. A few more tunes next time, perhaps?

Mostly Autumn deserve a bigger crowd than the one assembled, but it makes for a pleasurably intimate atmosphere. The set draws heavily on this year’s Dressed In Voices, but the new material more than holds its own against the back catalogue. There is a little feedback during the first song, Deep In Borrowdale, but Autumn leader Bryan Josh keeps his eye on the ball, and the band power right through it until the unruly PA settles down. Josh’s David Gilmour-esque guitar work is as powerful as it is melodic – his solos in The Last Climb and Heroes Never Die provide a thrilling foreshadow for the avalanche unleashed in the set closer Questioning Eyes

Vocalist Olivia Sparnenn is on fantastic form, soaring through Evergreen, The Last Day and Box Of Tears, and it would be criminal not to mention Anne-Marie Helder’s pitch-perfect backing vocals; all the more remarkable after she confesses to having monitor trouble. Inspiring stuff and a damn fine kick-off for London’s newest prog festival. 

Friday: Prog Stage

Made up of endless corridors and all sorts of bizarre bar-room paraphernalia, The Bedford is a vast, cluttered mansion; think Bargain Hunters set in The Shining’s Overlook Hotel, or _Cash In The Attic _featuring Hogwarts School. Friday’s line-up, too, fits the ramshackle yet endearing ethos of the venue.

Performing on the Prog Stage in front of a mass of age-worn denim and bad haircuts, John Mitchell revisits a number of well-heeled classics. In this acoustic setting, John is more He Croons than It Bites, but takes clear delight in his covers of Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes and the timeless Wish You Were Here. His good humour and cheeky irreverence sets the scene for Lifesigns, who likewise beam through a swirling, ethereal set.

Nosound headline the Prog Stage, their modesty and slow-burning delivery unshaken by the vastness of the crowd. Giancarlo Erra’s Italian five-piece are the quiet juggernauts of a European prog scene, more often dominated by Brits and Scandinavians. Their presence here is a shining indication of Resonance’s dedication to breadth.   

Synergy Stage

Fuzzy Nautilus are cacophonous and distracting, held together by seemingly nothing more than absurdity. Their set, however, draws a lot of youngsters to a festival otherwise teeming with world-weary Genesis devotees. 

Hidden in the big fat squirts of synth are shamelessly groovy guitar riffs and twisted Mike Patton-like vocals, tucked away behind song titles such as I Lost My Keys Somewhere Along The Milkyway. The prognosis? Stay tuned to hear more from these wacky upstarts in the future.

Not to be outdone, Thumpermonkey replace Fuzzy Nautilus’ huge sonic flatulence with spoken word and disjointed guitar segments, like a more diverse Young Knives. Sadly, the crowd thins as Thumpermonkey lose out to the festival’s other headliners, and compared to Nosound, they’re a difficult pill to swallow.

Jack Daniels Stage

The third headliners, who occupy the attic space known as the Jack Daniels Stage, are Also Eden. Easily the most  unashamedly bombastic band on tonight’s bill, Also Eden roar, with the likes of the subversive Think Of The Children closing out a brilliantly diverse night of music.  

Saturday: Acoustic Stage

The third day of the Resonance Festival is coincidentally Matt Stevens’ birthday. Charged with warming up the Acoustic Stage, he delivers a performance of uplifting energy and layered guitar lines crafted using his loop pedal. Oxymoron shows his skill at building a song to a dizzying peak, dropping down to a hush before roaring back, and his dexterous digits reveal their speed in Scapegoat _and _Big Sky

Newcastle singer-songwriter Jack Arthurs taps into the spirit of Nick Drake with a set full of gentle folk. There’s a sense of vulnerability in Jack’s heartfelt, plaintive delivery on The Sleeping Sea and Only Dreams Are True.

In their alter ego as Luna Rossa, Panic Room’s Anne-Marie Helder and Jonathan Edwards weave a spell over the audience with songs from their excellent debut album alongside artfully arranged covers including an epic performance of Todd Rundgren’s Tiny Demons. Anne-Marie’s voice should be declared a national treasure. It’s all quite bewitching and marvellous.

Guy Manning, ably accompanied by vocalist Julie King and second guitarist David Million, builds his set from his two Akoustik albums. Guy’s folk influences come to the fore on Margaret Montgomery, an excellent song about witchcraft, and the toe-tapping _Tears __In The Rain_ to conclude the day’s acoustic segment with wit and style.

Synergy Stage

Many prog bands claim to think outside the box. Salford’s Trojan Horse have doused the box in gasoline, set it ablaze, and are now dancing naked by the firelight. 

The quartet unleash an unholy collision of prog and punk. By the end of the first song, Fire, guitarist Nicholas’ fingers are bleeding and with the furious finale Hypocrite’s Hymn, bassist Lawrence collapses on the floor. Utterly bonkers and completely, unpredictably brilliant. More please.

The Fierce And The Dead headline the Synergy Stage – and tear the tiny room apart. Their brilliant collision of atonal metal, jazz rock and left-field riffs are complemented by the hyperactive band members, who throw themselves around the cramped stage with furious abandon. 

Prog Stage

There’s scarcely anyone in the room when Scotland’s Halo Tora glide into action on Saturday afternoon on the Prog Stage. But they don’t let this spoil the show. Their sound has elements of folk, but it’s all predicated on a guitar approach that brings to mind Mogwai. 

Re-formed Loughborough rock trio The Tirith (formerly Minas Tirith) have  a style that now brings to mind early Rush. The problem is that they’re really a competent pub-rock version of the Canadian masters.

Anna Phoebe is the first artist today to offer vitality and spirit. The violinist blends everything from Celtic inflections to gypsy jazz and rock in her instrumental set. The performance occasionally feels a little calculated. But for the first time today the atmosphere in the room crackles with expectation. 

The problem with Tim Bowness And Henry Fool is that their set tries to span Bowness’ entire repertoire, including No-Man and Bowness’ 2014 solo album Abandoned Dancehall Dreams. While the music never dips, it would have been better if the emphasis had been on either that solo album or Henry Fool. 

Introduced by editor Jerry Ewing as “The sexiest man in prog”, Robert John Godfrey is welcomed with a rousing Happy Birthday, before settling in to lead The Enid through a majestic 90 minutes. It’s a history lesson, taking in both early material and their most recent album Invicta. And yet again, focal figure Joe Payne astonishes with his vocal clarity and power. 

The night finishes with Mockingbird, highlighting the grandeur of a song with which Godfrey was so closely associated during his time as Barclay James Harvest’s musical director. It’s a climactic finale to a set that accentuates The Enid’s unique vision.

Sunday: Jack Daniels Stage

HeKz, a young Bedford band with more than a little of Iron Maiden in their swagger, are much tighter than the last time Prog saw them live. Their brief set is full of promising original material, rounded off with a screaming cover of Deep Purple’s Burn.

Mr So & So take to the stage as the energy in the room starts to flag, and miraculously reverse the day-three lethargy. Their boundless enthusiasm and incomparable musicianship is matched by the crowd’s fervour for their new music, especially the violently catchy Paperchase. Their recent album, Truths, Lies And Half-Lies, translates to this event so well, and they leave to a tsunami of applause. 

Jupiter Falls, on the other hand, are ill-prepared, inadequately rehearsed and beset by a series of technical errors that hamper their progress. The young, Leeds prog metallers clearly have something in their Avenged Sevenfold-meets-Dream Theatre bluster, but today shows they’ve got to get their priorities right before they step up.

Aeon Zen are ablaze with enthusiasm for their upcoming album, and headline the stage with a mountain of new material. Despite the majority of the festival crowd having succumbed to an early Sunday night, vocalist Andi Kravlijaca and bassist Rich Hinks howl and blast through a technical yet accessible collection of songs.

Synergy Stage

Last year KingBathMat (brainchild of Hastings-based singer-songwriter and slave to the beanie hat John Bassett) released Overcoming The Monster, a superbly cinematic piece of work, crammed with guitars and soaring synths. Today there’s no synth. However, the power rock trio set-up works well, and the Sabbath-influenced side of Bassett’s songwriting comes into its own, with the superb riff-heavy riffs songs from 2012’s _Truth Butto_n album.

A Formal Horse do indeed look quite formal. In contrast to everyone else at Resonance, there are suits and ties involved (though no horse, sadly). The Southampton quartet turn out to be a festival highpoint, performing today with jazzy stand-in vocalist Maud The Moth. With a healthy nod to King Crimson, they deal in inventive, commanding 21st century progressive rock. And guitarist Ben Short beams like the happiest guy in the world. Cracking.

Ready for something acoustic? How about Francis Lickerish’s Secret Green? Teamed with a lute, a waistcoat that looks like a carpet and a vocalist (Hilary Palmer) straight out of Tori Amos’ Tudor fantasy, the ex-Enid man serenades us with numbers from 2009’s To Wake The King, plus some “pure Elizabethan pornography”, spinning tales of a “lover and his lasses… hey nonny, hey nonny…” or something. Which they do, starting and re-starting one number to the point of Monty Python-esque absurdity.

Also flying the acoustic banner are Gnidrolog. We can’t quite believe they’re here – after two albums in 1972 the Jethro Tull-echoing bunch disappeared for 27 years, returned in 1999 and 2000… And now they’re in Balham – well, founding (very identical) twins Colin and Stewart Goldring are, in fringed cowboy shirts. It’s sort of telling in their tunes why they never made it big, athough there are some beautifully plaintive, almost AOR-ish strains therein.

Finally, we gravitate towards I Am Your Autopilot. It’s exactly the captivating, pretty contrast we need. Imagine an electro-ambient Crowded House, with a keyboard player who looks a little like Captain Birdseye (in a RAF hat, admittedly). Heartbreaking in places, rousing in others, Boards Of Canada hints dotted about – they are a beautiful act, with lush tunes coming out of their ears.

Prog Stage

With the sun blazing outside, roast dinners on the go in the pub and a glass of Pimms in our hand, it’s almost a shame to spend this summery Sunday indoors – but when Maschine are first up and firing on all cylinders you can’t complain. Catching them initially from the main room’s Shakespearean circular balcony, we’re soon drawn into the downstairs area to watch the revamped line-up – keyboardist Georgia Lewis is replaced by Marie-Eve De Gaultier – plough through three vibrant songs with barely a pause. There are many high points, but seeing drummer James Stewart unusually close-up reveals how goddamn terrific he is, and he grins like a loon throughout. Cut short after Eyes Pt 2, it’ll be good to see more than a half hour of their technoflash grooving next time.

Earlier we noticed a cheeky-looking lad wearing a Rush 2112 tee and a fez. Now we see he’s Synaesthesia’s new second guitarist Joey Frevola, and we salute him for his GSOH as well as his skill. Founder Adam Warne is a handsome focal point, tinkering with a twin phalanx of synths for computer-game widdler Technology Killed The Kids, or belting out Life’s What You Make It. Ending with the 22 minute Time, Tension And Intervention, theirs is a bold vision, taking the sound of 1981 and wrapping it in a 2014 hoodie and skinny jeans. 

It was never Mike Morton’s intention to make this festival about him or his band The Gift, and so they take the late-lunchtime slot. Newly-revived neo-proggers, the five men bring a great velveteen swish of theatre to the event, pouring passion into a set made up from their 2004 45-minute anti-war saga Awake And Dreaming. Morton’s performance draws from his love of Peter Gabriel and Genesis, and there’s some unexpectedly sprightly star-jumping from the frontman in comfy footwear and stretch denim. It’s quite emotional when Mike tells us of his late mother first hearing A&D and declaring, “You have a gift, son. Share it.” Looking happily dazed in the bar afterwards, he reveals the show was “all rather cathartic, could you tell?” Yes, we could sir – and bravo.

It’s no disservice to the rest of the bill to say that Swedes Änglagård are a huge draw. After 20 years together this is their UK debut, and the venue swells with keen appreciators eyeing up the vintage Mellotrons, the great big gong and Linus Kåse’s surprisingly tiny saxophone. The five-piece present a mindbending set of avant-classical ebb and flow, most brilliantly baffling during Längtans Klocka, but with plenty of earthy groove in pieces such as Jordrök

Time for the cherry on the cake of the weekend: LA psych-proggers Bigelf. Delayed by a probably quite pooped PA that won’t pick up frontman Damon Fox’s Hammond properly, a crowd congregates around Fox’s Mellotron as he pulls out the tape frame to show off the insides. A half hour later the band are still soundchecking, and they don’t get a chance to notice former Genesis men Steve Hackett and Anthony Phillips watching from the balcony. Bigelf have just one hour to play now, and it’s patchy until somewhere in the middle of Pain Killers’ glam extrapolation that they finally achieve lift-off. 

Fox’s guylinered stare fixes the crowd for riff-rousing oldie Neuropsychopathic Eye and here the new boys are shown a thing or two about stagecraft. You only get good at something by doing it a lot, and with two decades’ experience – plus Fox progeny Baron now on drums – Bigelf not only look fantastic but have put the work in, and have great tunes too.

New album Into The Maelstrom is one of their best, so it’s a shame to not have storming lead track Alien Frequency included tonight. But Edge Of Oblivion helps make up for it as Fox’s longtime bass player Duffy Snowhill coolly rocks his locks and guitarist Luis Maldonado is left to elegantly shred on Money Machine, which raises the spirit of Jon Lord as Fox kicks his feet up to change the presets and pummels two sides of keys à la Cali Jam ’74. Counting Sheep is the last thing we hear: a fiendish, operatic earworm to float off home with, or upstairs perhaps, where Damon and co are signing autographs and selling merch for the festival cause.

Resonance was by no means the perfect event, but as a DIY venture with _such _ambition it’s hard to knock. As £2k was raised for Macmillan Cancer Support it is prog’s community spirit that resonates as much as the acts. If you weren’t there this year make sure you’re part of it in 2015.

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