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Celebr8.3

Live Review

Venue: Islington Assembly Hall, London

Prog reviews Celebr8.3 Festival in London.

Talk about going out with a bang. As one of the biggest music events of the year for prog rock enthusiasts, the third annual Celebr8 Festival is also the last. It’s made even more special due to the final ever performance from Twelfth Night, along with the Saturday portion of the festival brimming with some of the best musical and vocal talent currently doing the rounds.

Saturday

Set within the majestic Islington Assembly Hall, the bright daylight of the outside world is quickly forgotten upon setting foot inside the darkened and atmospheric venue. The day kicks off with an immensely impressive set from Twelfth Night – powerful vocals, hair-raising synths and trippy, Pink Floyd-inspired visuals accompany the deep, intelligent lyrics the band are so well known for. 

And while Twelfth Night open the weekend’s bill, judging from the transfixed looks on the punters’ faces, they’re far from a warm-up act – the hall is packed from the moment the band take to the stage, and a throng of diehards are tapping their feet so hard to songs such as The Ceiling Speaks and Fact And Fiction that the Assembly Hall’s floor shakes. 

A tone is set, perhaps only to be destroyed by arch avant-proggers Thumpermonkey – notorious for scaring the horses at Summer’s End festival a few years back. But no: the ante is upped with scything guitars, thundering time changes and one hard-hitting set. Bordering on metallic mentalism, Asymptote is absolutely raw and blistering, with Belew-like detuned riffs. This is one of the standout sets of the event, partly due to keyboardist/guitar player Rael Jones’ air‑punching enthusiasm. 

Likewise, Karmakanic (featuring a certain Andy Tillison) continue a melodic rock theme as their tunes burst at the seams with sharp and dynamic contrasts, complex timing and imaginative lyrics. They even have the confidence to present the intricate and extensive 27-minute God, The Universe And Everything Else, which lines them up alongside their heroes Genesis and Dream Theater. 

After a break to take in venue number two (the bar across the road – see the side panel on page 119), Anathema perform a very special acoustic set, demonstrating once again why many consider them a crowning glory of modern British progressive rock. Although this isn’t the first time some fans have witnessed the band’s dynamic acoustic set, for the newbies watching Danny and Vincent Cavanagh stripping songs back alongside Lee Douglas, the effect is absolutely electrifying. Untouchable Part 1 and soulful fan favourite A Natural Disaster take on an even more poignant sense. 

With a massive year in store – Anathema will be welded to the festival circuit and touring with Finnish rockers HIM – a world premiere of lead album track Distant Satellites provides a superb looped, electronic, singalong send-off. 

To close, Andy Tillison pulls out his finest flower-power threads for a welcome appearance by The Tangent. Hitting the right note straight away with Le Sacre Du Travail’s distinctive anthem Fifth Movement: Evening TV, Tillison’s songwriting has never been stronger, nor his lyrics more pertinent. 

Lending a hand are Karmakanic’s keyboard maestro Lalle Larsson and bassist Jonas Reingold (also a Flower King, of course), Kaipa sticksman Morgan Ågren, and pipes-of-gold singer Göran Edman, with Luke Machin from Maschine all but stealing tonight’s show. Tomorrow sure has some tough acts to follow.

Sunday

It’s day two, and with a bright, warm Sunday blooming outside, Galahad are the first to troop out. 

Resplendent in a military jacket, Stuart Nicholson leads the band through a commanding set with crunching takes on Salvation 1 _and _2,_ Guardian Angel and an involving _Empires Never Last. Guitarist Roy Keyworth and (barely audible) bassist Mark Spencer are in high spirits, all stuck-out tongues and devil-horn hands. The catchy electro of encore Seize The Day gets the crowd bouncing on the Assembly Hall's sprung floor. 

A more reserved presence, Sanguine Hum have the best sound of the day. Someone calls them an ‘ambient Rush’, and there certainly is a hint of Geddy Lee in Joff Winks’ vocals. It’s brave of them to play two new songs (Cat Factory and Derision, from their Live In America DVD), but The Weight Of The World gets the warmest response from the rapt crowd. The Hum know prog fans are good listeners, and that you don’t need posturing to show them a good time.

The afternoon moves along nicely. Greg Spawnton, Kim Seviour and Steven Wilson are in here somewhere, so no pressure on Robin Armstrong for his debut show as Cosmograf. He’s tucked stage left behind banks of keyboards, the impressive figure of guitarist Lee Abraham is front-centre, and young guitar whizz Luke Machin’s stage right. Bakelite Switch goes well, but soon after, Armstrong’s Mac breaks down. If ever there was the right room to ask for an IT expert, this is it. The offending laptop’s turned off and on again, and they’re back. 

Huw Lloyd‑Jones guests on a lovely Memory Lost, the crowd particularly welcome The Man Left In Space, and Armstrong finally takes centre stage with his acoustic guitar for Capacitor’s_ The Drover_, while one Andy Tillison takes his place at the keys.

The raffle is drawn, the auction is won, and Matt Stevens leads out The Fierce & The Dead for the most fun set of the day. Their massive, sludgy, spiky brand of Crimson-hued math-prog has to be heard live to be believed. Only Stevens can play electric guitar behind his head and make it look sweet. Here we’re exhorted to clap, to dance and to play ‘prog bingo’ (by guessing the time signatures). Ark, Let’s Start A Cult and the title track from Spooky Action make for a hell of a palate cleanser before the evening’s headliners.

At last year’s event, Frost* were good, but Jem Godfrey was down to nine fingers due to a bizarre gardening accident. Tonight he’s back up to stunning speed. In fact, have the four-piece ever sounded as good as this? Cranking up with Heartstrings, they sound huge, catchy and – on Hyperventilate – jaw-dropping. John Mitchell’s guitar is the most roared-at of the day, Nathan King and Craig Blundell’s masterly rhythm section runs like an atomic clock, and new track Signs promises much of their eagerly awaited next record. The Other Me closes this lovingly organised, wisely relocated and resoundingly enjoyable institution. Here’s to Twang and Geoff’s next adventures.

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