If you pay attention here, or don’t run away fast enough when we talk in real life, you might have realised that I have an interest in SF. You might also realise that as part of that, I have a bit of a niche interest – Original SF in Musical Form. That is, Speculative Fiction which first arrived in the world in the form of music.
Not SF that’s been set to music, or TV shows with musical episodes (although I quite like good examples of all of those, too). SF that started as music.
I’ve written a little about it in the past, but here’s a chance to get in on the ground floor for something a little bit more. You just need to be prepared to back a kickstarter that’s not exactly in need of more backers… having already reached 300% of it’s target.
Music To Die Alone In Space To is a full-length LP electronic album by Spruke with a brand-new distribution paradigm that is unprecedented in digital music: every copy of the album is unique to that owner, re-recorded in full with new parts, new sounds, and a voiceover performance done by the user’s choice of performer of any gender, language, and cultural identity.
There’s a bit more detail to it than that, and some of the versions are a bit more unique than others (I’ve paid for a completely unique version, with my choices of voice actors and whatnot. Otherwise, they’re generated by different bits of randomness, different parameters and settings in the sound. Each backer version above the very basic level has different randomly generated stuff.
It’s not just the voice cast that’s different – the music behind it, whilst similar, has differences.
As for story, I’ll explain by once again pasting in a chunk of the kickstarter page:
It’s narrated by an astronaut who has been set adrift in space, cut from the cord tethering them to their spaceship by a rogue particle of space dust. Drifting away helplessly and endlessly according to the laws of inertia, they have an hour of air left to ponder the significance of what’s happening to them and all the heavens they can see in every direction.
So, if you like clever techy stuff, bleepy music and science fiction story themes… and you have the funds to back it, this looks worth the shot.
A while back I got a bee in my bonnet whilst I was listening to music on the train home from work. It boiled down thusly:
I am a fan of SF (meaning science fiction, speculative fiction or whatever else you may think along those lines). I am a fan of music – including (but not at all limited to) progressive rock.
There is a fair chunk of well known crossover between SF and prog rock, and to music in general. So I started to think a bit more… and an couple of ideas popped into my head.
Idea #1: Host an SF music listening party. This is a bit further off, and involves a bit more planning and whatnot, but is still something I’d like to do.
Idea #2: Create a collection of original SF in musical form. This now exists, albeit in a limited form.
Following up on Idea #2
I started out by unpacking a few terms and setting some rules, and by pinging my assorted online contacts and mining their brains for examples. It’s their brains as much as my own which have populated the playlist so far.
Rules & Definitions
Definition: “Original SF” – Speculative Fiction which is not an adaptation of pre-existing speculative fiction from another medium.
Definition: “in musical form” – A distinct chunk of music that can be identified in some way. A single track, a suite of pieces, an album, an EP, a performance, etc… but in this case, standing as music alone. Soundtracks, cast recordings and things which require you do anything other than listen to get the SFness don’t count. There are occasions where a theme song can fit (there’s at least one in the playlist, after a fashion), but they need to stand in their own right, without the show.
Rule: No soundtracks – Stuff that exists solely as an attachment to other media doesn’t count
Rule: Scope Limit 1 – Exclude sword & sandal / sword & sorcery fantasy. Not because it’s necessarily bad, but because there was a glut of it in the 1980s (even more than there was SF stuff in the 70s and 80s) and it’d swamp the playlist. Creating a playlist of original fantasy in music would be a different exercise.
Rule: Scope Limit 2 – Exclude horror (unless explicitly SF horror). See above.
So you can listen along…
I’ve put this together on Spotify so you can do more than just read about the music. The playlist is collaborative, so stuff can be added, but please don’t spam it with crap – If that happens I’ll just delete it and create a new one that’s locked down.
Type: Multi-part album track SFness: Following a galactic war, all planets are ruled by the Red Star of the Solar Federation, lead by the priests of the temples of Syrinx. They control all media & every facet of life. Protagonist discovers an ancient guitar & starts to be creative. Oppressive civilization is oppressive.
Rush – Cygnus X-1 (books 1 & 2)
Type: Multi-part album tracks from two albums (“A Farewell to Kings” & “Hemispheres”) SFness: Space explorer is sucked into a black hole and emerges in Olympus, where Apollo and Dionysus are dividing the human mind, leading to conflict. The explorer gradually takes on a role as a god of balance, bringing heart and mind together.
Rush – Red Barchetta
Type: Track SFness: This is “inspired by” the SF story “A Nice Morning Drive” by Richard Foster (acknowledged by both band and author, and the author is aware & fine with it), but I’ve read that it’s quite distinct from it, so I’m going to include it anyway. If somebody who’s read the story disagrees… comments are welcome.
Sontaag – Sontaag
Type: Concept Album SFness: From the artist’s album notes: “The Ancients, through a long process of trial and error, had discovered the secret of synthesizing essential energy from harmonic sound, giving them the power to reanimate extinct planets by utilising giant orbiting sonic generators. But life came at a price. The newly supplanted inhabitants of MP-5 were compelled to provide the musical fuel for The Great Harmodulator simply to stay alive.”
Nine Inch Nails – Year Zero
Type: Concept Album SFness: Dystopian, near future SF set in an increasingly aggressive post 9-11 united states as events unfold towards (and beyond) nuclear war with Iran.
Janelle Monáe – Metropolis suite(s)
Type: Multiple albums / EPs / tracks (Metropolis: Chase Suite EP, Archandroid & Electric Lady albums) SFness: Cindi Mayweather, a messianic android, is sent back in time to free the citizens of Metropolis from The Great Divide, a secret society that uses time-travel to suppress freedom and love.
Queensryche – Operation: Mindcrime
Type: Concept Album SFness: Near future / current day dystopian SF. An amnesiac drug addict starts to recover memories of his time as a drug fuelled, mind controlled assassin.
Keldian – Heaven’s Gate / Journey of Souls / Outbound
Type: Multiple Albums SFness: They’re specifically an SF themed power metal band
EDIT – October 2015 – quite a bit of Keldian (whilst still great)
Heaven’s Gate – Album of SF songs
Journey of Souls – Album – ideas around souls travelling through time & space (as opposed to bodies). Mostly original SF, except:
Hyperion (based on Dan Simmons’ Hyperion)
The Last Frontier (based on Battlestar Galactica)
Outbound – Mostly original SF songs, except:
“A Place Above the Air” (based on Dan Simmons’ Endymion)
The Silfen Paths (based on Peter F. Hamilton’s Commonwealth books)
EDIT – October 2015 – quite a bit of Keldian (whilst still great) is turning out to be based on other works, so I might have to move some more out of this list.
The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
Type: Album / Tracks on album SFness: …less than is immediately apparent, but still fitting
Not actually about battling robots.
The “pink robots” of the title (and title track) are apparently a metaphor for cancer, and the story of the title track is an analogy to the fight against illness, presented in an SFnal way. Still SF, because it doesn’t have to be about robots to be SF.
“Do You Realize” – about precariousness of existence.
Not a single SF piece, but most of the songs have themes that can be considered SFnal – particularly “soft SF” (SF based on the “soft sciences”).
Queen – 39
Type: Album track SFness: Space explorers depart for a year long voyage, but relativity means that upon their return 100 years have passed.
Devin Townsend – Ziltoid the Omniscient
Type: Concept album SFness: Ziltoid (an alien warlord) travels to earth in search of something described as “the ultimate cup of coffee”. He finds it foul, and brings his battlefleet to wage war on earth in disgust.
The RAH Band – Clouds Across The Moon
Type: Single SFness: A woman tries to contact her husband who’s fighting on mars. A connection is made, and so she has a few minutes to leave a message telling him that she misses him before the connection is lost.
Kate Bush – Experiment IV
Type: Single / Album Track SFness: Military scientists looking to create a sonic weapon… and (unfortunately for them) succeeding beyond expectations.
Zager & Evans – In The Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)
Type: Single / album track SFness: Dystopian SF depicting humanity’s decline as a result of the growth of dehumanizing technology. A modified cover version was used as the theme to the somewhat awful (yet bizarrely, regrettably watchable) “Cleopatra 2525” TV show.
Norman Greenbaum – The Eggplant That Ate Chicago
Type: Single SFness: The invasion of Chicago by carnivorous, plant-like alien.
The person who suggested this to me was joking, but they shouldn’t have been – it fits. SF can be silly, too.
Threshold – Clone
Type: Concept(ish) Album SFness: Genetic manipulation of humans leads to the development of telepathy. Enhanced humans leave the earth to colonize other planets, eventually returning to Earth centuries later.
Electric Light Orchestra – Time
Type: Concept album SFness: A man from the 1980s finds himself in the year 2095, tries to come to terms with being unable to return and adjust to his new surroundings.
Tandy & Morgon – Earthrise
Type: Concept Album SFness: Space explorer longs to return to his one love on Earth, only to eventually find that true love has always been with him… inside. (from description on wikipedia)
David Bowie – Space Oddity
Type: Single SFness: Features a space launch where things don’t go entirely to plan… You mostly know the song, I’m sure.
David Bowie – Starman
Type: Single SFness: It’s either about an alien or a deity. Who knows?
Landscape – Einstein a Go-Go
Type: Single SFness: Oddly cheery dystopian vision of a nuclear apocalypse.
Paul Kantner and Jefferson Starship – Blows Against the Empire
Type: Concept Album Notes: Particularly Sunrise / Have you seen the stars tonight (which are on spotify, whilst the main album isn’t) SFness: The story tells of a counter-culture revolution against the oppressions of “Uncle Samuel”. This leads to a plan to steal a starship from orbit and journey into space in search of a new home. Loosely based on / inspired by Heinlein’s “Methuselah’s Children”, but apparently different enough to be considered original SF in its own right.
Iron Maiden – Somewhere in Time
Type: Album SFness: Lots of “space and time” themed songs – characters taken out of their time / place in SFnal ways. Not a single SF piece, but most of the songs have SFnal themes.
Styx – Kilroy was here
Type: Concept Album SFness: Rock music is outlawed by a fascist government and the “Majority for Musical Morality”. Kilroy (a former rock star who has been imprisoned) escapes using a disguise (“Mr. Roboto”) and becomes aware that a young musician, Jonathan Chance, is on a mission to bring rock music back.
Jon Anderson – Olias of Sunhillow
Type: Concept album SFness: An alien race journeys to a new world following a volcanic catastrophe
This is not an exhaustive list. The playlist will grow and change. In writing it up, the playlist grew one album (a mistyped search found a result I’d never heard of, but which fitted better!) and was reduced by four or five songs as I researched them and found they didn’t fit the “Original” part of “Original SF”.
If you have suggestions, either go to the spotify playlist and add them (preferably pinging me a message somewhere explaining the SFness) or leave a comment somewhere I’ll see it and hope I can track it down to add it myself. Either way, I’m interested in hearing more.
Responses to my pleas for music references came from the following folks (even if their responses didn’t make the cut for some reason):
Ann (who was trying to be facetious but accidentally made the list anyway!)
It’s occurred to me that a) I’ve not posted here for a while, and b) I’ve never quite managed to write the post I keep meaning to about how I find music to listen to these days.
So here it is, knocked together in a few minutes over a lunchbreak. So don’t expect a novel or, if I’m honest, any kind of continuity.
I listen to a lot of music. I’ve written about that before. The constant challenge is marrying up discovering new music with being able to seamlessly listen to music without having to nursemaid it the whole time.
Lately, I’ve been using spotify’s “discover” section a fair bit… mostly because it’s easy to get to and my workplace doesn’t block it. Thankfully. However, it’s got a weird knack of being both transient and persistent. Recommendations I’m interested in just vanish without a trace, whilst ones I’m not interested in just keep cropping up
It also doesn’t help that much with letting me look back over my listening for a period of time and determine what I might want to pay more attention to in future.
So I got into a habit – monthly playlists. If I find something that grabs my attention (or just doesn’t make me switch off) then I bung it into a “new finds” playlist for that month. I’ve been doing this since about last November.
This means that I can look back over them and think “Wow, I listened to a lot of style-X last month and was starting to get quite miserable and mopey. Time for a change!”. It also means that I can say “I was really in a good mood a couple of months ago – I’d like to get that back” or “I’m getting a bit shouty. I was mellower in December – let’s rewind!” and then just pull up a playlist from an appropriate month and see what’s in it.
It’s been working pretty well for me so far. Even better, I can share the playlists. Which I do. So, without further ado, here are the past seven months of my work-based listening material…
New Finds – 03/2014 (Guitar & Bass Virtuoso / Ambient / Post-Rock / Hard Rock / Instrumental & Soundtrack / Blues Rock / 80s Retro Electronica / Heavy Rock / Electronica / Southern Rock / Modern Psychedelic Rock / Progressive rock)
New Finds – 04/2014 (Post Rock / Hard Rock / Psychedelic Rock / Progressive rock / Guitar Virtuoso / Heavy Rock / Progressive Metal / Alt. Prog / Doom Metal)
New Finds – 05/2014 (Post Rock / Ambient / Drone / Progressive Rock / Progressive Metal / SynthPop)
For those not in the know… I’m a bit of a progressive rock fan. Like most progressive rock fans, I’m a bit picky. I’m not a huge fan of the massively overblown late 1970s prog, or of the frequently impenetrable canterbury scene (although I do quite like a bit of Caravan or Gentle Giant every now and then).
I’m mostly into neo-prog that’s surfaced since the 1980s, and in how the influence of prog can be seen in so many other bands. With this in mind, when I found out about the Summer’s End festival, I decided to go along.
It’s a small, annual progressive rock music festival which took place int 2008 in the Forest of Dean, about 5-10 minutes drive away from a place where I used to live. Beth (t’other half at the time of writing) was taking photos of the first night’s acts, so we needed to be there early enough to check in to the B&B, so I took a half day from work to make it possible. We arrived in the forest at about 5:45pm, and got checked in to the B&B… only to discover that pretty much everybody else staying there was also there for the music.
Edale House is a fantastic little B&B, and if you’re after such a place in the heart of the Forest of Dean, I’d recommend it highly. Especially the full english breakfasts, complete with good, thick bacon and homemade sausages.
Season’s End – Friday’s Opening Act
After a quick meal at The Fountain (one of my old haunts), we headed down to Lydney for the opening act.
Now, as it turned out, I’d actually heard this lot before. I wasn’t impressed the first time around and I was a little surprised to find them on the bill at a prog festival, even on the prog-metal night, as I last saw them at a goth festival in Reading (Malediction III). However, I try to keep and open mind, and I’m glad I did… because they were actually really rather good.
Now that I’ve mentioned that, I’ll tell you that they’re called Season’s End. They’re still a female fronted Symphonic Metal band, with all that entails, right down to the obvious nightwish comparisons… but I have to say that in this case those comparisons are favourable.
Since I last saw them, they’ve changed most of their line up (thus adding to their prog credentials) and have failed to release a new album for four years (also adding to their prog credentials), but have been touring with new material and refining their sound (adding to prog credentials once again).
In short, I still wouldn’t call them prog, but on a couple of songs they were getting pretty damned close… and since I have a soft spot for good metal as well, I really enjoyed their set. When their new album eventually appears, I’ll be picking it up.
The stage lighting geek in me also forces me to point out that this festival had an ever evolving lighting rig, with a few more bits and bobs being added for each band. As the first act on, and with venue problems having delayed the full setup of the lighting rig, Seasons End were lit only by six parcans and a strobe. The fact that this was enough to actually light them and fill the stage with colour should tell any theatrical types out there why I like parcans and think that no rig should be without them.
Friday – Headliner
There was a short break after Season’s End, in which some broken lights were replaced and Threshold got set up for the headline set. I’ve not seen them live before, but I can tell you now that I’ll be seeing them again. They had an energy on stage, and Damien Wilson is a consummate frontman. He’s clearly a bit of a tart, but then that adds to stage presence and means he knows how to work the crowd.
He even covered nicely for some technical hitches early in Slipstream, their opening number. The rest of the band deserve huge amounts of credit as well, as they played a blinder of a set and really looked like they were enjoying themselves… a feeling which was contagious, and spread rapidly to the crowd.
Drummer Johanne James also needs to be awarded a large number of “how hardcore is he?!” points for playing such a high energy set merely a week after dislocating his shoulder. He still had strapping on to ensure that his arm remained fully attached to his body. If it hadn’t been mentioned, you wouldn’t have been able to tell at all from his performance.
That rounded out the music for the first night, but it was a good hour or so after that before we retreated back from the venue to the B&B… An hour that was spent talking to various members of each band. I can now reliably inform you that several of the members of Threshold need to be lauded as not only fine musicians, but also as some of the nicest people in rock.
Season’s End also need to be lauded as some of the most manic, judging by the way that most of them were happily careening around the venue like four year olds on crack. They were highly entertaining to talk to, and generally really nice people.
Saturday – Before the gigs
After a spectacularly poor night’s sleep the first full day of Summer’s End began with one of the fine breakfasts I mentioned earlier. After both of us were eventually vaguely awake, we set out for a morning’s exploration.
Doors weren’t until 12, with the first gig due for 1pm, so we had a couple of hours to kill. We decided to kill them by going to a place called Puzzlewood, near to Coleford. It’s a place I’d never managed to go to whilst I lived in the area, or even over several visits back there after I moved away. Boy, had I been missing out. Some of the most stunning scenery I’ve ever seen, and I could have easily spent a lot longer wandering around in there. Not least because it’s quite mazelike and finding our way out could easily have become an issue were it not for my rather good sense of direction.
Saturday – Afternoon Session
After that, we continued on to the venue, where we took in the beginning of Overvibe‘s set. Unfortunately, they didn’t hugely grab me… although I do like what I’ve heard online of their music. I just didn’t get into them live. It probably didn’t help that I heard most of the first song from the bar, which didn’t exactly have the best sound in the world. In fact, it sounded like somebody had set the PA to “flatulent” for their set. So we went off and did a bit of shopping nearby instead.
I might give them another go at some point, and see if that was just an “off” gig. We came back from our short shopping stint in time for me to catch the last half of Abarax‘s set. They were solid and interesting, but I’m not sure how best to describe them other than as clearly being heavily influenced by Pink Floyd (especially when they had a moderately decent stab at Comfortably Numb as a tribute to the late Richard Wright).
Their stage presence wasn’t great, however, and at a live gig I find that it’s a band’s ability to work with the audience that makes or break the gig… so overall, they were very good musically, but somehow a bit lacking. I had planned on picking up one of their CDs anyway, but was going to wait until later as I couldn’t afford to buy CDs from every band, and it was still quite early in the weekend.
Unfortunately for Abarax, Quidam came on and totally blew me away. Clearly there’s something in the water in Poland, because they’re really churning out some fine progressive rock right now. Between Quidam and Riverside they’ve got a lot going on. They had fantastic stage presence, even with what was clearly a bit of a language barrier getting in the way. They worked a couple of progged-up rock classics into their set, usually as medleys with their own songs, which certainly helped to get the audience moving for them… but to be honest, I don’t think they needed it as their own material was phenomenal.
I could see some pretty strong influences in there, but none so strongly as to make me question the band’s ability to do their own thing. They were also clearly enjoying the gig – only their second in the UK – immensely. I do think they may have been a bit frustrated at the apparent stillness of much of the audience, but I think everyone was too busy being shell-shocked that a band this good had managed to pass under so many people’s radars.
I bought their latest CD as soon as I found it, and I was far from alone in doing so. I think they got one of the biggest, most heartfelt rounds of applause of the whole festival.
Saturday – Special Guest
Then there was a short break whilst Magenta got set up and sound-checked, which gave us an oportunity to grab a bit of food and a drink, then to queue impatiently as they were one of the bands we’d both really been waiting for. They didn’t disappoint, even with some sound problems early on in the set. If the PA had been set to “flatulent” for Overvibe, it was clearly set to “prolapse” for the opening number (“The Ballad”).
However, things seemed to get sorted quickly and I got the impression that the early glitches made the band even more determined to give it their all… and they really did! I had always expected them to be one of the highlights of the weekend and that’s exactly what they were. They gave a performance full of passion and emotion, and made it all come to life in a way that not many bands can manage. They also seemed totally at home on the stage and treated the audience as friends rather than fans, which is always a plus.
Saturday – Headliner
There was then a longer break before IQ came on. Unfortunately, this break was rather too long as I’d not had much sleep the night before and I had been aching everywhere even before Magenta’s set. The result was that I only stayed for the first few songs. I mentioned the steadily evolving lighting rig earlier… By this point it had turned into what I’d call a proper lighting rig. It had grown some frontlights over the course of the day, and now had a couple of moving mirror lights, a bunch more parcans and a couple of colour scrollers, which I think came with the band.
As a result, IQ were the best lit band of the festival so far. They had clearly put a lot of work into their staging as they even came with three screens worth of video projection behind them – a bit over the top for a small festival like this! I’d not heard much IQ before this gig, but from what little I did hear before we had to call it a night, I’d quite like to hear some more to get a bit more of an idea of what they’re like.
So ended my second day of the Summer’s End festival… driving back to the B&B whilst my back was still flexible enough to fold it into the driving seat of my car and still be able to steer and operate the pedals.
Sunday – Before the gigs
Day three began in a similar way to day two, in that we had some time to pass before the start of the day, and we decided to spend it on a short visit to Clearwell Caves. We’d both been there before, but it’s always worth a visit.
Sunday – Afternoon Session
After we’d done that, we headed down to the venue to catch Glow – the opening act of the day, only to find them halfway through their set already. Clearly day three was starting earlier than advertised… Probably to counteract the massive overrun seen on day two.
Unlike the previous day, though, I thought they were a fantastic opener. Glow are a bit different in that they make a kind of psychedelic prog dub. They were upbeat, active and clearly enjoying themeselves a great deal. I held off on buying their CD for a couple of minutes… until it was announced that it was only a fiver and my resolve evaporated. I’m very glad I bought it as so far it’s been a great mood lifter.
After Glow we had Thieves’ Kitchen, who are a band I really wanted to like, but somehow didn’t quite manage to. Within the first two minutes of the set, as well as singing, the singer had played the clarinet, the castanets, maracas, a theremin and the spoons.
Seeing a rather attractive young lady dressed in a blend of goth & jazz singer garb bending over to play the spoons on her knee is one of the odder experiences of the weekend.
However, it just felt like they were trying too hard to be clever and experimental, and that somehow they were so focussed in that direction that they forgot to put any tunes in. I gave them a few songs and then decided that it was time to head off and do something else for a bit.
That something else was a walk around Lyndey Harbour. Last time I went there was before they’d started the restoration. It was a broken wreck of a place, with the gates of the tidal lock rotting and hanging half open.
This time, however, it was all fantastically restored. You could go right out to the tip of the harbour wall and get a fantastic view out over the severn estuary. If you’re in the area and want some striking views, it’s certainly worth a look… if you can find it with the woefully inadequate signage!
This meant that we returned to the venue just in time to see Abel Ganz, who are apparently a scottish prog band with a long established pedigree, but who went on hiatus some years ago. Now they’re back, and have new material out there. I’d never heard of them before, and so was pleasantly surprised.
They didn’t blow me away as much as Quidam, and didn’t grab my immediate attention as firmly as Glow, but I really enjoyed their set. They reminded me quite strongly of earlier Marillion, but without Fish’s lyrical convolutions and occasional shrieking, and not so much as to make them sound derivative.
I was impressed enough to buy a CD, but was faced with a quandry! They had a limited edition of the CD reissue of their first album, or they had the new album. In the end I opted for the special edition. I’m quite likely to also pick up the latest album in the near future as well.
Sunday – Special Guests
Next up was another band I’d really been looking forward to… Frost*. No, I’m not referencing a footnote – they just have an asterisk on the end of their name. At this point I have to admit to feeling a bit sorry for The Tangent, who were on afterwards, because this was one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to. The refreshed lineup really works for them, and Dec Burke is a fantastic addition as an extra guitarist and singer.
I was hooked from Experments in Mass Appeal (the opening number) and didn’t care that my back had flared up again – I was too buzzed to even really notice! That buzz carried on all the way through the set, right up to the phenomenal, rocking out encore of The Other Me.
I don’t think any band could have followed that and not been a slight disappointment. Beth seemed to be thinking along similar lines, and as her knee had gone again I drove her back to the B&B so she could rest up whilst I returned to the venue to see The Tangent.
Sunday – Headline
I said earlier that no band could follow Frost* without being a slight dissapointment… but The Tangent gave it a damned good go. I’d not heard of them before, although I read bit about their history and picked out that they had previously been a supergroup involving most of The Flower Kings and a few others, fronted by two people who were respected greatly by musicians, but not particularly well known. Now it’s those same respected people (Andy Tillison & Guy Manning), a new guitarist and sax player… and the entirety of swedish prog band Beardfish.
Andy Tillison pointed out that Beardfish are possibly the most important band in prog at the moment as they’re all under 30, and I think that in many ways he’s correct. Unfortunately, they’re deliberately trying to continue the classic prog sound rather than exploring new things. But my argument about how a lot of prog has stopped… well… progressing is an argument for another time. In terms of ability, I can’t fault them at all… They did one number on their own, and it was some of the best “classic” prog I’ve heard in recent years. But enough about Beardfish… what about The Tangent?
Well, they were an immense amount of fun. Their onstage banter was terrific and highly enteraining. For example, Andy Tillison commenting on how they’d managed to maintain a stable lineup for so long… since monday, at which point Guy Manning says “I’m out!” and walks off stage. I also need to comment on how I don’t think I’ve seen so much energy in skinny people for a long time… Between Tillison’s hyperactive bouncing and Beardfish bassist Robert Hansen’s sliding all over the stage with a bass that’s wider than he is, the world’s energy problems could be solved in a moment.
With songs based on such wonderfully proggy subject matter as being propositioned for sex outside a soho jazz club and giving a confused response, or about our lives being ruled by GPSs and mobile phones, the humour in both the banter and the songs themselves really made the closing set of the festival something special.
Highlights & Next year?
For me the ultimate high points were Frost* and Magenta, with my new finds being Quidam, Glow and The Tangent. I’m now eagerly awaiting next year’s Summer’s End festival. The organisers announced that there will definately be one, and that it will definately be in September in Gloucestershire. I’m sold. If the quality’s half of what it was this year, It’d still be worth the money.
Fields of the Nephilim are one of those bands that I thought I’d never get to see live. I first started to listen to their music around 1991, just after they’d split up. Since then there have been a few abortive attempts to revive them and a large number of ever fragmenting spin off bands, but it’s only in the last couple of years that it’s looked like one of these attempts might actually succeed. Of course, by this point there’s only one original member of the band left. Their most recent album at the time of writing, “Mourning Sun” (2005), was performed by singer Carl McCoy and what he refers to as “Ghost Musicians”. For the touring band, everyone else is new.
So when I was presented with an opportunity to go to one of these two shows (only their second and third UK gigs since the last album, if I recall correctly), I leapt at the chance. I’ll tell you now, I was not dissapointed. The queue outside the venue for Sunday’s gig, which was named “Ad Vitam” in a typically occult manner, seemed oddly subdued. It was quite a curious experience, seeing everyone around me dressed in either their trad-goth finery or the band’s signature goth cowboy look… whilst I was there in black combats and a black nepalese shirt.
I used to be able to pull off the goth look, and to be honest, I could probably still give a reasonable showing in the Nephilim look, but on short notice I just didn’t have the wardrobe for it. Besides, in the baking sun I didn’t really fancy having to lug around a heavy, weathered leather duster, or even wear the multiple layers that make the look work.
Support Act and Venue
When the doors opened, it became apparent that people who’d been for the previous night’s “Ad Mortem” gig knew that there would be an hour and a half between the doors opening and even the support act coming on. So there was a fair bit of standing around to do. Since I’ve never been particularly inclined towards throwing myself around at a gig (I’d call it dancing, but for me that’d be a real stretch), I aimed for my usual gig spot… as close to the sound or light desk as possible. There I lurked until “[url=”http://www.myspace.com/pythiamusic”]Pythia[/url]”, the support band, appeared on stage.
I’m not going to dwell on them particularly much – they were always going to be outclassed as a support act for Fields of the Nephilim, especially as they’re a bit of an odd match. They were reasonable, if not to my taste and a little derivative (Nightwish called – they want their act back). What I will say in their favour was that they had good stage presence and didn’t fall into the usual support band slot of performing like they’d been nailed to their spots on the stage. (as an aside, I’m also amused by their [url=”http://www.myspace.com/pythiamusic”]MySpace page[/url], simply by the band member photos down the left hand side.)
Once they left the stage, the venue started to get more and more crowded, and two things became apparent to me. One: Fields of the Nephilim fans are, on average, unnaturally tall. Two: The stage at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire is too low. It was rapidly becoming clear that I wasn’t going to have the best of views, which did make me wonder if perhaps I should have headed for the front after all. It seems that I’ve become too used to other venues where the view is at least passable throughout.
A Powerful Opening
It started quite quietly and quite subtly. I think a fair few people missed the first, plainitve cry from a distant harmonica, but when the rest of the audience picked up in sudden anticipation they certainly heard the second. Using samples from Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack from “Once Upon A Time In The West” ([url=”http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0064116/”]IMDB[/url]), The Harmonica Man is one of the most recognisable introductions you could ask for, and it immediately sets the tone for the gig. It immediately builds audience anticipation – they’re starting with a classic opening. Real, classic nephilim. The opening from their first album, in fact, which immediately puts to rest the idea that the band would only be playing newer material.
The fact that it lead straight into the instantly recognizable drumbeat of Preacherman practically sent the crowd into a frenzy. This is pure blooded goth-rock stomp, and it cements this gig as something special. At this point, my view of the bad isn’t too bad, provided I don’t want to see anything below the level of their chests… but the staging and lighting are good, so I don’t mind. I also know that my view is about to get worse. You see, where other bands have stage-divers, crowd-surfers and the like, Fields of the Nephilim have a long standing tradition of human pyramids.
Sure enough, it’s part way through Preacherman that they begin to form. Nothing serious yet – just a couple of people held up with their shins at chest height. You’d think that this would detract from the gig, particularly as it block my already poor view of the stage… but it actually does the exact opposite. It changes the atmosphere from one of passive entertainment into something special – the audience are as much a part of the event as the band on stage are. It sounds incredibly hackneyed, but seeing members of the audience lofted up into the air, stripped to the waist and just basking the music really is something special. In keeping with the band’s occult themes, the pyramids are like some form of ecstatic ritual for the audience. It’s powerful to watch and I have no doubt that it’s something even more for those involved.
Next, the band moved on to From The Fire, a song from what’s best described as an awkward period in their history. From the album “Fallen”, the outcome of an abortive reformation of several original members. The album was largely made up unfinished rough-cuts from the studio, although it does seem that this song was one of the more finished pieces. Here’s it really works, and it’s clearly had time to settle and become a much stronger track than it was on the album.
The song that followed it technically isn’t a Fields of the Nephilim song. Penetration is taken from Zoon, the album released by Nefilim – the band Carl McCoy formed after Fields originally split up. That said, it continues the ideas and feel, even if the musical style is very, very different. A much more brutal song from an album that’s often dismissed by fans of the original band. Personally, I quite like a lot of it… just for different reasons. The version they played here was quite different to that on the album – driven a lot more by a pounding bassline that really give it the kick it needs.
Classics, Old and New
Then we’re treated to Moonchild. Not only one of the band’s classic songs, but a personal favourite of mine as well. Again, the pyramids spring up, getting a little further each time. I think it was around here that I saw the first attempt at a third level. This attempt never quite made it, alas. Instead it broke apart and became several smaller pyramids. This was followed by Requiem XIII 33 and Xiberia, both from “Mourning Sun”. One slow, atmospheric song and one heavy, throbbing beast of a song. With any other band it would be strange that these two would sit together so well, but this kind of versatility is one of the things that make Fields of the Nephilim so memorable.
Next up was another pair of tracks, one classic and one rare treat. Dawnrazor followed immediately by The Sequel. Dawnrazor is, as far as I can tell, a staple of Fields of the Nephilim gigs. The Sequel, however, is rarely played live at all – which is a crying shame because it’s a fantastic song, and it was great to hear it belted out here. Musically it’s an oddly jaunty song, but the lyrics manage to bring across a message that mixes hope with menace.
Just when I thoug
ht it couldn’t get any better I hear yet another distinctive opening – the plaintive guitar solo that is the introduction to The Watchmen, another of my favourite songs. It’s another classic, and as ever, the crowd goes more than a little crazy when it steps up a gear after the first verse. Pyramids are still springing up all over the place, but all of a sudden there’s a frenzy of them.
End of the Set
It made sense to have the last song of the set be one of the newer songs, and they couldn’t have picked a better one than the fantastically triumphant “Mourning Sun”. I think it was around now that the successful three layer pyramid appeared, and it was a sight to behold with the guy up on the top throwing his arms wide and letting the atmosphere wash over him. Usually it’s a problem when you can’t see a thing at a gig, but for this one I really didn’t care – it was a fantastic gig anyway.
Unlike many bands, they made us wait quite a long time between main set and encore. Not quite long enough to doubt that there’d be one, but long enough that it was definately distinct from the main set. Many bands walk off stage and then thirty seconds later they’re playing again. The encore started off with another Nefilim song – Zoon III / Wakeworld, which was always one of the songs I’ve liked more from Zoon.
That was followed up by Last Exit For The Lost. I’ve never been a huge fan of Last Exit… or more accurately, I’m a fan of the last third of the song, when it picks up the pace and becomes a bit less dirgelike. Perhaps it was just the crowd’s enthusiasm getting to me, but this time around I even enjoyed the first part of the song. I’d have been happy if the gig had ended here, as the end of Last Exit… is a fantastic way to end a gig.
But that wasn’t the end.
The second encore brought us Celebrate. In some ways it’s an odd one to end on, being a resolutely downbeat song, but it’s also a very powerful one, expecially performed as it was here. It’s also a song about new beginnings. I’m hoping this is a new beginning for the band, and wont turn out to be another brief reappearance before another messy implosion. The gig came to a close with the band leaving the stage as the coda of the “Unsealed” version of the song was played over the PA.
Overall, this was a hugely enjoyable gig. I’d given up hope of ever seeing Fields of the Nephilim play live, and even though this is a very different band to the classic lineup, the new musicians have really stepped up and do the songs justice. I’m very much looking forward to hearing more from them. I’ll even forgive them for playing nothing at all from “Elizium”.