Concerts are one of the more pleasurable staples of charity fundraising activity – vastly preferable, at least in my eyes, to bungee jumps, head shaves or ice buckets.
After an event in the North-West last year, the Cancer On The Rocks team – led by Rick Palin, who heads up a multimedia music agency, Skyfire Promotions – put on an ambitious whole weekend of music and fundraising at one of London’s nicest venues, Bush Hall.
No-one could be failed to be moved by the cause as a third of us will directly have to deal with cancer at some points in our lives, and knowledge of someone suffering at present is pretty universal.
However building a festival from scratch is a daunting task, not least in the run up to Christmas when the gig schedule is at its busiest, quite apart from family commitments, and the second day had to be pulled as the event neared. Fortunately, with four bands surviving on the Saturday, including the two headliners who were the biggest weekend draw for me, it was very much a case of less is more.
First up of the quartet were Gypsy’s Kiss, a band with an intriguing history I was not previously familiar with. Back in the early seventies they were the first band of a young Steve Harris but his fellow East Londoner (hence the rhyming slang) David Smith has assembled a new line up to revive the name.
‘Influence’ was an appropriately titled opener as it was immediately clear that they shared many of Steve Harris’ formative inspirations (and indeed bands I love) with a seventies sound combining elements of Stray, Uriah Heep and Wishbone Ash – not least with a two and sometimes three lead guitar attack – with some slightly progressive arrangements.
For a while I was finding David’s vocals a little of an acquired taste but after ‘Better Than Me’ lifted the set, ‘Settle The Score’ was truly outstanding with a melody line to the chorus that lodged deep in my brain. There was also a hilarious finish when ‘Heat Crazed Vole’, based on a seventies newspaper story, saw a rodent mascot come out to jam with the band – I wonder if that was another idea that inspired ‘Arry to create the Eddie mascot, or was it the other way round?
Next up were Blurred Vision, who apparently in the past have attracted the attention of such luminaries as Roger Waters and Rush producer Terry Brown. They were a four piece, admittedly augmented by prominently sequenced keyboards prominent, led by the commanding presence of be-hatted Canadian singer Sepp Osley.
They weren’t so much my scene personally but almost seemed to change gear mid-set from quite a modern pop-influenced sound to a rockier and more discordant one, moving in the direction of Muse or Porcupine Tree.
Their songs also had a message which Sepp was not afraid to promote, including the title track of a previous album ‘Organised Insanity’ while a convincing cover of ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ added to the Floyd connection. They closed an impressive set with a song ‘P.O.W.’, apparently from their forthcoming album, and are definitely a band with a big future for lovers of modern progressive rock.
If Blurred Vision were a new name to me Collateral were anything but: during their extensive tour this year, I’d seen them three times and missed countless other opportunities. However, this time was a key test: their music has a stadium ready sound, but in more luxurious surroundings than some of the smaller venues they have been playing, did they have the presence to fill a larger stage?
The answer was very much yes as they opened with ‘Mr Bigshot’, charismatic singer Angelo Tristan swinging around to reveal the same slogan on the back of his denim jacket, before one which was unfamiliar to me, ‘In It For Love’, a reminder that their set is evolving with a debut full length album due out soon.
The set mixed brash aggressive rockers like ‘Merry Go Round’ and ‘Promiseland’ with more melodic numbers driven by Angelo’s acoustic guitar such as the autobiographical ‘About This Boy’ – though bassist Jack Bentley-Smith took the mike and reminded the singer, who appeared somewhat refreshed , that he had forgotten to strap on his guitar!
‘Midnight Queen’ is already a crowd participation favourite and included some great poses between Angelo and his right hand man Todd Winger whose fluent, eighties style guitar shredding lifts them above many of their contemporary hopefuls, while they closed a set that had flown by with the furious ‘Lullaby’.
While the bands had done well to make up time, an 11 o’clock curfew loomed over Romeo’s Daughter and I noticed one song had already been scrubbed from the printed setlist. As ever, singer Leigh Matty’s raven fringe and magnetic stage presence seems frozen in time from their breakthrough in the late eighties.
After opening with one of their less convincing (for me) songs in ‘Trippin Out’, ‘Attracted To The Animal’ – seemingly always second song in – remains a great anthem. However there was one gem after another from their two reunion albums this decade – ‘Radio’, ‘Bittersweet’ with the crowd joining in on the closing refrain, the infectious musical and lyrical optimism of ‘Alive’ which was how I and others were beginning to feel as the booze flowed in convivial fashion- and catchy melody lines of ‘Enemy’.
The songs may sound simple but have a bright and breezy feel and reflect great credit on main writer Craig Joiner, an understated figure in his band sweatshirt and woolly hat, but an extremely tasteful guitarist, and thankfully restored to the fray after some health issues. Those newer songs have grown on me to the extent I now enjoy them just as much as the oldies.
Talking of which, ‘Have Mercy’ – which opened their harder rocking 1993 sophomore effort ‘Delectable’- was an unexpected but welcome reintroduction to the set before the inevitable debut album favourites. ‘Inside Out’ was upbeat and its ‘oh-oh-oh’ chant was made for participation, setting the scene for ‘Cry Myself To Sleep at Night’, which featured a superb solo from Craig and mass singing along, notably to the ‘I’m A Romeo’s Daughter’ line.
Sadly ‘Heaven In The Backseat’ was a casualty as the curfew approached so a frustratingly short, but a brilliant, 45 minute set ended in rockier fashion with ‘Wild Child’, an anthem so good Heart used it to open their ‘Brigade’ album.
The attendance was still not great, and I was disappointed more Romeo’s Daughter fans were not present, given that their London shows at places like the Borderline have been well attended.
Nevertheless in many ways it was a perfect mini festival with a decent number of people including most of the well-known recurring faces from the London gig scene, and in such plush surroundings it had the air of one of the most fun parties of the year! I really hope the organisers are not deterred by the show’s growing pains and that with a few lessons learned, it will become a regular event.
Review and photos by Andy Nathan
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