Album review: MAGENTA – Acapela 2016 and 2017 (CD/DVD)

MAGENTA - Acapela 2016 and 2017

Tigermoth Productions [Original release date 04.11.19]

Magenta are one of those bands who have influenced many other prog wannabes whilst sometimes getting overlooked themselves.  They’ve never had significant wider acclaim, never employed big time PR or appeared on major labels, and they have never really compromised their ideals.  That’s not to say they haven’t released singles but, in terms of immediacy, longer pieces are very much the order of the day.

Also, singer Christina Booth has never given up to the usual sexy stage persona of many a female fronted prog band.  In fact when we saw the band at HRH Prog in November 2017 she came on stage looking like she was going to a W.I. meeting.

In more recent times the constituent members seem content to play the occasional gig whilst releasing occasional band albums or – particularly for mainman Rob Reed – releasing various side projects.

Acapela 2016 and 2017 differs from recent live albums in that it does showcase the extra-mural activities of Magenta members.  Recorded over 2 years at a favourite local (Cardiff) venue – Acapela Studios – they also enlist the help of others to add orchestration to the tracks.  Special guests include Peter Jones (Tiger Moth Tales, Camel).

Setlist-wise it spans most albums in a twenty-year history but in a stripped down format.  The DVDs include additional tracks and DVD 1 (recorded in 2016) showcases ‘The Twenty Seven Club’ (2013) whilst noting Rob Reed’s separate Sanctuary and Kompendium projects (with excellent vocals from Steff Rhys Williams).

Chris Fry is featured on a few acoustic guitar instrumentals (given greater gravity by Claudine Cassidy’s cello) whilst Christina Booth features tracks from her solo album ‘The Light’ accompanied by sister Angahrad Brinn on backing vocals.

The first part of the show is like a chamber music concert and only the occasional flashes of Chris Fry’s genial gawping breaks the somewhat clinical atmosphere. The mood lightens with Reed’s two Sanctuary pieces where – historically, on album at any rate – he unleashed his inner Mike Oldfield, a theme continued on DVD2.

In what is a largely static performance in a small venue and, I assume, a fairly low budget recording, the camera angles are understandably a bit limited.  (The same can be said of the band’s previous live offering ‘We Are Seven’ released in 2018).

We’ve commented previously that whilst the band originals Fry, Booth and Reed are masters of their craft the current rhythm section has seemed a little heavy handed.  These gigs marked the early appearance of Dan Nelson (bass) and Jiffy Griffiths (drums) although the 2016 gig features Steve Roberts on drums.  However, given the nature of these performances they are stripped of any bombast and, indeed, overall Magenta’s music may even benefit from this approach.

A highlight of the album is, as expected, the wonderful vocals of Tina Booth whom we have previously called “the Karen Carpenter of prog” (listen to ‘Greed’ on CD2/DVD2) She has that purity of tone and dark sonority, a vulnerability if you will, that is very appealing.  She also gets a few more songs of her own on DVD2.

Elsewhere, on DVD2 there is a veritable “greatest hits” from Magenta, with three songs from ‘Seven’ (2004).  Only a surprise appearance from Steve Balsamo and a Chimpan A tune or two would have improved the proceedings.

This is another high quality crowd-funded package.  And it’s not too late to revisit and revere one of our most enduring prog rock bands.  ****

Review by David Randall

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