Saturday, 8 October 2016

Summer's End 2016

The Summer's End Festival is now in its twelfth year, and provides a great opportunity for fans of progressive music to hear a great selection of the best current live acts from across Europe and, in some cases, the world! It's one of hose events in the prog calendar that I've always wanted to get to, but as it's a) normally held in the South West of England, and I'm based in the North West, and b) it's held over a weekend at the end of September/ beginning of October, which usually clashes with Harvest Festival weekend, I've not previously been able to make it. This year, however, I had my chance, as the Methodist Church has granted me a 3 month sabbatical! So I packed my bags and headed down the M5 to Chepstow for this year's festivities!

The Venue
Chepstow is a smallish historic market town in South Wales, on the River Wye around its confluence with the Severn. Nestled among its narrow streets is the Drill Hall, a functional venue for the festival. Big enough to accommodate the numbers who want to come, but small enough to provide the intimacy that makes this festival special, there is sufficient space for bands, fans, Merch and catering - all one needs for a successful weekend. There are also a number of pubs and eating places nearby, within easy walking distance, allowing for further refreshment without having to miss (too much of) the music.

The Atmosphere
As a first-timer at the festival, I was struck by the easy camaraderie that there was among festival goers. It is clear that many of those present are regulars at this and other events, and that sense of being a part of something that transcends place and time was evident. I was able to meet a number of friends from the virtual world, some for the first time, and as a 'novice' it was easy to quickly feel a part of this wonderful institution. There is a definite family feel to the event, and a relaxed banter between fans and musicians which is a feature of the prog gig scene.

The Music
Across the board the music was outstanding. One of the strengths of progressive music is that it is not  a monochrome genre: variety is part and parcel of what it is. We began on Friday evening with Ghost Community, a new band from Wales who played a selection from their sparkling debut album, 'Cycle of Life' - a great start to proceedings. They were followed by Norway's Magic Pie, who were due to play last year but had to pull out at the last minute. They gave us a storming set of material from their 4 albums, but principally the critically acclaimed 2015 release, 'King for a Day'.
Saturday began with a full band set from Peter Jones' 'Tiger Moth Tales', excellently executed by Peter and members of Red Bazar, to rapturous applause from a packed hall: for many the highlight of the festival! Next we're Holland's Sylvium, with a selection of their hard-edged rock, and they were followed by Seven Steps to the Green Door, from Germany, whose jazz-tinged prog was well received, despite a slight hiccup mid-set when there was an issue with the bass amp. Heather Findlay was next, though I only caught the end of her set due to enjoying a rather good curry and equally good company. The evening finished with a bravura performance from neo prog legends IQ, drawing from their extensive back catalogue as well as their most recent offering, 'The Road of Bones', and demonstrating that after 35 years they are still at the top of their game both visually and musically.
Sunday opened with the unique, eclectic, soulful, joyful delight that was Firefly Burning, demonstrating the variety that is at the heart of true progressive music. A sign of how well they went down was that the CDs sold out within about 10 minutes of them coming off stage! Then a first for Summer's End - indeed a first for anywhere, with the debut performance of Damanek, a band fronted by Guy Manning and featuring Sean Timms, Marek Arnold, Henry Rogers, Dan Mash & Luke Machin. No one outside of the band knew what to expect, and we were left in no doubt that the debut album will be a must buy in 2017. Then Strangefish gave us a bonkers, rocking, crowd-pleasing set of songs old and new, in their first appearance for 10 years. Karnataka (another Welsh band) stormed through a marvellous high energy hour and a half, ending with a fantastic cover of Led Zeppelin's 'Kashmir' to wild applause from the hall. The proceedings were brought to an end by Germany's RPWL, but I can't comment on their set, as I had to leave before they came on stage, other than to say that reports were more than positive!

Having enjoyed all (or nearly all) that Summer's End had to offer this year, will I be returning? All I can say is, I hope so (though other events in London next year may make it difficult for 2017!)