IQ at Islington Assembly Hall, London – live review

IQ’s first ever headline show at London’s Marquee, on September 15, 1983, was supposed to be the launch party for the release of the band’s self-financed debut Tales From The Lush Attic.

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(Image: © Will Ireland)

However, come the night of the gig, while the band had the vinyl, they didn’t have the sleeves, with the artwork delayed somewhere down the line.

Over 30 years later, the same technical gremlins are still lurking. The free CDs that all attendees of this year’s Christmas shows are supposed to be given are stuck somewhere in the Czech Republic. “Some things never change,” singer Peter Nicholls sighs good-naturedly.

The IQ Experience: “A darkly complex tale that weaves its way around you.”

The IQ Experience: “A darkly complex tale that weaves its way around you.”
(Image: © Will Ireland)

Your correspondent was at that 1983 show, as were more than likely a fair few of tonight’s impressively large turnout: demand for the show has meant that IQ upgraded from the concrete box of Islington’s O2 Academy to the more salubrious and prog-friendly Assembly Hall.

Four of the five band members on stage were also at that show, though guitarist Mike Holmes is the sole constant member, with keyboard player Neil Durant joining in 2010. But it does say something for both the staying power and consistency of IQ (not to mention progressive music as a whole) that this is the state of play in 2017.

Of course, the IQ Christmas shows are a thing of legend. Partly, it must be said, because it’s actually one of the few times that the UK get to see the band perform live during the year, but equally because of the seasonal aspect. The fact that this year, band and audience are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Christmas shows, is again testament to their enduring appeal.

Specs Appeal: Michael Holmes lost in the moment.

Specs Appeal: Michael Holmes lost in the moment.
(Image: © Will Ireland)

These days the Christmas shows are less about tongue-in-cheek cover versions, and this year we have the added bonus of the band airing two songs from their work-in-progress new album, due to hit stores at some point in 2018. Of these, one might be titled It’s Only Forever, and the other potentially The Flent, and while it’s difficult to make too much of works in progress, both sound suitably intricate, although nowhere near as heavy as anything from 2014’s The Road Of Bones.

By the time It’s Only Forever appears, the crowd have already been treated to both The Darkest Hour and Breathtaker, allowing IQ to find their feet sound-wise. They follow with From The Outside In and the title track of the aforementioned The Road Of Bones, both packing a resounding punch.

Mr Tambourine Man: Peter Nicholls.

Mr Tambourine Man: Peter Nicholls.
(Image: © Will Ireland)

Nicholls is in fine voice, strong and imbued with the kind of character his 58 years brings, while Holmes’ fretwork continues to dazzle, even if he remains, visually at least, one of prog’s most understated guitarists. Behind them, Tim Esau and Paul Cook hold down a rhythmic beat, and Durant fills out the sound with colour.

The highlight of a quite wonderful show is the epic Harvest Of Souls from 2004’s Dark Matter, one of this writer’s favourites. It sums up everything there is to like about IQ: a darkly complex tale that weaves its way around you, sucking you into its heart until it spits you out, almost half an hour later, breathless from the ride…

Ace Of Bass: Tim Esau.

Ace Of Bass: Tim Esau.
(Image: © Will Ireland)

After Until The End and Failsafe bring the set to a close, Holmes re-appears, angel’s wings bigger than ever, leading the band through a rousing Merry Christmas Everybody, before The Wake’s Headlong rounds things off with a classy flourish. Another triumph for the band’s perseverance and dedication.