The annual Summer’s End festival and time management have never been easy bedfellows, but this year’s sold-out event hardly gets off to the best of starts, with bands still soundchecking as punters flock to the bar (the finishing touches just being applied as the doors open), and the highly anticipated appearance by Simon Godfrey put back to Sunday.
However, opening the festival in fine style, Aberdeen prog veterans Abel Ganz deliver a crowd-pleasing set, in which their melodic, well-played material does exactly what it says on the tin.
Celestial Fire, led by Iona guitarist Dave Bainbridge, have pretty big shoes to fill, being something of an unknown quantity. But Bainbridge is a splendid musician, and in Sally Minnear they also have an excellent vocalist. Plenty of Iona material goes down well, but the awkward pacing of the set and some obvious sound gremlins lessen the overall impact, despite a spellbinding bass solo of the timeless Yes classic Roundabout from Simon Fitzpatrick.
When the organisers announced the new festival home of Chepstow’s Drill Hall, few attendees realised they’d end up doing a fire drill, but Saturday’s start is curtailed when the local fire brigade arrive after issues with a smoke machine! Fortunately, within seconds of taking the stage, The Fierce And The Dead have almost everyone entranced with their instrumental jousting. Occasionally the ‘young noisy upstart’ can fall foul of the festival’s more staid attendees, but not this lot. Good humour from both bassist Kevin Feazey and guitarist Matt Stevens means everyone’s in fine fettle.
Equally, Light Damage from Luxembourg immediately grab the attention with their quirkiness, personified by tweed-attired frontman Nicholas Dewez with his Steven Wilson/Greg Lake ‘bare feet on Persian rug’ routine. Bouncy and full of surprises, they open with a full-on tribal drum solo from Christophe Szczyrk, while a thoroughly decent rendition of Shadow Of The Hierophant catches everyone unaware.
3RDegree’s first ever set outside their native US is song-based prog, strong on melody yet perhaps somewhat short of ambition. Playing it a little safe, and lacking enough in the way of a visual presence, they fail to fully engage with the crowd. By way of complete contrast, fellow US band Discipline take the audience by the scruff of the neck with a set of astonishing intensity. Frontman Matthew Parmenter, a charismatic, face-painted presence, leads the band through a performance that channels the untrammelled spirit of Van der Graaf Generator at their fiercest. With highlights including America and closer When The Walls Are Down, they leave to massive and deserved acclaim.
Headliners Pallas are one of those infuriating acts whose promise has often been stymied by lack of frequency in terms of albums and gigs. Tonight they’re brilliant though, mixing old favourites with strikingly bold new numbers from wearewhoaweare, Paul Mackie proving again he’s a fine frontman. A nice, meaty end to a good day’s prog.
No fire-related delays to talk of on day three, so a fulsome group assembles to greet Sunday’s curtain raisers The Gift, whose dramatic repertoire includes a song about manic depression and the 21-minute cardiac arrest epic The Comforting Cold.
Swedes Introitus, featuring four members of the same family, gain many converts with their folky melodic prog. Superb vocals from Anna Bender lift their performance to a high level. Credo are symphonically tight and uncompromisingly bullish. However, a belt hastily crafted from a dog’s lead is the only thing preventing the trousers of chief barker Mark Colton from offering the festival’s first ever onstage full moon.
With a break prior to Mystery’s appearance, Simon Godfrey finally takes to the stage, acoustic guitar in hand, to very warm applause. Mixing Tinyfish material with solo fare, it’s when he’s joined by former Tinyfish alumnus Rob Ramsay that things take a turn for the hilariously surreal. An able-bodied Brabbins and Fyffe for the prog world? They could be on to something…
Canada’s Mystery were blighted by technical issues at their last UK festival, Celebr8.2. Tonight they’re a band reborn. This is due in part to Benoît David’s successor, the flute-playing chanteur and Peter Gabriel/David Longdon lookalike, Jean Pageau. His powerful crystalline pipes swoop effortlessly and majestically over the unrelenting swathes of melodic power prog. The set covers a sizeable chunk of their past and near present.
Headlining, as they did three years previously, are The Enid. Drafted in as a late replacement for Magic Pie, their mix of delicacy and operatic bombast proves the perfect closer. Frontman Joe Payne has grown massively in confidence, and banishes any lingering doubts about an Enid with vocals, allowing 80s pieces like Something Wicked This Way Comes and Summer to find their full potential at last. Reaching back as far as 1976’s debut album, and closing with an encore of Mockingbird, the piece on which Robert John Godfrey worked so memorably with Barclay James Harvest, they leave the audience shaken and stirred. A marvellous finale to yet another great Summer’s End.