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Lonely Robot Live In London

The not so Lonely Robot brings a galaxy of friends to seasonal show

John Mitchell from Lonely Robot gurning on stage
(Image: © Photo by Kevin Nixon)

Openers Hekz offer an accomplished brand of prog metal with a hefty dollop of pomp pop: think Queen having a barney with Dream Theater as Rush and Iron Maiden duke it out on the sidelines. Their multi-sectional opus The Black Hand captures them at their best, with passages that are both pastoral and punishingly heavy.

Tonight is a treat for John Mitchell fans as the sometime It Bites, Arena, The Urbane, Kino and Frost* man, here in the guise of Lonely Robot, plays Please Come Home, No.8 in Prog’s top albums of 2015 chart, in its entirety.

It makes sense that he should begin his conceptual disquisition – covering time and space, the future of the cosmos and us as a species – with a boy in an astronaut suit and helmet, scrolling through images on a TV screen onstage. He departs, to be replaced by drummer Craig Blundell and two females – Lauren Storer on keyboards and Caroline Campbell on bass – flanking Mitchell, who assumes guitar and Peter Gabriel‑ish vocal duties.

Beside the players, there’s a table full of toys and mementos celebrating interstellar travel, somewhat apposite considering that Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens five days later.

Support act Hekz pomp up the prog.

Support act Hekz pomp up the prog. (Image credit: Kevin Nixon)

Airlock is the rousing instrumental entrée, and is followed by God Vs Man, all powerful hooks and tempo shifts. Because Please Come Home is something of a guest-fest, it’s appropriate that Lonely Robot’s second-ever full band gig has a slew of appearances, some stellar, others familiar to prog aficionados. Mitchell tells a story about being a 12-year-old kid listening to Go West’s 1987 hit We Close Our Eyes (the missing link between soulful synth-pomp and prog?) on his Sony Walkman as a preamble to Peter Cox himself joining him for a rendition of The Boy In The Radio.

Why Do We Stay? is prefaced by Mitchell thanking us for coming out on a cold Sunday night before Christmas as Heather Findlay arrives in a glam sparkly dress for a near-homage to, or pastiche of, 80s power balladry. Mitchell’s Frost* bandmate Jem Godfey virtually bounds on to play keys for the album’s title track, which has the ambition and grandeur of stadium rock, barely scaled down for this London club.

A Godless Sea might explore notions of social disconnect in this TwitBook age, but there’s a communal delight at this mid‑tempo, expansive music that, depending on your viewpoint, is either utterly immersive and engrossing or ponderous and charmless

Go West’s Peter Cox, one of the surprise guests.

Go West’s Peter Cox, one of the surprise guests. (Image credit: Kevin Nixon)

A Godless Sea might explore notions of social disconnect in this TwitBook age, but there’s a communal delight at this mid‑tempo, expansive music that, depending on your viewpoint, is either utterly immersive and engrossing or ponderous and charmless.

Kim Seviour, her fetching ballgown hardly in keeping with the outer space theme, then adds Celine Dion-ish warbles to symphonic prog duet Oubliette, while Construct/Obstruct (‘We are a strange species: we destroy as much as we create’) has the feel of 80s-era Genesis or Peter Gabriel.

That’s followed by Are We Copies?, accompanied by an orange-suited astronaut wandering across the firmament (well, the stage), bearing a camera. The set is completed by Humans Being and The Red Balloon, for which a kid in pyjamas pops on holding a (no prizes) red balloon. The encore features a drum solo and two covers: Black Light Machine by Frost* and Phil Collins’ Take Me Home, which is the cue for some seasonal snow to pour down from the rafters.

Heather Findlay in 80s power ballad mode.

Heather Findlay in 80s power ballad mode. (Image credit: Kevin Nixon)
Paul Lester
Paul Lester

Paul Lester is the editor of Record Collector. He began freelancing for Melody Maker in the late 80s, and was later made Features Editor. He was a member of the team that launched Uncut Magazine, where he became Deputy Editor. In 2006 he went freelance again and has written for The Guardian, The Times, the Sunday Times, the Telegraph, Classic Rock, Q and the Jewish Chronicle. He has also written books on Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Bjork, The Verve, Gang Of Four, Wire, Lady Gaga, Robbie Williams, the Spice Girls, and Pink.