It’s a packed house for Pendragon’s first London show since 2005 and Tin Spirits share the benefit of a receptive audience for their opening set.
With XTC’s Dave Gregory on guitar alongside Daniel Steinhardt, Tin Spirits are songsmiths first and foremost, rather than fretboard acrobats. Drummer Doug Mussard has a simple four-piece kit and with vocalist/bassist Mark Kilminster, the quartet craft poppy, charming music, although they assert their prog credentials with the epic Garden State.
Pendragon’s return to the capital has the faithful thoroughly overexcited before the first note has been played. Mainman Nick Barrett is brimming with energy, even if his hair is a little greyer and his beard a little longer. (Is there a special name for a braid in a beard? A bronytail perhaps?)
There are three new faces at the Pendragon table, with Craig Blundell taking over the drum seat and the addition of backing singers Tiggy and Emma, complete with jumpsuits, top hats and steampunk goggles, the first of three outfits they sport throughout the set. Who says prog can’t have glitz and glamour?
Blundell is superb, deftly handling the dynamic shifts, powering through the rock sections and impressively holding the crowd rapt with his drum solo at the tail of_ This Green And Pleasant Land_. The band grapple with a few technical difficulties at the outset, with Clive Nolan’s piano distorting during If I Were The Wind, but, one roadie with a screwdriver later, that settles down.
It’s always contagious when the players on stage are clearly having fun and that’s very much the case tonight. Barrett seems to be on first-name terms with a sizable share of the audience, who are happy to exchange banter, and the crowd start singing the chorus to Paintbox without any prompting.
The set balances longer epics with shorter, sharper tracks like The Freak Show to maintain a lively pace. The first three studio albums are passed over, with the oldest tracks of the night, Nostradamus (Stargazing) and Breaking The Spell, coming from 1993’s The Window Of Life.
This year’s Men Who Climb Mountains, which Barrett oddly introduces in French, provides three selections: Beautiful Soul is a vigorous rocker, Explorers Of The Infinite is a slow build up to full power (although just reeling off the names of famous mountain climbers in the coda feels a little clumsy), while Faces Of Light showcases Barrett’s melodic guitar style.
Pendragon wrap up with the Marillion-like Masters Of Illusion, concluding a set that passes the two-hour mark. Based purely on the strength of tonight’s reception, it seems unlikely Barrett and co will wait another eight years to come back. They certainly gave the fans their money’s worth, and then some.