The Gentle Storm Live In London

Anneke sails the ship without Arjen.

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Wilfully ambitious in scope, determinedly overblown, expansive and grand, The Gentle Storm’s debut album The Diary took the notion of the concept album and doubled it.

The story of a sailor at sea, his partner at home and the correspondence between them was a neat proposition and played well with the notions of love, loneliness and longing set against an expanse of sky with an impending storm – both figuratively and literally – just over the next horizon. Disc one, the Gentle set was a more folky affair, while the Storm album did pretty much what you imagined it might: Arjen Lucassen railed against the dying of the light while Anneke van Giersbergen wailed and roared like a siren set high on the rocks calling ships down to their doom.

The reclusive Arjen - when it comes to playing live at least – declined to be part of The Diary tour (though he and Anneke did play a handful of acoustic shows in Europe before The Gentle Storm set sail). As skilful and talented a player as he is though (and tall enough to have tangled with the lighting rig in The Garage), you’d be hard pushed to imagine what he could have possibly added to tonight’s performance. The Arjen-shaped hole is ably filled by a seven-piece band, occasionally jostling for space on the small stage, that includes the peerless Anneke van Giersbergen. Giersbergen, a shock of red hair, both arms colourful blooms of snaking tattoos, a smile imprinted on her face. Her vocals are flawless, even after she surfaces from a furious bout of headbanging, one hand gripping the mic stand to keep her upright.

The set, understandably, is skewed toward The Diary albums, but Giersbergen’s former glories with Arjen in Ayreon (Valley Of The Queens, Waking Dreams, Isis And Osiris) are met with lusty howls of approval, though the loudest cheer tonight is reserved for The Gathering’s Eleanor and Strange Machines. Who knew that so many men in London (it’s all men) still owned The Gathering T-shirts and they almost all still fit? Which is not to decry the potency of The Diary live, Giersbergen goes solo with an acoustic guitar for the lilting The Moment (just seconds after she’d wowed the crowd with her take on Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here), but it’s when the band are in full flight, not least with the mellifluous Marcela Bovio on backing vocals, that The Gentle Storm truly come to life. The Storm is thrilling, all brooding clouds, torn sails and spumes of salt water, while Shores Of India sways and dances, a promise just out of reach, moving only ever forward, guided by the stars, headed towards morning.

Philip Wilding

Philip Wilding is a novelist, journalist, scriptwriter, biographer and radio producer. As a young journalist he criss-crossed most of the United States with bands like Motley Crue, Kiss and Poison (think the Almost Famous movie but with more hairspray). More latterly, he’s sat down to chat with bands like the slightly more erudite Manic Street Preachers, Afghan Whigs, Rush and Marillion.