Resonance Festival

The Bedford, Balham

3rd August 2014

The second day of my weekend pass to the Resonance festival began with a delay to the proceedings because of sound problems. The Prog stage had moved from the Ballroom to the theatre – there had been a pre-booked comedy show in there on the Saturday which meant it was unavailable to Resonance, so I wandered around the merchandise stands and engaged the Goldring twins, Gnidrolog, in a pleasant chat about music and politics. Colin and Stewart proved to be really nice guys and if I’d had been in possession of their ‘reunion’ CD, Gnosis, I might have already known about their association with radical politics which had been inherited from their father, Harry (The Harry of In Spite of Harry’s Toe-nail.) I’d simply picked up on their radicalism from the lyrics to Peter and Snails. Peter turned out to be their father Harry. I bought Gnosis at their stand and promised that I’d try to catch at least some of their performance which was scheduled to clash with Ånglagard.

I somehow managed to miss the beginning of the set for The Gift and proceeded to watch them from the balcony of the Globe Theatre, an architectural gem built-in to the pub. Their two albums, Awake and Dreaming and Land of Shadows are highly regarded symphonic prog, so I’d quite wanted to see them. Singer Mike Morton and band mate David Lloyd were the organisers of the festival; Morton’s mother Marion having died of bowel cancer last year and Lloyd also suffering a family bereavement through cancer.

The piece I heard was a multipart epic about the folly of war, so I guess it was the track Awake and Dreaming. Apparently conceived after the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003, it was a very accomplished piece of music with neo-prog sensibilities and intelligent lyrics, really well played and sung, with hints of Dave Gilmour-fronted Pink Floyd.

There was a long break before the next performances so I went to the bar to order fish and chips, only to be told there was none left. I wandered out into Balham in the late afternoon sun looking for a suitable place to eat but decided I wasn’t really hungry anyway. Eventually I made my way back inside and discovered that Änglagård were having some difficulties with their Mellotrons and their set was going to be postponed. This allowed me to listen to almost the entire Gnidrolog set (I nipped out to see how the Änglagård preparations were going) which began with an incredibly relevant piece, written in the 70s but not released until its inclusion on Gnosis in 2000, Reach for Tomorrow which had been conceived as a prayer for peace in the Middle East; other tracks from Gnosis included Wonder, Wonder and Kings of Rock.

The rendition of Peter was prefaced with a story about Peter/Harry and split into three phases of his life, the first of which was a very humorous rebel period based around deeply unsuitable presents for Christmas, culminating in an intercontinental ballistic missile with ‘USA’ and ‘Coca Cola’ written on the side being launched at parliament.

The complex material, certainly from the first two albums, translated remarkably well as music for two acoustic guitars. The Gnosis material is rather more straightforward and, now I’ve listened to the album, probably didn’t involve so much arranging for the two-guitar format. They signed off with Goodbye – Farewell – Adieu, having demonstrated they were an inspired late addition to the festival line-up in place of X Ray Quartet who had to withdraw due to unforeseen circumstances.

There was more queuing for Änglagård once the Gnidrolog set had finished and I somehow ended up by the Gnidrolog merchandise table where I attempted to persuade punters to buy their CDs. Apart from the worthwhile pursuit of encouraging others to widen their musical horizons, this positioning was also good for (eventual) entry into the Globe Theatre for a prime position to watch Änglagård.

Eventually the wait for the first UK appearance of the band was over, with a promise that the set would not be cut short but before the band took to the stage, Jerry Ewing reminded the audience why the festival had been organised and the Macmillan raffle prizes were handed out. Then the band came on stage.

The setting in the theatre seemed quite appropriate for the music. I only have their first album with its alternating passages of Trespass-era Genesis-like pastoralism and Fragile-era Yes angular guitar and classic Hammond but we were treated to something much more experimental; it was certainly the most prog of the acts that I’d witnessed at Resonance with hints of Canterbury, particularly Henry Cow and the experimentation was exemplified by flautist/saxophonist Anna Holmgren playing balloon and party blower. The two tracks they played from Hybris were almost unrecognisable, Kung Bore (which translates as Jack Frost) and Jordrök (the sprawling plant, fumitory) but what was unmistakeable were the satisfying analogue sounds from the vintage keyboards, including the mighty Mellotron that had delayed the start of the performance, which had announced the rebirth of prog back in 1992. It was something of a coup to get the band to the festival so credit and thanks have to go to the organisers. If they don’t return to the UK in the near future I’m going to have to seek them out elsewhere – they were really brilliant.

I didn’t stay for Bigelf and I’d obviously not been able to see many of the other acts. If there was one fault with the festival it was that it was over-ambitious in terms of duration and the number of groups who came to play. The whole organising team deserves credit for putting on a very successful and very worthwhile event and staying calm and helpful in the face of Mellotron meltdowns and other assorted sonic mishaps. The musicians were all very approachable and appreciative of the fans that had come to see them; I had a pleasant chat with Robert Webb just before I left, covering subjects as varied as Mellotrons (inevitably), Barrow-in-Furness and Croydon library, but the point of the festival was to take in some different music and though I didn’t get to see Aeon Zen, Lifesigns, Mostly Autumn or lots of the other bands, I did stretch my listening experience at least a little bit.