Resonance Festival - The Bedford, Balham
2nd-3rd August 2014
It’s around thirty years since I last had a drink in The Bedford. I’d returned for the Resonance Festival, a four-day prog and alt-rock extravaganza that had been put on to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support, specifically to see The Enid on Saturday and Änglagård on Sunday. When I arrived, guitar-bass-drums trio the Tirith were playing to an audience of about 15 on the Prog stage. Their music wasn’t over-adventurous, though guitarist Tim Cox did utilise a wide range of sounds and also played a little keyboard. Originally Minas Tirith in the 70s, they’d reinvented themselves in the 21st Century by ‘doing a Marillion’, dropping a few letters from their original name to lose the Tolkien reference.
Anna Phoebe was a bit of a revelation. I sat in on the sound check before a set acting as a potted history of her work, including Bombay to Beirut (2006), Ballingoola (2008), and In Continuum (2013). Her band (Nicolas Rizzi, guitar; Francesco Lucidi, drums and Yves Fernandez, bass) were exceptionally good musicians and produced a well-rehearsed set that took in a variety of styles: rock, classical, gypsy and Irish music. They reminded me of Curved Air and Anna Phoebe’s stage presence was very much in the Sonja Kristina mould, swinging her bow around her head and the lithely patrolling the available space on the stage in bare feet. There was even some Ian Anderson influence!
I was a little disappointed with Henry Fool. I admire the work of Theo Travis but I’d not heard Tim Bowness before. He has a decent voice but I wasn’t over enamoured with his song writing and at times I found it hard to decipher what he was singing. On the other hand, I found the shoe gaze music more to my taste and Housewives Hooked on Heroin somehow reminded me of the kind of Art Rock that was the staple of Be Bop Deluxe. The band seemed pretty cramped on the stage, pushed to the front by the Enid’s equipment, and I thought I detected a sense of awkwardness.
It was strange, then, that the stage for The Enid was even more cramped than before. Prog magazine’s Jerry Ewing had been doing the stage introductions all day but now he called Robert John Godfrey onto the stage for a rousing audience rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’.
They began with The Last Judgement but they had to restart the song because drummer Dave Storey believed there was a fault with his monitor. Apparently, the volume was turned right down.
It’s fair to say that I’d lost touch with The Enid, having last seen them live in November 1984 at the Hammersmith Odeon, performing The Spell. I’m pleased to report that the music is as brilliant as ever, with nicely woven melodies and epic percussive dynamics, but I’m not a fan of the vocals. To be fair to Joe Payne, he has an unbelievable vocal range and an incredible stage presence, but the delivery was over-dramatised. I much preferred the grand scale tracks Last Judgement and Touch Me than the songs from Invicta. I approved of the sentiment when RJG regaled us with an anti-consumerist pep-talk and how the band only existed to play music. The great surprise of the evening was the encore, only ever played once before by the band, Mocking Bird. It’s not surprising that their rendition was excellent, musically not too different from the version that appears on Barclay James Harvest Live from 1974.
The second day of my weekend pass 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 Gnidrolog, the Goldring twins, in a pleasant chat about music and politics. Colin and Stewart proved to be really nice guys who had an affinity for radical politics, inherited from their father, Harry (The Harry of In Spite of Harry’s Toe-nail.)
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. Singer Mike Morton and bandmate David Lloyd were the organisers of the festival and their two albums, Awake and Dreaming and Land of Shadows are highly regarded symphonic prog. The piece I heard was a multipart epic about the folly of war from track Awake and Dreaming, conceived after the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003, an accomplished slice of neo-prog with intelligent lyrics, really well played and sung, with hints of Gilmour-fronted Pink Floyd.
I managed to catch almost the entire Gnidrolog set which began with an incredibly relevant piece, written in the 70s but not released until 2000, Reach for Tomorrow which had been conceived as a prayer for peace in the Middle East. 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, the tale culminating in an intercontinental ballistic missile with ‘USA’ and ‘Coca Cola’ written on the side being launched at parliament. The material from the first two albums translated remarkably well for two acoustic guitars, and they signed off with Goodbye – Farewell – Adieu.
Änglagård were delayed, having had difficulties with their two Mellotrons. This was their first UK appearance and it was rather special. It was certainly the most proggy of the acts that I’d witnessed at Resonance with hints of Canterbury, particularly Henry Cow, with daring sonic experimentation demonstrated by flautist/saxophonist Anna Holmgren playing balloon and party blower. Despite the delay they played a full set. I recognised Kung Bore (Jack Frost) and Jordrök (the sprawling plant, fumitory) but the entire performance was filled with satisfying vintage keyboard analogue sounds – they were really brilliant.
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 (England) 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.