Friday, 28 February 2020

Live in 2020: Merry Hell at Acapela Studios on Saturday 25th January 2020

It's the first visit to Wales for the Merry Hell band and an evening at the Chapel is a perfect place to introduce this excellent band to the Welsh public.
I also appreciate the fact that hey have chosen to give local-ish artist Bryony Sier the opportunity to play a support slot. I wish more artists would do this if they have the opportunity so Well Done to Merry Hell for giving up and coming local artists the chance to shine.

With just a guitar and a distinctive voice for company, Bryony enchanted the Acapela audience with a selection of self-penned songs. From reflective to upbeat, Bryony gives us her views on the life of a modern young woman in today's world. With both Fragility & Feistiness, she proves both engaging and insightful and by the activity on the Merch Stand, she won a good few friends with her performance.

Personal Monster


It was my first time to see Merry Hell live. I had done my research and had been listening to their available albums on Spotify - (I always try and leave my cd & vinyl buying for 'on the night' if possible) but this didn't really prepare me for the rumbustious night ahead. They are one of those bands that are great on record but really come into their own LIVE. And tonight, they pulled out all of the stops.

The band are based around the Kettle Brothers - Andrew on Vocals, John on Guitar and Bob on Guitar, Mandolin with Bob's wife Virginia on Vocals, Nick Davies on Bass and Neil McCartney on Violin.  Having a night off tonight are Andy Jones on Drums and Lee Goulding on Keyboards.

The Award winning band are on top form tonight as they treat the audience to a night of Anthems & Insights and they give us their take on the world and judging by the response they got on the night, I think most of the audience has a similar vision and certainly shared experiences.

The band kick off tonight's set with Loving The Skin You're In. Straight from the off the crowd are clapping and singing along as the six-piece bring the energy.

Loving The Skin You're In

Now five albums and a dvd documentary into their career, the band have acquired a decent canon of songs to choose from and over a strong 2 hour set we are treated to many of the band's finest songs, both uptempo and more reflective.

As with most of our finest Folk bands and artists at the moment, they band produce songs based on the experiences of living in the world today. Especially here in the UK where we continue to live in tumultuous and ever changing times. And with songs such as We Need Each Other Now, the band's northern sensibility strike a chord with the Welsh audience. With similar experiences and outlooks the band strike a chord tonight.

We Need Each Other Now

Choosing songs from all of their available albums tonight, the band show a wit and a humour which goes down a storm tonight as the audience continue to join in choruses with abandon.

Bury Me Naked

There's A Ghost In Our House
As the band continue to reveal their superb show, they bring to mind one of my favourite bands - The Oysterband - with their passion, social commentary and humour, they are definitely hewn from the same granite rock of contemporary Folk sensibilities.

Come On, England

It's always a treat when you see a band drop their instruments and especially tonight when the Acapela lives up to it's name and the band give us a moving performance of their song Coming Home Song.

Coming Home Song

Virginia is also an accomplished singer/songwriter in her own right and the band leave the stage to leave her alone to sing a solo song, Violet, which brought the Chapel down.

The band then take to the stage for the downhill ride to the end of the show starting with Drunken Serenade and Finest Hour.

Drunken Serenade

My Finest Hour

We're then treated to more excellent songs such as The Crooked Man, the plaintive Emerald Green and an especially uplifting version of Summer Is A Comin'.

Summer Is A Comin'

With the audience now up on their seats and singing along in a big way we get a new song, Don't Want To Be Cool before Fear Of Falling and the fabulous The Baker's Daughter. This brings the show to a frenetic end and to rapturous applause from the Acapela audience.

But there's always room for an encore and the band finish with the singalong One More Day.

One More Day

Talking to the audience during the interval and after the show it was apparent that like me, this was the first time that many of them had seen the band live. And I for one KNOW that it won't be the last. If they come back to Wales, I'll be there like a shot,

Bryony Sier on Twitter - @BryonySierMusic

Merry Hell on Twitter - @MerryHell_band

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Live in 2019: Marillion live at St David's Hall, Cardiff on Saturday 18th September 2019

It means Spirit Of  The Times in German.
And who thought it would be a 40 year old band from Aylesbury, England who would be bringing it to the masses in 2019? But here we are, at Cardiff St David's Hall and that band, Marillion, perform a set that says as much about the times in which we live as anything your hip LA Rapper might be pushing out of his Los Angeles penthouse.

The Band are augmented tonight with their 'Friends From The Orchestra' - a string quartet, French Horn player and a Flautist. This worked better in some songs than others but was well worth the effort in the new arrangements.

In Cardiff tonight, the show was being filmed so unauthorised photographs and mobile phones were not allowed. So all photos contained within this blog are from the Bristol show and are courtesy of Photographer extraordinaire, Mike Evans. Unless otherwise stated.

Cardiff photo by Nick Baker

We knew we were in for something a bit special when the opening song was the Epic, Gaza from 2012's Sounds That Can't Be Made. Now this isn't your usual show curtain raiser. A true Prog epic at 18 minutes long, it's a brooding vision of life in that war torn region of Gaza between Palestine and Israel. Not a bundle of laughs, that's for sure and not your traditional show opener either. But it set up the night beautifully for what was going to be a thought provoking, intense and dramatic experience.


Marillion have released 14 albums since Steve Hogarth took over from Fish as lead singer and frontman. And tonight the band chose their set from 8 of those albums. So a good representation of their career up to date. 

Next up we have the magnificent Beyond You from Afraid Of Sunlight - I've always thought it was the best song that Talk Talk never recorded. Heavily influenced by Mark Hollis' superb band it's a short glimmer of light in a night dedicated to darker epics.

Beyond You

In 1989 - Marillion released their first Post Fish album. They called it Seasons End - the title track is about Climate Change. It's taken the world 30 years to catch up with band. But tonight, it's once again a reflection of a hot topic currently at the forefront of many people's thinking these days. 

And I must congratulate the Band here for their terrific use of the Back Screen Projections that accompany them throughout the show. A fantastic use of the visual medium to highlight the themes in the show. You'll find a fine example below in the visual that were used in the Seasons End section/

Seasons End

The last time the band played St David's Hall was The Brave Tour - mentioned by Steve Hogarth tonight as being one of the strangest gigs he's ever played. It was also my favourite gig of all time. 

The Hollow Man from Brave becomes a powerful response to the politics we now find ourselves having to endure all over the world as images of Putin, Bush, Blair, Cameron, Boris, Trump, Gove and May are projected over the band in ominous 1984esque visuals.

F.E.A.R. - Fuck Everyone And Run was Marillion's absolutely brilliant last album of original songs released in 2016. And one of it's best songs gives Steve Hogarth the chance to give his best animated performance of the evening as the band played the 20 minute Epic, The New Kings is about Russian Oligarchs and people of power taking advantage of the people in terms of using their wealth to forward their own agendas at the expense of ordinary citizens. It generated a standing ovation for the Band. One of many tonight.

Here's Part IV of The New Kings

By now we're in need of some love - but in keeping with the theme of the evening, it's not a happy ending as the band turn once again to Sounds That Can't Be Made for the beautifully moving The Sky Above The Rain, with some more gorgeous visuals playing over the Big Screen. It was also a perfect song to showcase the Orchestral players that accompany the band tonight. 

The Sky Above The Rain

In 2001 - Marillion released Anaroknophbia - now regarded as one of the pioneers of the Crowd Funded recordings - it gave the band complete artistic and financial control away from record companies and interfering executives. Tonight, the album gives us the final song of the set as the band launch into a high powered version of Separated Out with another terrific visual film accompaniment and a huge cheer when the band included a segment of Led Zeppelin's Kashmir into the mix.

 The band left the stage to a huge standing ovation and were soon back out to milk the applause.
The first encore belonged to the Band's 2004 album, Marbles.

Another huge Epic - Ocean Cloud is first up as the band move up to an even higher level to tell this story of Transatlantic heroism.

We are then brought gently back down to terra firma with the beautiful Some Fantastic Place with the Friends Of The Orchestra providing suitably swirling colour to the gentle yearning voice of Steve Hogarth. Another standing ovation follows and the band leave the stage once again. By now we have had over 2 hours of incredible music.

Some Fantastic Place

But..... we were treated to one more song. And one more Epic to finish off a night of Epic proportions.
We head back into 1997 to the magnificent album and it's title track, This Strange Engine as H straps on this cricket bat keyboard we're off and running in a show closing classic. 

It was a show where Marillion showed just how good they were. Still a force to be reckoned with 40 years later. Still relevant. Still producing beautifully epic and intimate music. They still have their finger on the pulse of what;s going on around them. And still have the ability to produce a magnificent s[spectacle of a performance. And their fan still love them with a passion. For a band in 2019 - what more could you want or ask for? 

For thirteen years the roads have all been closed
We're isolated. We're denied medical supplies
Fuel and work are scarce. They build houses on our farms
The old men weep. The young men take up arms.

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Live in 2019: Steve Hackett - live at St David's Hall, Cardiff on Saturday 9th November 2019

It was gig 3 out of 4 in PROGVEMBER as Steve Hackett brought his brilliant band to St. David's Hall in Cardiff once more for another thrilling Prog Spectacular in a venue specifically designed for dynamic music.  In a Sold Out Show Steve and the band gave us over 2 hours of great music that brought the crowd to their feet on several occasions throughout the evening.

Tonight's band consisted of band stalwarts Roger King on Keys, Rob Townsend on Flute Sax and blowy things, Nad Sylvan once again on vocal duties with new boys Jonas Reingold on Bass and Craig Blundell replacing the now departed Gary O'Toole behind the drumkit. After touring around Europe and the US the band tonight are tighter than Mr Blundell's snare as they are here tonight to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Steve's third solo album the ever popular Spectral Mornings. The album was celebrated in Part One together with a couple of songs from this latest solo album At The Edge Of Light.
Part Two includes a complete performance of the Genesis classic - Selling England By The Pound.

First up we have the now regular opener, from Spectral Mornings, the crowd pleasing Everyday.
Giving both the Band and the Audience a chance to get into the vibe of the show.

Spectral Mornings

The pleasing thing about Steve Hackett at the moment is his ability to still come up with excellent new music and new albums. The latest 4 or 5 albums have certainly produced some moments of brilliance and have been rewarded by some decent sales and comments by fans and critics alike. His latest album, At The Edge Of Light released this year, is no exception to this current rule.

The next theree tracks are all taken from that album. Under The Eye Of The Sun, Fallen Walls & Pedestals and Beasts in our Time show the range of quality contained within and are greeted with enthusiasm. It'll be interesting to see what tracks from these later albums become the Solo Classics as we move forward in Steve's later career.

Under The Eye Of The Sun

Beasts In Our Time

For the rest of the first half we are then treated to a selection of songs from the birthday girl -  Spectral Mornings.
I've seen Steve Hackett many a time since his decision to leave Genesis back in 1976 and I don't think I remember him ever playing one of my favourite tracks from Spectral Mornings - The Virgin & The Gypsy live - so it was a very special moment for me tonight as Steve strapped on his 12 String Acoustic and brought this lovely song to the fore and gave it the treatment it deserved.

The Virgin & The Gypsy

The dynamic Tigermoth came next with all it's wailing guitar and foreboding chord structures. One for the fans indeed.


There are several instrumental tracks on Spectral Mornings - it's very much a Musical album than a Songs album, if you get my drift. The title track is no exception. A powerhouse of virtuosity for all of the musicians involved. And in Cardiff tonight, Steve acknowledged Geoff Downes of Yes in the audience and also Rob Reed and Chris Fry of Welsh band Magenta - and complemented them on their cover that they produced with David Longdon, vocalist of Big Big Train and Magenta's own Christina Booth on vocals as they reinterpreted the song for a charity release. Every time I now hear the instrumental version of Spectral Mornings I now hear Tin & David singing in my head. And it's by no means a bad thing. Listen here to see what I mean.

Spectral Mornings 2015

Following the instrumental Spectral Mornings we then see Mr Hackett strapping on his 6 string acoustic and are treated to a gorgeous version of another instrumental beauty from Spectral, the eastern inspired The Red Flower Of Tachai Blooms Everywhere - accompanied by a lovely red light accompaniment on stage. It was very moving - for me at least.

The Red Flower.....

After that delicate beauty - we are treated to a blistering end to part one with the literally show stopping version of another beast of an instrumental from Spectral Mornings - the ominous The Angel Of Mons - (look it up and you'll see why it holds a special resonance for this Remembrance weekend). Here's where we see the power that Craig Blundell brings to the band.

The Angel Of Mons

With the end of Part One comes the end of the Solo Hackett years.

 For Part 2 we are immediately transported back to 1973 as soon as Nad Sylvan sings those now iconic first lines "Can you tell me where my country lies, said the Unifaun to his true love's eyes."
We're now in for one hell of an experience as we are treated to a FULL performance + of the Genesis classic and Steve Hackett's favourite Genesis album - Selling England By The Pound.

Steve has been playing selections from Selling England for many a year but this is the first time that J'm aware of that Steve has played the whole album in sequence. With minimal theatrics this time, the band danced their way through the pastoral beauty of the album. There's nothing I can really add about the album that's not already well know. Moments of power sweep in to be replaced by moments of quiet beauty. It's a VERY English album and has moments of humour streaked throughout the album like a stick of rock.
Opener Dancing With The Moonlit Knight reveals image after image of Prog's greatest hits as Gabriel's (I assume) imagination is given free reign on England. It also uses Steve's guitar to huge effect and sets up the whole album beautifully.
Here's Genesis playing it back in 1973.

Dancing With The Moonlit Knight

Back in the day - the early 70s - it was Genesis' one true hit single - I Know What I Like has become a staple of Steve Hackett shows and is a chance for Rob Townsend to shine as the track is augmented by some lovely sax work and tonight it brings another great cheer as it takes it's rightful place in the album.

I Know What I Like

Firth Of Fifth, as well as being my phone ringtone, is track three and again one that Steve and his band have been playing for years. Containing his favourite Genesis guitar solo, Steve uses it to showcase his amazing guitar work. He still has the ability to play it beautifully and it gains another long standing ovation from a by now rapturous Welsh crowd.

Firth Of Fifth

Phil Collins had two beautiful solo moments as lead vocalist before he finally stepped into the chair in 1976. The first was Nursery Crynes' For Absent Friends, the second was the next track More Fool Me from Selling England - a suitably delicate and acoustic song which in the album context feels like an interlude between these other epic tracks and beautifully closes side 1 of the album.

More Fool Me

And talking about Epics, next up is THE EPIC TRACK of the album - The Battle Of Epping Forest. As it opens side 2 of the album, it takes no prisoners. from the building marching steps it blossoms into one bonkers but attention holding tour de force of early Genesis. And the band completely do it justice tonight.
I have to say that the sound quality in the performance today really is outstanding and gives every musician the chance to breathe within the music and enables them to show just how good they are. And this track a special mention must go the Craig & Jonas who provide a powerhouse of a rhythm section. 

After The Ordeal is Steve's most complete contribution to the album. It's an instrumental piece which features both acoustic and electric guitar work and is a appetiser for the Epic, Cinema Show that comes up next.

Cinema Show is everything that is best about early Genesis. Oblique story telling, gorgeous musical pieces of firstly intricate beauty followed by a section of power leading to a brilliant climax. It really is the epitome of what Prog is all about and what it does best.

The first half of Cinema Show belongs to Nad Sylvan and he makes the song his own tonight as he has done for the past few years. Buoyed by commercial and artistic solo success, he has grown impressively as a vocalist and this reviewer for one can't wait for Nad to get his own tour and a chance to play his own music live.

Cinema Show & Aisle Of Plenty

The final Track - Aisle Of Plenty provides the short bookend to the album that completes one of the finest albums of Rock ever produced. Suitably the crowd give a LOOOOOONG standing ovation and rapturous applause breaks out again.

There was another track that almost made it to the album - Peter Gabriel brought the lyrics and some musical sketches to the band - a song called Deja Vu. With Peter's blessing, Steve has completed the some and presents it tonight as an additional track to Selling England. You'll find it below - with vocals provided by Paul Carrack.

Deja Vu

But we still had time for a couple more songs as Steve took us back to MY favourite Genesis album - A Trick Of The Tail for it's opener Dance On  A Volcano

Dance On A Volcano

There HAD to be an encore. And once again it comes in the form of another Genesis closing classic - Los Endos. But this time, Steve chose to give us the Genesis Revisited version which by the end brings the house down to another LOOONG standing ovation.

So, Steve Hackett and his band once again give us a special night at St David's Hall to remember. I was talking to Magenta's main man Robert Reed and guitarist Chris Fry after the show - and as Rob said, Steve tonight gave a performance that showed all of the younger musicians who happened to be watching exactly how to put on an unforgettable show. You know what?  He was spot on. 

All photographs are copyright and have been taken by Nick Baker