Monday, 10 October 2016

Live in 2016: The Christians live at Acapela Studios, Pentyrch, Cardiff on Saturday October 1st 2016

Tonight was a unique opportunity to see one of the UK's best bands up close and personal. The gig was being held in The Acapela Studios in a little village outside Cardiff called Pentyrch.
It's housed in a converted chapel which still has some pews both downstairs and upstairs and is a perfect space, especially for acoustic based music. Tonight's performance reminded me very much of one those MTV Unplugged shows which were a huge success a few years ago.

The Christians now comprise of Garry Christian (Vocals), Joey Ankrah (Vocals/Lead Guitar), Neil Griffiths (acoustic Guitar/Vocals) and Mike Trigg (Keyoards). They are still making albums, their latest being, We, released in 2015. But tonight we were treated to an almost complete Greatest Hits show.

The band, looking extremely comfortable in this foursome, perched on their stools, started the show with an accomplished and soulful cover of Bob Dylan's I Shall Be Released.
They had the crowd on their side within one song and the enthusiastic applause continued throughout the performance.

It would have been so easy for the band to slip into the promotion of their latest album, We, which is very good indeed. But they chose to give the audience exactly what they wanted with a succession of songs that were more or less The Christians Greatest Hits. It was a move that paid dividends as the Sold Out Acapela heard singing as it had probably not been heard since its days as a chapel. The audience knew every word and sung along on many of tonight's songs. They didn't need the encouragement of Garry Christian but he gave it anyway.

So, for the next song we had the sublime Born Again, which highlighted the harmonies that are still present within the band.

The Christians have had enough hits to warrant a Greatest Hits album and the next song Perfect Moment was one that was included on the band's Best Of album released in 1993, showing that they could still produce a song in that year as good as any of their 80s tunes.

The band were clearly enjoying tonight's show and the witty banter between themselves and the audience only enhanced the jovial atmosphere within the hall.

A big cheer wnt up as the opening phrase to the next song, Words, rang around the walls of the studio. The crowd sat silently to this one as they drank in the fabulous lead vocal of Garry Christian. He still has a voice like velvet.

It was a case of severe audience participation for the next song, Greenbank Drive, as the band hit their stride in giving the audience another of their biggest hits.

Tonight was a show of two halves and the band finished part one on a high as they sang another of their best known hits, the anthemic, What's In A Word. Again with the audience singing along with great enthusiasm. 

After a swift drink, it was back into the fray as the opening notes of another huge 80s anthem, Forgotten Town, rang around the chapel. It's delightful to hear all of these fantastic songs again, many written by former Christian, HENRY PRIESTMAN who now has a very successful solo career. The songs are full of a social conscience and have lost none of their power and insight over the years.

As if to prove that the band have not lost their social conscience, the next song is from their latest album, We, and is about the 96 Liverpool football fans who lost their lives at Hillsborough. 
Big Red Sky provided one of the show stopping moments as the band projected a film of the fight the families of the 96 fought to get justice for their departed loved ones. It was a very moving moment.
Here is that video.

How do you follow that? Well, if you're The Christians, you pick one of your biggest hits as we are treated to another superb singalong to the fantastic, Ideal World. If ever we needed this song - it's now - and the audience reaction is just fantastic. 

It's now hits again for the last three songs of the evening as the band play The Bottle, Sad Songs and then end the set with the superb Hooverville. Again, a song that has lost none of it's power over the subsequent years and is as relevant today as the day it was first released back in 1987.

The song brought an end to the second set and a standing ovation from a Sold Out Acapela. But there had to be an encore.

And why not leave the audience on a high. The Christians chose their biggest hit to end the show tonight, a great cover of The Isley Brothers classic, Harvest For The World. As you can see from the video below (from tonight's performance), it was a great singalong moment and was the perfect ending to a very excellent show.

The day after the gig, the band announced another date for 2017. 

I've got my ticket already.

Do yourselves a favour and go and see a great band who can still cut the mustard on their own terms. Trust me, you won't be disappointed.

And when you come back next year guys, how about playing MY favourite Christians song - the majestic Man Don't Cry?

Twitter - @thechristians

Live in 2016: Rob Reed & Special Guests - Sanctuary Live at Real World Studios, Box, Wiltshire on Saturday 8th October 2016

Ever since recording the first Sanctuary album back in 2014, Rob Reed has been imagining how he could present the music in a live context. This year, with the release of the Sanctuary 2 album, Rob  finally found a way to present Sanctuary that he was happy with.

And where better than in the Sanctuary of Progressive Rock - Peter Gabriel's Real World Studio. 

Hidden away in the village of Box in rural Wiltshire, Real World is set in a beautiful set of buildings in a lovely manicured garden with streams and weeping willow trees. You can immediately see why Mr Gabriel decided to set up his musical home here. It truly is a stunning venue.

With state of the art technological facilities, you can also see why Rob Reed decided to hold the live debut of Sanctuary in these hallowed surroundings. 

The two shows were presented as a matinee performance and then an evening performance.
I chose the afternoon performance to be able to see the studio in all it's glory.

We were warmly welcomed as we booked into the reception area and collected our programmes. 

Rob wanted to keep the debut shows small and selective so Real World was the perfect venue and you could palpably feel the excitement and anticipation build as the audience was led into The Big Room ready for the performance.

Both of the shows were being filmed for hopefully a forthcoming DVD release so it was strictly No Cameras and Phones Off - so sorry, no photos of the gig itself.

Rob didn't want to skimp on the quality of the music presented live so brought together 11 of his musical companions including his Magenta band colleagues.

The musicians for today's performances were:

Robert Reed - Guitar, Keyboards, Tubular Bells, Percussion & Vocoder

Chris Fry - Acoustic, 12 String, Nylon & Electric Guitar     Martin Shellard - Electric Guitar, Nylon Guitar & Banjo                 Dan Nelson - Bass Guitar       Jonathan 'Jiffy' Griffiths - Drums & African Percussion       Tim Lewis - Keyboards, Vocoder and Low Synth       Nigel Hopkins - Piano       
Simon Brittlebank - Marimba, Vibraphone, Glockenspiel, Timpani &..... Tubular Bells
Angharad Brynn - Solo Voice       Vocal Chants - Christina Booth, Fran Murphy, Lorraine King & Ffion Wilkins 

Firstly, as you might expect in this venue, the sound quality was first class. You could hear every instrument perfectly which must have been quite an achievement to produce as they were plenty of them.

With Rob Reed at centre stage, with a keyboard and electric guitar, the 'band' started with 
Sanctuary 1 - part 1.

Both Sanctuary albums are absolutely delicious. I'm assuming by reading this review that you are aware of what Rob Reed was trying to achieve with the Sanctuary album releases. If not, you might like to check my review of Sanctuary 1 to see what we were all listening to in The Big Room.

Sanctuary 1 Part 1 end section

There was always the temptation that Rob would choose to recreate the album note for note but to his credit, Rob allowed himself the creative space to interpret Sanctuary beautifully for the stage. Don't get me wrong, the music is very much the album but with added dynamics that only a live performance can give. Sanctuary 1 had minimal live drumming on it, Sanctuary 2 has much more. But the added rhythm that the drums provided on stage drive the piece along beautifully.

I really can't express in words how much hearing these works live has meant to me. My vocabulary isn't that big but hearing that guitar soar and those glockenspiel notes twinkle just brought a tear to my eye. 

Also a special mention here for the ladies who provided the human vocal touches this evening. They were spot on and just sounded heavenly. And Angharad Brynn, with her solo vocal performance was just sublime.

Although the music is based on the template of Tubular Bells and the early 70s albums, those albums were far more melancholic, as a mirror of Mike Oldfield's personality. The Sanctuary releases are much more optimistic and joyous and it really showed in today's performances.

You could really see all of the musician's were enjoying themselves immensely as there were smiles galore. Mr Reed, a shy individual at the best of times, ran the show like a true ringmaster, counting in the sections to the musicians using both his hands and facial gestures. 

As the final acoustic guitar notes of  Sanctuary 1 Part 1 drifted off there was a quiet that held there, just for a moment, as the audience took in exactly what they had just witnessed. Then they erupted in applause. 

The smile that Rob Reed gave just lit up the room. And I couldn't have been happier for him. All the hard world that had gone into planning today's performance had just paid off. Big Time.

From the front row, I could see Rob's nervousness to the reaction just slip from his shoulders as he probably realised that the works he had released over the past two years DID actually work as a live performance.

Next, Rob and the musicians performed a small piece of Sanctuary 1 - Part 2 before the main event of the complete Sanctuary 2 album.

Sanctuary 2

I haven't completed my review yet for Sanctuary 2 (there is a reason that will become clear later in the year) but suffice to say it is another beautiful piece of work. Even more dynamic and beautifully sonic than Sanctuary 1.

I visited Rob in his studio while he was working on it and the phrase that I used of hearing the early mixes was that it was like Sanctuary 1 but wearing velvet and brocade. I wasn't far off.

Buoyed with confidence to the reaction of Sanctuary 1, Rob and the musicians gave their all while playing both sides of Sanctuary 2. I could see it in their faces as they smiled throughout the performances.

Once again, a special mention to the ladies vocal performance which has a greater presence in Sanctuary 2
Sanctuary 2 is richer in approach than the first album and this gives every musician on that stage a chance to shine. 
It would be easy for Rob to take the lead performances for himself but in the spirit of generosity that pervades the performance, he gives all the musicians their chance to shine. 

While Rob didn't leave his position for Sanctuary 1, the temptation became too much (planned, I'm sure) as he stepped behind Simon Brittlenbank's section to play Vibraphone, a Sleigh Bells Stick and Tubular Bells.

On the album, Simon Phillips mans the drum-kit but tonight young Jonathan Griffiths stepped up to the plate and put in an absolutely sterling performance.

With two excellent guitarists on stage I was pleasantly surprised to see Rob doing so much guitar work. Known as a keyboard player, Rob had to learn all of the instruments played on the Sanctuary albums and he is a much better guitarist than he thinks he is.

Suffice to say that Sanctuary 2 Parts 1 & 2 are performed magnficently and the musicians left the stage with a standing ovation ringing in their ears. It was great to see the smiling faces all around the room, not only on the stage but in the audience too.

Everybody in that room knew what they had just witnessed and were so glad to be there.

There just HAD to be an encore and as the lady vocalists came back onto the stage masked up with animal faces we knew what was coming next.

Rob and the musicians played the title track from the Willow Song EP with the glorious vocals of Angharad Brynn sealing the deal.

Willow Song interview with Rob Reed

After another standing ovation, the musicians left the stage for the last time to thunderous applause.

The end of a very special performance indeed.

Following the end of the performance we all left The Big Room where the musicians were on hand to talk and have photos taken and sign the albums and cds.

The buzz among the audience was that we had all been present at something very special indeed.

I know that Rob and the musicians have performed in some very large venues and been a part of major music festivals but I think that all of them will hold today's performance close to their hearts.

Rob must be extremely proud of what he has achieved with the Sanctuary projects, both recorded and live.
And they had the opportunity to relive that performance all over again in the evening.

With Rob's attention to detail, I'm sure the DVD will be a fitting monument to today's very special performances. So let's hope for a full Blu Ray presentation in 5.1 Surround Sound - then everyone else might just have some idea of what it was like to be there.

Over to you, Mr Reed.


Shoobaddy Shoobaddy Doo  

Twitter - @robreedmagenta