Monday, 29 May 2017

Trinity Live 2017

Back in 2014 there was an event held at The Assembly in Leamington Spa called Trinity which a day of progressive rock music to raise money for various cancer charities. The event came from a proposed mini tour between Touchstone, The Reasoning, and Magenta of the same name which had to be cancelled when Magenta's frontwoman Christina Booth was diagnosed with cancer. This tour became a day of music for a good cause and over £9000 was raised, which was an excellent achievement for all involved. There were always plans to follow up the event with another, but for various reasons not made public the proposed Trinity II that was to take place in 2015 never happened. As time passed I assumed the event was to be a one-off, but then last year it was announced that the long-awaited follow-up to that 2014 day would take place in 2017, again at The Assembly. The main three bands, Lonely Robot, Touchstone, and Ghost Community were announced right away, and this was enough to get me to commit to going. I had not yet had an opportunity to see the new Touchstone line-up live, and I had wanted to catch both Lonely Robot and Ghost Community live. A further three bands: A Formal Horse, the Dec Burke Band, and the debut solo performance from former Touchstone frontwoman Kim Seviour were announced later on to complete the line-up. As with the previous event, there was a raffle and a charity auction held throughout the day, with goodies to be won/bought that had been donated by Marillion, Steven Wilson, Steve Hackett and many others. The music all kicked off at 1:30pm, so a fairly early start was needed from the South West. Still, I got up to Leamington in time for some lunch at the local Wetherspoons, have a quick wander around the town itself, and head down to The Assembly in time for the first band. The turnout, while certainly not awful, was certainly not great. It was a shame that not more people made the effort to attend this day of music in aid of a good cause, but sadly this seems to be the case for the underground prog scene at the moment with audience numbers dropping off somewhat. Still, there were enough people in attendance to make create a good atmosphere, and numbers did swell somewhat throughout the day.

Up first were the Southampton-based band A Formal Horse who's abrasive complex songs seemed to interest large portions of the crowd, but sadly left me totally cold. As much as I am a fan of progressive rock music, there still has to be a strong melody to keep me interested. A Formal Horse's music was anything but melodic, and rather had a schizophrenic quality with discordant guitar lines and ethereal vocals. In fairness, guitarist Benjamin Short is a very skillful player. His only guitar was a double-neck Gibson SG and much of the heavy riffing used the twelve-string neck to create a beefy sound. There was certainly a lot of Yes' Steve Howe in his jazzy lead playing too, and there was some genuinely impressive passages in the band's songs. Overall though, I found the music too abrasive and without any real coherence or melody.

After a quick changeover, the Dec Burke Band took to the stage for what turned out to be a set of much more traditional progressive rock. Dec Burke seems to be quite well known in the prog scene, having been a member of both Darwin's Radio and Frost*, but this was my first exposure to this music. The first three bands only got half an hour or so on stage which meant the first part of the evening raced by. Sadly, Dec Burke's set was one of those sets I am sure we have all seen before in the way that you really struggle to remember anything about it afterwards. The songs themselves were decent enough but nothing about them, or the performance, really stood out. Dec Burke sang and played the guitar, and it was his solos that stood out the most during the set. He is a good guitar player, but his set left little of an impression on me when it was done.

The highlight of the first half of the day was the debut solo performance from Kim Seviour, in her first high-profile gig since leaving Touchstone for health reasons in 2015. With her solo album Recovery is Learning, which was co-written and produced by John Mitchell, due for release at the end of July this set at Trinity II allowed her to premier some of the new songs live for the first time. While there are some similarities to Touchstone's sound in her new songs, the music was understandably simpler to allow for her vocals to really lead the songs. It is hard to judge a whole set of new songs from a new band on one live appearance, but I certainly liked what I heard. There was a good mix of upbeat rockier songs and slower, more downbeat numbers which should give the album some variety. With a strong reaction from the crowd, it is fair to say that Kim Seviour's first solo outing was a success, and I am certainly looking forward to hearing her new album when it drops in a couple of months time.

After Kim Seviour's set, there was a two-hour break which allowed the punters to go and get some food etc. and allowed me to go and check into the local Travelodge and get a little bit of rest before the main event to come. There seemed to be a few more in attendance after the break, which is probably unsurprising considering the 'bigger name' bands filled the three evening slots, as well as the raffle and charity auction also taking place.

Ghost Community were the first band of the evening session, and they are a band I have been wanting to see live since getting their debut album album Cycle of Life last year. Formed by former members of The Reasoning, Also Eden, and Crimson Sky in 2014, Ghost Community formally burst onto the scene last June with their debut album and have a few shows under their belts already. The set kicked off with the harder rock of Rise Up, gracefully led by the smooth vocals of frontman John Paul Vaughn and Matt Cohen's (bass guitar/percussion) melodic bassline. The band then proceeded to play the vast majority of their debut album, the lengthy title track aside, and the diverse material came across really well on stage. While not a particularly active frontman Vaughn, who looked as if he had raided Spike from The Quireboys' wardrobe, really led the charge with a strong vocal performance throughout. Ghost Community's music if often keyboard driven, with many of the standout melodies coming from Robert Gerrard's keyboards. Aside from Rise Up, another standout number was the vitriolic Blue December Morning, which starts off slowly before building up to a heavier ending with Simon Rogers' (guitar/vocals) riffs. A slightly clunky, but enjoyable, cover of Marillion's The Uninvited Guest brought a powerful live set to a close with some excellent off-kilter drumming from Jake Bradford-Sharp. Based on this performance I am sure that Ghost Community will make a name for themselves in the prog world, and I hope to catch them live again soon. The setlist was:

Rise Up
Mirror Lakes
Anything and Everything
Blue December Morning
Ghost Community
The Uninvited Guest [Marillion cover]

After the raffle and a handful of the auction lots, it was time for Touchstone to hit the stage and they did with aplomb by opening with their traditional set-closer Strange Days. I had not seen this melodic prog band since the last Trinity event, so was really looking forward to see what new members Aggie (vocals) and Liam Holmes (keyboards) would bring to the band's live shows. 'Lots' is the answer to that and this performance was probably the best I had seen the band perform since the shows supporting Wintercoast back in 2009. With all three new songs from last year's EP Lights from the Sky present in the set, this was a forward-looking performance that showcased Touchstone reinvigorated and full of energy. Moo (vocals/bass guitar) has taken over the male lead vocal sections, as displayed during the prog metal epic Wintercoast which is still one the best songs of it's kind ever written, and Adam Hodgson (guitar/vocals) now adds extra backing vocals where required to bulk out the sound. The new songs came across well, especially the heavier Tangled Lines, and Aggie really seemed full of confidence on these songs that she co-wrote. She owned the older material too, and the golden oldie Blacktide sparkled with charm as it did at those shows so long ago. Holmes is a real find too, and his busy keyboard playing really added a lot to the band's sound. The aforementioned Wintercoast really came alive with his additions, including a classically-influenced piano break part-way through that really added to the song and added some virtuosity to proceedings. The set came to and end with one of the new numbers, Lights from the Sky, which is packed full of Eastern melodies and a commanding vocal display from Aggie. I wish they could have played for longer, as they were the band of the day for me, so I look forward to their upcoming new album and hopefully catching them live again sometime soon. The setlist was:

Strange Days
Tangled Lines
Lights from the Sky

The remaining auction lots were sold off as the crew were setting up for Lonely Robot, the headliners and final act of the day. Lonely Robot is essentially the solo project of John Mitchell (vocals/guitar) from Arena and It Bites among others. I had seen Mitchell previously fronting It Bites a handful, but this was the first time I had seen him on his own and presenting his solo material. Backing Mitchell was a band consisting of Steve Vantsis (bass guitar/vocals), who is known for being the long-time bassist for Fish, Touchstone's Holmes on keyboards, and Craig Blundell (drums), who is a long-time member of Frost* and also plays with Steven Wilson. With two albums now under the Lonely Robot moniker, there was a lot of material to showcase, but sadly the band's set had to be truncated somewhat to just over an hour as the auction overran and the time it took to soundcheck and set up all the gear. The band took to the stage and stormed through the blistering instrumental Airlock, which is built around Mitchell's excellent guitar solo, before going straight into God vs Man which has a heavier overall feel. Despite the band's second album The Big Dream only being released recently, most of the set was drawn from the debut album Please Come Home. The melodic rocker The Boy in the Radio was an early highlight, and possesses easily the best chorus Mitchell has written. Kim Seviour took the stage part-way through to duet with Mitchell on Oubliette, as she did on the album, before the heavier prog of Construct/Obstruct wowed the crowd. Throughout the gig, two people dressed in astronauts outfits walked slowly through the crowd, which was quite odd, but did help to add to the overall atmosphere of the night. The short, piano-led The Red Balloon followed before, after being told they had time for one more, a barnstorming version of Sigma from the new album brought Trinity II to a hard rocking end. The setlist was:

God vs Man
The Boy in the Radio
In Floral Green
Lonely Robot
Oubliette [w/ Kim Seviour]
The Red Ballon

Overall, it would appear that Trinity II was a success. The final total of monies raised for the cancer charities has yet to have been announced, but I would imagine it will be a healthy amount. Congratulations must go out to Adam Hodgson and Moo from Touchstone, Matt Cohen from Ghost Community, along with Jerry Ewing, who edits Prog Magazine, for compering the day with extreme enthusiasm. There was also a lady who was involved with the organisation of the day, but I cannot recall her name so apologies for not name-checking her here! While it is a shame that there were not a few more people there on the day, it is safe to say that those in attendance had a great day of live music and contributed to raising money for a worthy cause. I hope there is a Trinity III in the future, and I am sure I will be there if there is!

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