Uploaded to Aural Innovations: August 2003
It was Saturday 19 July and unbelievably hot in east London. The heat became almost unbearable as we were waiting to enter the venue and the only respite was from the breeze created by the passing traffic. We were about to be treated to the Woronzow 'Summer Pudding', a kind of mini Terrastock, featuring acts as diverse as Outskirts of Infinity, Adam Goldman (from thebrotheregg), Tony Hill’s Fiction, Anton Barbeau, Ethereal Counterbalance, The Lucky Bishops, Keith Christmas and Bevis Frond. This was to be an experience of British psychedelic rock from such luminaries as Nick Saloman, Adrian Shaw, Tony Hill, Pete Pavli and ‘Rustic’ Rod Goodway and I couldn't wait for the entertainment to begin. The venue was small, holding around 500, but that added to the atmosphere of the performances.
When the doors finally opened we were treated to a blast of heavy psychedelic rock from Bari Watt’s Outskirts of Infinity. Unfortunately, like many of the acts on the bill today, I don’t know much about this band - but they were damn good. They were, however, not the logical choice to open the event, it was still very hot and people were wandering around buying drinks and finding somewhere cool to recover. But outside factors meant that Bari Watts and company had to perform first. This was a shame, as they would have benefited from a later slot. After Outskirts, Adam Goldman from thebrotheregg did an acoustic set. This gentle and melodic interlude was a perfect alternative from the sonic assault of the previous act.
Tony Hill’s Fiction was the third band up on stage and many people were waiting expectantly for the set to begin. We were treated to an absolute stormer of British psychedelia that included the old High Tide song, ‘Death Warmed Up’, with a guest appearance from Pete Pavli and John Perry from The Only Ones. A complete change of style followed on from Tony Hill's Fiction, as Anton Barbeau, ably supported by Adrian Shaw and Nick Saloman, produced a fine set of melodic pop rock. This gentle set, filled with humour in the lyrics, almost seemed out of place in the general feel of the day but fabulous musicianship and a robust performance helped sway many in the audience to appreciate this American's musical style. After Ethereal Counterbalance, The Lucky Bishops took to the stage. Here again was another fabulous set of melodic rock, which brought everyone, back down to earth after the experience of Ethereal Counterbalance. The penultimate act of the day was the perennial favourite Keith Christmas - who reminded everyone there of the importance of folk music. To finish the night, Bevis Frond took to the stage. To put it quite simply, they reminded everyone of the fact that they are an absolutely fantastic live band.
I have to admit that the main reason why I came to the ‘Summer Pudding’ was to see Ethereal Counterbalance and the Bevis Frond - bands I’ve enjoyed listening to for many years but have either never seen or, in the case of Bevis Frond, not for about a decade. I knew from correspondence with ‘Rustic Rod’ that the Ethereal Counterbalance set was going to be a new musical experience for me and one that I was really looking forward to. Hints are available as to what you can expect, check out the mp3’s on Rods’ website and on ‘Acid Jam 2’ from Woronzow records. They are a band that all psychedelic music lovers must go see live - they are that good. But I digress, Ethereal Counterbalance produced an astounding and riveting musical experience.
The start of the Ethereal Counterbalance's set began with a beautiful bass line and elegant guitar playing around a basic structure. This set the scene for a haunting musical landscape. The lyrics sounded like a litany of ‘hippy’ mysticism, but they did not come across as dated or twee. The feeling Rod Goodway created with his performace and the musical accompaniment gave everything a deeper meaning that reached deep down into your psyche. All of this happening within a few minutes of starting - this boded well for the rest of the set. It was, perhaps, a musical experience more akin to something very spiritual. The refrain, ‘My time coming … don’t worry about it now’ broached the second movement. Nick Saloman, Paul Simmonds, Keith Christmas and the others were all playing their guitars with ferocious intensity, but were never overpowering or out of place to the general feel of the mystical lyrics. Adrian Shaw and Pete Pavli provided the perfect bass lines - neither taking particular control over the direction but both adding to the whole as if they had been jamming together like this for years. In fact, as Rod Goodway told me afterwards, the whole piece of music was improvised, a fabulous feat and a testament to their abilities. As the music progressed, the guitarists weaved their magic around the stability provided by the basses, creating something very beautiful. Rod’s lyrics, when he felt that the time was right to sing, added immeasurably to the whole. Trying to put into words the complexity and beauty of the performance is very difficult, words don’t really convey the soundscapes that were created in the mind, this was an almost shamanic performance redolent of Captain Beefheart, Magic Muscle, Hawkind and even the early, experimental Pink Floyd. The pleading refrain, ‘Enjoy it while you can’ and ‘our time has come now’ summed up not only the fleeting nature of the day but of life in general. Rod’s insistent lyrics, like all other aspects of the set, did not impose themselves, in many ways they were subliminal, as if he was singing telepathically directly into your mind. The dreaminess, made possible by the heat and the beautiful and emotive performance by all upon the stage, made the performance seem surreal. This was one of the most interesting performances I’ve ever seen. It was as if you were listening through headphones in a quiet dark room, alone except for the music. Just as you were expecting the music to gently come to an end, the guitars explode and the lyrics scream at you ‘Catch the train’ over and over until, as if drained of all energy, it suddenly dies, exhausted. The music lasted for around 25 minutes, but it seemed both shorter and longer. I was transported to my own private paradise. I have never experienced this at a live gig in this way before. If you ever get the chance to go see them play live, I suggest that you do so that you might understand precisely what I mean.
After Ethereal Counterbalance the next two acts, Keith Christmas and The Lucky Bishops, were at a grave disadvantage. I for one was still recovering from Ethereal Counterbalance to really appreciate them. So, by the time that Bevis Frond took to the stage, a lot was expected of them. They had a lot to live up to even though Nick and Adrian had already performed twice in the stifling heat.
After the magic of Ethereal Counterbalance, Bevis Frond were like a shot of adrenaline into the arm bringing all the senses back to earth with a fantastic performance of psychedelic rock and roll. Starting off with a new song ‘Doing Nothing’, a romping rockier number of the type you expect from the band, Nick and company provided the perfect start to the perfect end of the day's musical extravaganza. The crowd pleaser, ‘Hole Song #2’ came up next and played with a passion to absolute perfection. This was the first time I’d seen Bevis Frond play live in over a decade. Their energy and enthusiasm was there for all to see. ‘Oh Gideon’ and ‘Stoned Train Driver’ were next and then another new song, ‘Alpha Waves’ which was similar to the style of the ‘Valedictory Songs’ album. If these two songs are good examples of what the new album will sound like, then we are going to be in for a treat. Nick, Adrian, Jules and Paul were playing to perfection, except for the occasional flat note, but it had been a long hot day, and then we came to one of the highlights of the set and the day as a whole. A quick change of guitar, bringing in an eastern inflection to the sound and the dark, brooding and even menacing ‘Superseeded’ began. This version of the song included an extended middle section where we got to experience the brilliance of Nick in full flow while Adrian and Paul kept the pace of the song flowing gently in the background. ‘Maybe’ came next, the perennial favourite that never fails to impress. Then ‘Silver Dart’. A short interlude followed as Nick talked about his friend Adam Ant and expressed his sorrow about the tragic fall of the flawed genius. Apart from this slight detour from the music, ‘Nursery Rhymes’ reminded everyone of the reason for being here, and then the hauntingly beautiful ‘Stain on the Sun’ - my favourite Bevis Frond song. ‘Stain’ was played to perfection and, for me, produced one of my highlights of the day. ‘Down Time’ brought the set to an end, lasting around twenty minutes with band introductions and solos. Then after a short break, they were back with ‘God Speed You To Earth’, a mellow end to a perfect set. This was a performance that the band seemed to be enjoying as much as the crowd.
I reckon that Nick and Adrian deserve 10 out of 10 for putting together a superb day’s entertainment. Thanks to Rod Goodway, Adrian Shaw and Roger Neville-Neil for help and informtion in putting this review together