Tuesday 16th November: A bit of a strange posting this one. I haven’t been to a gig recently and haven’t had the time to listen to any recent CD purchases properly enough to make notes for a full review. (Bang goes the plan to review all of my 2010-released purchases.)
I am, however, currently listening to a CD that arrived in the post on Saturday and there’s a bit of a story behind my purchasing it (which is probably of absolutely no interest to anybody, but when has that ever stopped me putting fingers to keyboard…?
Recently, I was skimming an issue of Classic Rock Presents Prog magazine and came across a gig review for a band called Haze, who had played the Peel in Kingston. The review caught my eye as I remembered seeing a band of the same name in York some time ago, while I was still in school. The review ended with:
“It beggars belief why they never quite got the breaks earlier on in their career, and it’s a real shame because Haze should have been as popular if not more so than their counterparts during the early 80s: their neo-prog influence should have enjoyed far more success. Yet to see this band still tread the boards after over 30 years – albeit as sporadically as they do nowadays – should make anyone’s musical journey that little bit more complete.”
It couldn’t be the same band, could it? My memories of the gig in question really boiled down to the facts that I went with a group of friends, we were at the front of a backroom of a pub, the crowd showed their appreciation by “whooping” rather than (or perhaps as well as) applauding and the band themselves reminded me a bit of Rush, in looks if not in music. I also remembered that I bought a cassette on the night. Yes, even as a near virgin gig-goer, I still couldn’t resist spending money on the musical media of the time…
A quick search of the internet and I found the Wikipedia entry for Haze (band) but nothing really jumped out at me as conclusively linking the review with the band I remembered. In fact I was beginning to doubt it, as I had it in my head that the band I saw came from Bradford, while the Wikipedia entry was for a Sheffield band. I’m not one to give up easily, though and so clicked on the “official site” external link, where I couldn’t help but notice that the band’s logo looked very familiar. And there were gnomes on the site. Hang on, didn’t the cover of the cassette have a gnome on it???
To cut a long story short, the two bands were in fact one and the same and Haze had experienced a degree of success back in the 80s, self-releasing two albums and touring extensively in an old ambulance. Unfortunately, lack of genuine success (and the writing off of the ambulance) eventually led to Haze splitting up after ten years, although they do, obviously, reform now and again for anniversary gigs and the like.
Even before I had confirmed that it was the same band (final confirmation coming during an email conversation between myself and bassist/keyboard player Chris McMahon, who not only remembered which pub it was, but the name of the cassette – The Cellar Tapes, which puts the date that I saw them play somewhere in 1983 and, therefore, one of my first gigs – and the fact that the “whooping” originated in either York or Nottingham) I had decided to order a copy of the double CD recording of the 30th anniversary shows, recorded back in 2008, mostly at Sheffield’s Boardwalk. And it’s that CD that I’m currently listening to and thoroughly enjoying.
Strangely, although I can’t have heard The Cellar Tapes for something like twenty years, I recognised the second track of the CD – Turn Around – as being one of the tracks from it almost immediately.
The CD itself is an excellent live recording, one of the type that leaves everything in, including the banter, and is therefore, an full and accurate account of the gig rather than a watered down, edited version. The music is superb, maybe not quite as prog as the other bands around in the 80s (those that I know, anyway). There are some vague hints of Rush, especially around some of the keyboards sections, but there is also a more folky element supplied by the flute of Ceri Ashton, which also, somewhat inevitably, reminds me of Jethro Tull, especially during Train. There’s an energy and confidence to the performance that belies the fact that the band rarely now performs (as Haze, anyway – the members do perform as Treebeard, an acoustic, more folk flavoured band). There is also a relaxed feel to the whole thing, evident in the slower numbers and between songs camaraderie. The audience doesn’t sound huge but is definitely appreciative even if there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of “whooping”. Apart from Turn Around, nothing is immediately recognisable to me but, overall, it’s definitely my kind of music. According to the liner notes, the song selection spans the whole thirty years, not just the Haze era. Hearing it, I can’t help but feel a bit nostalgic for that 80s gig and would echo the sentiments expressed in the magazine review. Haze definitely deserved more success than they got.