I had wanted to see Winter In Eden for a while, despite not having heard anything by them. The closest I had come before tonight was, I believe, when members of the band were handing out fliers for their second album at a Panic Room gig a couple of years back. The impetuous me would probably have bought a copy there and then if they had had any with them. A chance to see them earlier this year disappeared when the venue cancelled the gig (seemingly without telling the band) so I jumped at the chance to see them in tonight’s support slot.
Before the band came on the smoke-filled, blue-lit stage had an almost eerie appearance, suggesting a seasonal theme that tied in with the band’s name. They arrived on that stage to the strains of a symphonic backing track, the energetic opening track (For The Few if memory serves) being highlighted by crashing drums and a brief section that showed off Vicky Johnson’s vocal talents. The second track started slowly but grew into power and there was barely a chance for the audience to applaud before the next, a hard rocker that saw Steve Hauxwell standing over his drum kit to pound down on the cymbals, while Steve Johnson’s keyboards came through nicely. Moving on and a darker guitar sound from Sam Cull was counterpointed nicely by Vicki’s lighter vocals, then came the Celtic sounding Windelfell, an instrumental track from the band’s first album, which saw Vicki leave the stage and two women, decked out in fairy lights, in the audience dancing enthusiastically, as she seemed to know they would. The track had a Celtic feel to it in places. Vicki started singing the next track as she made her way back onto stage – it contained voiceovers in parts, gentle guitars in others – and continued the energy of the set by almost marching on the spot during the instrumental parts. After encouraging the audience to sing Happy Birthday to one regular fan, Vicki announced that they were having guitar issues and wouldn’t be able to perform the full set that they hoped to, she then performed an a cappella version of apparent fan-favourite Stolen Fairytale. It was both impressive as performed and intriguing as to what it would sound like complete with music. By now the marching seemed to have taken its toll and a heavy looking coat was discarded. The very atmospheric Possession featured the most prominent keyboard line of the set, which then ended with a lighter track. Overall, the performance had been lighter than I expected. Somehow I had got it into my head that Winter In Eden were a sort of British Nightwish or Within Temptation but, while there are similarities, they aren’t quite as intense as either of those two bands. Anticipation, in this case, was rewarded by the performance, amended and curtailed as it was and, almost inevitably, I bought the band’s full output of studio albums.
Strangely, Winter In Eden leaving the stage seemed to be a signal for some of the punters to leave the venue and, in a bizarre turnaround from the normal pattern, the audience for Cloud Atlas was noticeably smaller than that for their support. (Nominal support, perhaps, as I believe both bands were due to play the same length sets.) I fear that I will never understand music fans – turning up late and missing support acts is bad enough, leaving early and missing the headliners, though…?
Technical issues seemed to be a feature of Cloud Atlas’s set as well, albeit less acknowledged from the stage. Heidi Widdop’s not-quite-frantic but equally not-quite-subtle signalling to the sound desk throughout the set seemed to indicate that she was hunting for a better sound through the monitors, but very little sounded “off” from where I was standing. The addition of purple to the lighting had given the stage a warmer look before the band came on, while Martin Ledger and Ian Halford’s Santa hats brought a hint of the festive season to the proceeding. From the off, it seemed as though the band were going to play their debut album, Beyond The Vale, in full again, as they had done at its launch gig earlier in the year. The keyboard and low whistle combination announced the opening of Searchlight, Martin Ledger fascinating to watch as his e-bow teased effects out of his guitar before his riff opened up the music. The track built superbly into an incredible instrumental section which, in turn, faded through Heidi’s acoustic guitar and Dave Randall’s keyboards in the water effects opening of the quieter Siren Song. After those opening tracks, however, the band moved further down the album to The Grieving, its subtle piano opening soon being replaced by Heidi’s powerful vocals. In contrast, the opening of Let The Blood Flow was more energetic, the keyboards during the song more atmospheric. The song seemed ever changing as Martin once again wielded the e-bow before Heidi took up the acoustic guitar again for a slick segue into Falling. In a definite departure from the album launch, the band next announced Soul In A Jar, a track from the Stolen Earth album A Far Cry From Home, dedicating it to a member of the audience. More technical issues meant that Ian Halford and Stu Carver jammed on drum and bass, eventually joined by Dave Randall’s for a lively keyboards for a lively, jazz-like instrumental while Martin attempted to resolve a problem with his electric guitar, eventually ditching it in favour of an acoustic, giving tonight’s rendition a different sound to the album version. Journey’s End was up next and it seemed to take a while to get going, gradually building to a crescendo. By now the noise from Bier Keller which shares the venue was getting unusually loud and, despite one audience member effectively telling Heidi to ignore it, it seemed to be annoying her more and more. I honestly can’t remember what the final song of the set was (except that it wasn’t Stars, my favourite from the album) but, as it drew to a close, Heidi, apparently surprised by the fact, announced that they had run out of time. It seems that the set should have contained more and yet we weren’t even treated to an encore. Not that I’m complaining – shorter than expected it may have been, but it was still a more than enjoyable gig.