I don’t know why but, when I first noticed this gig, I assumed that Beastfish, first on stage, were a local band that I had yet to come across. It turns out I was wrong but I still don’t know by how much, as there is very little information about them out in cyberspace. That they come from the East coast and that they are supporting Here And Now on two dates is about all that I’ve been able to find out. Apparently moving straight from sound check to performance, without any sort of fanfare, they foursome provided a set perhaps more accurately described as poetry with a backdrop of music than songs. The frontman flicked through a thick book of lyrics or poems between tracks. His vocals, often heavily effects-laden, were delivered in a theatrical fashion, although his brief forays into harmonica playing during the first part of the set did little to enhance the tracks they appeared in. Each track got a good reception from the crowd – small at this point, but growing steadily – and I suspect most people there at this point knew more about the band than I did. The second track saw the rhythm section swap duties between bass and drums, something that was to continue throughout the set, while the guitarist, Slim Verhoef (how did I know his name while not knowing those of the rest of the band? Keep reading…) kicked it off with a scratchy sound, later moving to restrained use of a wah-wah pedal. The vocals weren’t as clear during this much shorter track. “Sssh, we’re going to calm things down a bit now,” announced the frontman as the sound of cymbals rolled in like waves. It was slower and definitely calmer, the music ambient in nature until a change of pace let to a section that built strongly, during which the band’s name could be heard repeated. It was back to a rockier and catchier sound for the next track, which also included a brief section of singing as opposed to spoken word. An evil sounding cackle and, “My Daddy told me when we get worried, get nasty,” kicked off the next track. What that intro meant wasn’t clear as the vocals were swamped by the music, but the delivery was impressive. “This is really mad. We might have to stop it half way through,” was the declaration before the next track. There was a deeper, almost droning, feel to the vocals, while Verhoef used a triangle, vibrated against the strings of his guitar, to produce a lighter sound within the darkness. I have a feeling that the track me have been something to do with slugs, but wouldn’t stake anything on it. After a while the vocalist brought the track to what seemed to be an abrupt end, claiming that was enough. Unfortunately he was then advised that they had run out of time. “We had another song but we can’t do it and it was the best,” he apologised, bringing an unusual and strangely compelling set to an end.
Cloud Atlas’ acoustic line-up for tonight should have included Dave Randall on keyboards, but he wasn’t well and so Heidi Widdop and Martin Ledger took to the stage as a duo, Heidi explaining that it was going to be, “really just a bit of a jam”. Even with that caveat fans of the band would still have realised that this was still going to be a great performance. Martin’s strong acoustic guitar gave way to Heidi’s low whistle to give the opening to Searchlight a mystical feel. The stripped back, acoustic arrangement, with Heidi providing rhythm guitar behind Martin’s lead, made for a more intimate sound, although the song was still powerful. I would, however, question the impact of plunging the pair into near darkness halfway through the track, which ended with a superb instrumental section. “Lovely,” breathed the guy next to me as it drew to a close and I couldn’t help but think that it was a shame more people weren’t paying as much attention. “We’re making it up as we go along,” claimed Heidi as the crowd broke into applause. Siren Song was notable for Heidi’s superb vocals and Martin’s E-bow section and, along with Falling, showed off his brilliance with the guitar. His influences seem to range from Pink Floyd to the sounds of the East and he never plays to excess, often letting the gaps between the notes have as much impact as the notes themselves. The fact that the pair were jamming was evident in the frequent looks that passed between them to indicate time and tonal changes and track endings. Without keyboards there was a lot of their own music that the duo couldn’t play, so they next threw in a cover of Billy Jean, one that took a while for me to recognise, its unusual slowness building to a powerful climax. After it had been cut from the last couple of, full band, gigs, it was great to hear Stars – my favourite track from Beyond The Vale – again, and a brilliant version it was that we got tonight. Primarily Heidi’s song, her incredible vocals were self-backed by rhythm guitar, with Martin adding a few effects along the way and contributing more to a a couple of instrumental sections, the impressive second of which brought the set to a spectacular ending.
I must have heard of Here & Now because as soon as I saw they were going to be at Fibbers I knew,in the back of my head, that they were a band I would want to see. But I knew nothing about them at that point and went along in a position of near ignorance, having only briefly researched them. Wikipedia and their own Facebook page describe them as “space rock”, a genre I am a fan of but my points of reference are really just a handful of Hawkwind and Hawklords albums and few gigs by the latter and a couple of Hawkwind tribute/spin-off bands, so I’m no expert. The audience had by now swelled considerably and, although there were far more people here than at any of those other gigs, I recognised a few faces in it. It was a mixed audience, young “hippy” types with more head and facial hair than I could ever hope to grow mixed with older fans and there was even one table of youngsters who looked like they might have turned up to the wrong gig altogether. The band carried on that disparity as they took to the stage. Keith tha Bass, in white sport jacket and natty shoes, might have been heading out to a semi-formal dinner if it wasn’t for the stripy top under that jacket. Andy Roid was rocking the Steve Howe flowered shirt look while drummer Woody looked, from the waist up anyway, as though he had just come from a no-tie-Friday office job. In fact, it was only really Mark Robson’s long hair, freed from its pony tail before the start of the set, that gave any clue to the band’s psychedelic, space-rock tag. The other member, on guitar, was Verhoef, back on stage after opening the evening with Beastfish.
Their set opened with a thundering, trouser-twitching drum sound, leaving into a lively track that had some in the audience dancing and swaying along almost from the start. The vocals were, unfortunately, swamped, although I think I picked out the words “here and now”. I didn’t seem to matter to those more familiar with the band and their output than I was, though, and at least one audience member was already singing along. Towards the end of the track, Keith could be seen speaking but, in a strange parallel with the spoken word sections of those Hawklords gigs, I couldn’t hear a thing. Things got better with the sound mix as the set went on, however. I heard the next track announced as Floating Anarchy Radio and then the next – the keyboards prominent What You See Is What You Are – was recognised by the crowd from its opening notes. Verhoef was once again utilising that triangle during it, producing the lovely vibrating sound. “It’s been a long time since we were in York. Twenty years or so,” said Keith, asking if anybody had been there that night and getting and affirmative from one of two audience members. It seemed to me that the next track, introduced simply as being “about fish” and including a brief section that could have been whale song, was more accessible, not in any mainstream way but maybe because the mix had by now, been tweaked enough to make the music a bit easier to listen to. Whatever came next had, in the background, a faint sixties pop feel to it until Andy’s synthesizer really kicked in. I noticed that some of the kids had vacated their table and were up and rocking, while the rest were still seated and looking unimpressed. The set and performance were getting more energetic and sounding much better to me. Each song was getting a huge reception from the crowd and it was getting much easier to hear the vocals, although lines like “If you ever fell in love” didn’t seem to be the average space-rock lyrics. In fact, I was just thinking to myself that the band’s sound wasn’t what I would associate with space-rock – the only concession to the genre until this point seemed to be a small alien doll dangling from Robson’s keyboard rig. There was little of the “weirdness” in the music. Just as that thought crossed my mind, however, came a section containing those pinging, whistling sounds that I had thought were missing, those that often filled the background in sixties science fiction films and TV series and seem to be one of the staples of the space-rock sound. They came during a stunning instrumental section that saw Verhoef break a string. By now I had lost count of how many tracks had been played, what might have segued into what and was just concentrating on the music and on audience watching. More “space” noises led into a bass riff, some in the audience “astronaut dancing” and then came one of those driving rhythms that I associate with Hawkwind, pushing through another instrumental section, as the set moved more and more into my idea of space-rock. Next up was a “little ditty written by Daevid Allen” (of Gong fame), a faster track that was followed by something that seemed to be building to a set ending climax. But, no, there was more. “Alpha Beta Gamma,” cried Keith and there seemed to be a renewed vigour pass through the crowd. Finally came, I think anyway, Planet Gong’s So Glad You’re Here after which the band acknowledged the crowd and left the stage. There were shouts for more but the houselights came up immediately. This was a strange gig – one I enjoyed a lot, despite it not being completely what I was expecting and one that whetted my appetite to hear more of the band, although there was no merchandise table to relieve me of my hard-earned cash.