September 29, 2023

The superbly-named London prog duo Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate, chose new venue The Camden Club, opposite the venerable Roundhouse in Chalk Farm Lane, to launch their latest album The Light Of Ancient Mistakes. The Sunday afternoon event included an hour-long support session from prog/folk outfit The Wood Demons, plus two 45-minute sets from the boys themselves, in which they determined to play at least one piece from each of their seven albums. First though, there was a Q&A session hosted by Malcolm Galloway, guitarist, keyboardist, main singer and songwriter, and Mark Gatland, multi-instrumentalist, co-writer and backing singer. Of course, one of the first questions was how they came by that astounding name, at which Malcolm revealed that it’s a self-deprecating take on a famous review Schumann is said to have made regarding Chopin, in the words, “Hats off gentlemen – a genius.” He also admitted that their musical style has moved on since he thought of it, and it’s not totally practical in most cases, as it doesn’t fit on any gig posters – which means, if they are playing a festival, their name is either written so small as to be almost invisible, or if it’s large enough to be legible, then there can be no other acts…

The Wood Demons (photo: Graeme Stroud)

On with the Wood Demons though, a 5-piece from London fronted by singer/guitarist Simon Carbery, although the band’s distinctive sound hinges largely on classically-trained violinist Naomi Belshaw. Her reverb-soaked, rich string tones underpin most of the numbers, also forming a seamless segue between opening song Arithmomania and the second number, the debut performance of a new piece only revealed so far as NBUAH part 4. Highlight of the set for me was probably the title track from their 2020 album Angels Of Peckham Rye, with its somewhat middle-eastern modal vibe and breaks in 9/8 time.

Malcolm and Mark of Hats Off Gentlemen have been friends since schooldays, and it shows. They put on no airs or graces, and for all their multiple musical talents, their easy matiness extends to the audience, who virtually become part of their rehearsal and setup routine. Rather than powering in on the first set, it faded in gradually, with Malcolm noodling away on some bluesy guitar riffs over a deep bass synth note while Mark finishes off setting up, then it’s a case of, ‘Right, we’re starting now,” and they play their first number, By The Water from their 2012 album Invisible, as a duet accompanied by the ambient flute phrasings of long-time collaborator Kathryn Thomas. The boys often seemed bemused as the afternoon went on, Malcolm especially, as if he couldn’t quite believe what he’s doing or why, all of which added to the general audience bonhomie.

Read Velvet Thunder’s review of The Light Of Ancient Mistakes

Malcolm played guitar or keyboards, with Mark on bass or Chapman stick for most of the evening, with frequent appearances from Kathryn, which worked really well on ambient, spacey numbers like I Miss The Stars, about an AI which has survived until the heat death of the universe. But it wasn’t until the fourth number, Sold The Peace from the new album, that they used the full backing track from the record and we had the full band experience. Towards the end of the first set, the sound really took off, especially with the excellent Century Rain based on a dark sci-fi novel by Alistair Reynolds, and the disturbingly psychotic Walking To Aldebaran, based on an even darker novel by Adrian Tchaikovsky. Kathryn played some great flute on this one too.

Sci-fi looms large in the Hats Off Gentlemen discography, especially if it has a dismal or apocalyptic outlook, but sadly, charity single Burn The World is based on a true account of a species that ruined their own planet due to commercial greed – look to yourselves, human race. This song was written for the Prog The Forest festival in aid of the World Land Trust; there are links at the foot of this page.

Left to right: Kathryn Thomas, Malcolm Galloway, Mark Gatland (photo: Graeme Stroud)

Malcolm Galloway’s own health struggles came to the surface in the up-tempo punky rocker imtiredandeverythinghurts, which came across powerfully in the live environment. Another excellent detail was provided in All Empires Fall, in which Mark Gatland sang harmony and did a superb job of it – more of that please guys! The main set finished on the unmistakenly Pink Floyd-soaked title track to The Light Of Ancient Mistakes. Kathryn Thomas was recalled to the stage by popular demand for the first encore number Silence Is A Statement, and stayed for the low-key, ambient end piece, Nostalgia For Infinity. It’s clear that the audience was entertained; kudos too to event organiser Chris Parkins of London Prog Gigs.

Prog The Forest:     https://www.facebook.com/progtheforest/

World Land Trust:   https://www.worldlandtrust.org/