This is a release which seems to have been a long time coming out, and has surely been eagerly anticipated by the people who saw the shows put on by the Hayley Griffiths Band in the year prior to the Covid pandemic resetting the whole rulebook! For my part, I was involved in the organisation of the very first headline show the band played, at the Citadel in St Helens, and for those many fans lamenting the breaking up of the exceptional Karnataka line-up which made the remarkable Secrets Of Angels album, it was a very exciting occasion, feeling like the birth of something. In fact, the show was one of the first events to be reviewed on this site when it launched. At last, with the world hopefully preparing to emerge blinking in the metaphorical post-lockdown sunlight, we have these audio and visual records of the band on stage in the latter half of 2019. The main show, shared by both of these releases (a single CD and double DVD) is a performance in Holland at the ‘T Block venue, and I’ll look at the CD first…
The first thing to note is that the album is edited and presented with all extraneous stage banter, etc cut out, in order to present a recording which concentrates entirely on the music, seeming almost like a studio album in some ways as opposed to a celebratory live exercise. This is a deliberate, and highly effective ploy, as it manages beautifully to present the band’s repertoire as it is now in advance of a new studio album of entirely original material, and I firmly believe that, when people look back to the initial template for the band, the no-nonsense approach here, shorn of any distractions from the music itself, will be the ideal way to do it. Obviously, there is an amount of Karnataka material here, with Because Of You, Fairytale Lies, Poison Ivy and the song which Hayley has most made her own, Borderline, all included. There is much more here than just a Karnataka nostalgia exercise however, despite the presence of both drummer Jimmy Pallagrosi and keyboard man Cagri Tozluoglu from that line-up both present here. In fact, there is material which is new here and also rearrangements of several songs from Hayley’s debut solo album from almost a decade ago, Silver Screen. The two 2019 singles, Aurora and Haunted, are both included, with the former a real highlight of the album, improving on its already impressive studio counterpart without doubt. Haunted opens the album, and is a slightly strange choice, being one of the band’s ‘proggier’ creations, and certainly not the most direct track to get things moving, splendid song though it is.
One of the songs from that Silver Screen album, Separated By Glass, is for my money perhaps the highlight of the album, brilliantly rearranged from that very different initial incarnation with a big, bombastic feel and some superb guitar work from Mathieu Spaeter. Two cover versions also make their way into the running order as well, and both are unexpected. The first is the Queen song, written by Brian May following Freddie Mercury’s death, Only The Good Die Young, and this is a masterful setting for it, in pure emotional ballad format, having some of the simultaneously nostalgic, achingly sad yet also strangely defiant feel of something like Empty Chairs At Empty Tables from Les Miserables. The second is Speechless, which non-Disney aficionados may not recognise as being a song from the soundtrack of the 2019 Aladdin film. Indeed, not having yet seen that film, its origin passed me by entirely, and it is amazing how well it fits seamlessly into a rock show in this way. The album ends with the sheer unbridled joy of Borderline, which has emerged from Secrets Of Angels as being almost Hayley’s signature song.
That’s the CD, now, how about that double DVD which is also available? Well, the first disc contains the whole of the ‘T Block show, including six tracks omitted from the CD. One of those is the intro medley, which announces the band in quite dramatic fashion, including along the way a bit of Lord Of The Dance (referencing the show that Hayley memorably appeared in for a lengthy spell), and concluding with a triumphant section of Secrets Of Angels. Haunted is less unexpected coming after that as second song in, though I would still have put it a little later, but that is by the by. In this full version of the performance we get the short acoustic section with two traditional Gaelic songs beautifully delivered, and also another Karnataka highlight in the shape of Forbidden Dreams. The show is excellently shot, giving all of the band members some good screen time, and for a small stage the visual show is very effective. The encore is included this time, consisting of the heartbreaking traditional Gaelic ‘farewell’ song Parting Glass, followed by a climactic and cathartic rendition of another Karnataka song Feels Like Home. The stage banter is still cut, however, as the show, and the music, take centre stage.
In many ways, however, it is the second DVD which makes this essential. The main event of this disc is an hour or so of highlights from the band’s headline performance at the Crescendo festival in France, and the big stage (and great light show) brings out the very best in the band. Borderline has the audience throwing all of their cares to the wind in a euphoric shared celebration, while Hayley’s performance, jumping energetically while still managing to sing, made me feel tired just sitting and watching it! I was almost expecting the step counter on my Fitbit watch to go up as if by osmosis. The songs are from the same selection, but the likes of Aurora and Separated By Glass are even better. The band are born for the big stage, that much is clear!
In addition to this, we also get a waterfront VIP acoustic show (beginning in daylight, ending in darkness) which sees the songs largely working very well in the format. Okay, there may be some cheating in the use of that well-known traditional acoustic instrument, the Korg digital keyboard, but we’ll let it pass! There is also the chance to see the drum solo from the Crescendo performance, and anyone who has watched the ‘Animal-from-the-Muppets’ showmanship of Jimmy Pallagrosi will know exactly what they’re going to get here! One thing which surprised even me, amid the expected stick-twirling and all of that, was the sight of Jimmy taking time out to read a magazine and be served breakfast whilst playing! He is handed the magazine and leafs through it while continuing to play with his feet, while a ‘butler’ type pours a helping of cereal and milk into a bowl mounted on his kit, which he proceeds to eat. It’s utterly bonkers, yet hugely entertaining. Finally, there is a short segment which shows the band members being interviewed, talking about themselves, the band and playing at the festival.
All in all this is great stuff, and it really whets the appetite for those live shows to begin again! When the hotly anticipated studio album makes its appearance, some of this material is unavoidably going to have to make way, so the fact that these releases are here to trap the moment in amber as it were is priceless. If you want the music to put on in the car or wherever, get the CD with confidence. If you want the full HGB experience however, go for the DVD set. Hell, just get them both, you won’t be disappointed by either!