With the demise of the Classic Rock Society having been announced only a couple of months earlier, June brought with it the closure of both the wonderful old Citadel venue and also the last ever CRS shows. This one was the first of those gigs, and if ever the time was ripe for a good evening, this was it. Fortunately that was delivered – in the proverbial spades!
By a freak of chance, both bands on tonight had lost their lead guitarists only days before the show, and it is to their credit that they both elected to frantically rehearse replacements rather than risk cancelling. Sam Cull had been guitarist with tonight’s support act Winter In Eden since their very first gigs a decade ago, and his sudden departure from the band left a massive hole. Fortunately they were able to call on the services of their ‘sixth member’, stand-in bassist and guitarist Benji Lynch, who stepped up from his more common bass duties to quickly learn the guitar parts for the whole set, and he did a sterling job without doubt.
Winter In Eden rarely play a bad show, and tonight proves no exception, despite the dual handicaps of the aforementioned enforced change and some early sound imbalance. Frontwoman Vicky Johnson connects with the audience right from the word go, with the band clearly out to make the most of this, their first and, sadly, last appearance at the venue. With the classic Before It Began, from their third (and best) album to date, Court Of Conscience, a real standout, the band’s superb balancing act between the gritty crunch of metal and the melodic twists of prog, along with a twist of goth glamour in the mix from Vicky, serves them well.
The Hayley Griffiths Band had also lost their guitarist, but the performance of Mathieu Spaeter, flying in from Estonia and playing flawlessly after only one rehearsal, is truly incredible. This was the first headlining performance from the band since Hayley’s departure from Karnataka, and all eyes were on the band, hoping that it was going to be a promising debut. From the very first minute on stage it is clear that no-one has any need for concern, as this is an absolutely spellbinding debut. The band are tight and, considering the situation and lack of ‘road work’, exceptionally well-drilled, with drummer Jimmy Pallagrosi as usual nothing less than a force of nature behind the kit.
The real revelation, though, is Hayley herself. A long long way from her first gigs with Karnataka, when her nerves were understandably evident, she completely owns the stage now, eking every last drop of passion and feeling from the songs, inhabiting them in such a way that they seem to come to life as if it is the first time you’ve heard them – which, in a couple of cases, it was, as new material was debuted. After an introductory medley, including a tantalising excerpt from the Karnataka epic Secrets Of Angels, the latest single release Haunted is the first song proper, a brave decision which pays off as everyone seems to know it already, and it translates brilliantly into a full-tilt stage number. The other new song, the first single Aurora, is similarly transformed, and garners an enthusiastic response. New material is previewed, along with some rocked-up early solo songs from Hayley, with a stunning Last Goodbye being the pick.
An acoustic interlude is included mid-set, serving to give some members a little rest and to provide some more material for what is a full two hour show, but naturally a lot of people want to hear the Karnataka material from the brilliant Secrets Of Angels album, and the band do not disappoint, bringing out several impeccably performed selections from the record. The most impressive of these, and indeed the highlight of the whole night to these eyes and ears, is the performance, just before the encore, of what was already becoming Hayley’s ‘signature song’ with Karnataka, the irrepressible Borderline. If she made the song her own before, tonight seals it in amber as being forever imprinted with her performance, as she twirls, gyrates and sashays acround the stage as if transported by the sheer joy of the music, without missing a single note.
If this is a taste of what we can expect from Hayley and band once their first album is released, the future could be very, very bright indeed. Several people commented to me as they left the venue that they felt they had seen the birth of something very special tonight. They weren’t wrong. A truly excellent night.