After in car listening provided by Arvo Part and David Toop’s excellent ‘Crooning On Venus’ compilation and food by Esso Shop, myself and Peter arrive one hour late for the soundcheck (we’re delayed by crashes on the motorway). The Bear and The Master arrived on time, but to little effect.
Headline band Focus have emerged from their van bleary-eyed and four hours late. They proceed to soundcheck for the next three. Our ‘essential’ 1pm start becomes a 5.30pm one.
In between, we meet the organiser David Martin, Anil Prasad, Cyclops’ boss Malcolm Parker and New Horizons writers Marissa and Simon Hill. The dead time becomes a great opportunity to finally put faces to email addresses.
The festival atmosphere is positive and the people seem decent. Its also good to see a crowd that makes ‘Lord ‘ Chilvers regal girth seem minuscule by comparison. I suspect the presence of real ale drinkers.
The soundcheck is none too good. At this stage, I sound more like a retarded Lou Reed aged 2 than Segovia. I start to worry.
On stage at 7.30pm and all improves.
Like a delicate filling in a mighty Prog sandwich, the ‘fake’ Henry Fool play between neo-Prog/Jazz Fusion monsters Sphere 3 (who play more notes in one bar than we do in our entire set!) and the reformed Focus.
Luckily, people are supportive and seem to enjoy the between song banter which is more prominent than usual due to my obvious nerves regarding playing guitar for the first time live (an experiment unlikely to be repeated in the near future). We’re mostly on form, although due to the lack of rehearsal and the fact a third of the set is entirely new, understandably there are some occasional rhythm and instrumental slips.
In many respects, this is the weakest professional performance I’ve ever been involved in. Luckily, it’s one of the better vocal performances (my recent German dates with Centrozoon paying off?) and in every track, for every negative there’s a positive reaction. Peter’s new electric piano sounds good and his experiments with the fretless through the laptop are inspired and unexpected. Michael’s texture and solo voices are strong and for getting through the 22/8 time signature maelstrom of Poppy Z, Richard has earned his Fool stripes in full.
Especially on the big atmospheric ballads (Sorry Looking Soldier/Brightest Blue/Judy On The Brink/Pills In The Afternoon), it seems genuinely effective and emotive, and perhaps turning into the more communicative Samuel Smiles myself and Michael Bearpark always wished for. A brutal 5/4 rock reading of the previously genteel ‘Dreaming Of Babylon’ – which in thrall to the spirit of Spinal Tap, features sustained vocal scream and white noise guitar solo – is also a highlight for both band and audience.
Focus are quite excellently and accurately 1973 era Focus (Hammond organ in tow!) and deservedly go down like conquering heroes. If you ever liked the band, you’ll like the band. Strangely, they’re interested in launching their new album ‘Focus 8’ via the Burning Shed site. We talk.
Throughout the day I have quite a few No-Man queries and the odd worried Porcupine Tree fan coming up to me. Scared that the Tree’s Atlantic deal is going to force them to take a highly polished FM Rock route to success, I reassure them that Steven’s been listening non-stop to Asia’s debut album and Celine Dion, and that they will (NB I’ve heard the demos and the reality is very different).
I arrive home at 4am, reasonably satisfied.