So that’s it for another year. It all seemed to happen far too quickly as the best things in life often do. It was fun, it was funny, it was heart-stopping in places too, but above all, it rocked.
Of course, this was Celebr8.2 and all those who were there will tell you a similar story to mine: that progressive rock comes in all kinds of different, wonderful guises and that the people who make it and follow it are the nicest, friendliest and most generous people you could ever hope to meet. So there’s a win/win situation before you even start delving into the music itself, which is the glue that bonds everything else together.
The venue, the Kingston Hippodrome, is probably best known now for its sticky carpets, a legacy of the night owls who haunt the place into the small hours and become a little lax in the preservation of their drinks. This is unlike proggers, who are a thrifty bunch and were tut-tutting about the hefty bar prices, then making sure they got their money’s worth without any spills.
So what made it so special this time? Well, the diversity of the bands counted for an awful lot as there was literally something for everyone. So whether your style was the bouncy, energetic sound of the engaging District 97 or the full-on technocratic headgames of Haken, the prog spectrum in all its glory was up there, either bathed in red light or surrounded by swirling smoke. The photographers present had their work cut out.
IOEarth continued their quest to hypnotise the prog massive with their mesmeric sonics while Threshold, the Saturday night headliners, played hot and heavy, Damian Wilson showing again why he has the biggest and best voice in the business.
Alan Reed and the Daughters of Expediency played an electric blinder, joined by Harvest’s Monique van der Kolk during Kingdom of the Blind, Alan returning the compliment by singing a duo with her during her band’s set. It was all about caring and sharing.
While the promise of an appearance by Andy Tillison did not materialise, Jem Godfrey managed to play the entire Frost* set with nine fingers and lashings of humour. Guitarist John Mitchell later re-emerged with Arena who sadly had to cut short their headlining set on Sunday due to local regulations. It was not quite as cataclysmic as the management pulling the plug on McCartney and Springsteen in Hyde Park last year but it certainly ruffled a few feathers among some of their devoted fans.
However, from a personal perspective, the weekend belonged to Mystery, who delivered a set of such sumptuous gorgeousness, despite technical hitches en route, it was a timely reminder of why I got into prog in the first place, you know, a high male voice, symphonics and some interesting time changes.
Alternatively, there was the acoustic stage which occupied the far end of the side bar with lots of squashy sofas around it. Unfortunately, due an overriding need to eat, Knifeworld had to be sacrificed but it would have been interesting to see how the cast of eight and resident bassoon managed to manoeuvre themselves into the telephone-box sized space.
The rest of the dramatis personae comprised assorted Galahads on the Saturday then the Tangent and Tinyfish supremos, plus the marvellous Matt Stevens on the Sunday. What emerged was a veritable cavalcade of musical surprises including Galahad performing acoustic Rammstein and an improvisation between Stevens and Tillison which proved conclusively that provided you are playing in the same key, the prog magic will soon follow.
So that’s the review – no need for embellishments and detail because you had to be there and if you weren’t, don’t say you weren’t invited!
But there is so much more to Celebr8.2. It is the place where musicians and fans meet almost on equal terms. It was lovely to see the likes of Greg Spawton of Big Big Train, Matt Cohen and Keith Hawkins from the Reasoning, and Clive Mitten and Brian Devoil of Twelfth Night – and there were bound to be others we missed- mingling in the audience, watching and enjoying their compadres strut their stuff on stage.
It was unfortunate that the big minus was when some band members and fans fell victim to Travelodge mismanagement after their rooms were double-booked, resulting in them being shipped out to a hotel at Heathrow instead.
However, the overwhelming feeling which still lingers 36 hours after the celebr8tion is the great love and respect that the prog community shares among its number especially during a festival like this which is by the fans for the fans.
Now, we can only hope there will be a Celebr8.3 next year but that again will depend on the continued support of the prog massive. Music needs festivals like this even though it never registers on the mainstream media radar. The loss is theirs in my humble opinion and always, without fail, our gain.
Sincerest thanks to Jon “Twang” Patrick, Geoff Banks, Bert Hodds, Prog Magazine and the backroom team who worked so long and hard to make it so – and thanks too to the amazing musicians who so richly entertained us in their own progtastic way, making it another weekend to remember and talk about for months to come