By ProgBlog, Oct 5 2015 10:00PM
I’ve got a cold. I started to feel a little ill on Wednesday and wondered if I should indulge in my usual Wednesday squash evening at the National Sports Centre, Crystal Palace, but as I’d dragged my squash kit into work I thought I’d give it a go and see how I got on. As it turned out I won some games and I lost some but I felt better for doing a bit of exercise. I was very interested to read that members of Pink Floyd used to prefer to play squash rather than going to the studio during the Wish You Were Here sessions in 1974 but putting together a follow-up to Dark Side of the Moon was proving difficult. Strains in personal relationships and professional tensions within the band had surfaced and the direction of the group was unclear and of course none of this was helped by a souring relationship with the media; the NME journalist Nick Kent being particularly unkind. Squash is not only a fantastic cardio workout, it also helps to relieve tension and pent-up frustrations. It’s been suggested that David Gilmour and Nick Mason became rather fond of the squash court and their relationship improved as a consequence – I can personally vouch for the de-stressing effects of regular squash as someone who a couple of years ago played up to six times a week – I was left feeling much more able to cope with whatever life could throw at me, physically and mentally reenergised. However, it’s also addictive (thanks, endorphins); I had to change my working hours to allow for a 45 minute session of squash at lunchtimes and I was unreasonably frustrated when either a planned opponent or I myself couldn’t make a game. Working in a hospital meant that, not infrequently, somebody would have to attend to urgent work (there were a group of around five of us who regularly took over the two courts at Guy’s, helped by me taking on the role of time sheet monitor.)
Squash has been put on the backburner of late despite a flurry of league games in the final days of my semi-retirement. Now back working full time at the Royal London Hospital I’m reduced to Wednesday evenings and the odd league match at weekends. I received an invite to play last Tuesday (September 29th) but had a more pressing engagement, Steven Wilson’s second night at the Royal Albert Hall. Having been quite blown away by the Raven that Refused to Sing show at the Albert Hall in October 2013 and in March this year, at the Hand.Cannot.Erase performance at London’s Troxy, I was only too happy to sign up to one of the gigs on this two-night tour postscript. Leading the party was friend and Wilson aficionado Neil Jellis, who not only organised some great seats, but provided his own bespoke tour T-shirts. Neil had been in the front row on the first night, in front of Wilson’s keyboard and in direct line with Craig Blundell’s kick drum and, as the two dates were billed to have different sets and different guests, had also got tickets for the second show, to which I tagged along. Having heard Neil effuse enthusiastically about the first night, I was anticipating a great performance and I wasn’t disappointed.
We wandered into the auditorium after Matt Berry, the support act, had begun his set with the rather spacey Medicine and I have to admit that not being much of a TV person, I had no idea who Berry was, other than I’d seen something in Prog magazine about him. It must have been rather daunting to open for Steven Wilson but Berry’s band did an admirable job.
When Steven Wilson’s band took to the stage, one by one, it became gradually clear to Neil that the first number was the rather heavy No Twilight within the Courts of the Sun from his first solo album Insurgentes, a track I’m not over-familiar with, likewise with the next Porcupine Tree song, a much more melodic/symphonic-lite Shesmovedon from Lightbulb Sun. I’d not seen Blundell play before (sitting in for previous incumbent Marco Minnemann) and though I’d witnessed the talents of Dave Kilminster on a number of previous occasions, none of them were as Wilson’s guitarist. From our seats, level with the stage and only a few seats away from Nick Beggs who was positioned to the left of the band (from an audience perspective) it was easy to observe the technique of each of the musicians; only Adam Holzman was partially obscured by his keyboards. The first guest of the evening was Ninet Tayeb. She’d also sung the previous night and took on all vocal duties for Routine, putting in a stunning performance. I was once again in unknown territory with the next two songs, Open Car and Don’t Hate Me, the latter coming across as quite proggy and the film to accompany the piece, of light snow falling in London was classic Lasse Hoile; Home Invasion featured Beggs on keyboard and Guthrie Govan as special guest guitarist which segued into Regret #9 with a brilliant Moog solo from Holzman. Theo Travis was then introduced and the band continued with Drive Home, personal favourite Sectarian and the haunting Insurgentes with its watery visuals that remind me of punting on the Isis. The set was completed with more from Grace for Drowning, No Part of Me and a truncated but still epic Raider II.
There were two encores, featuring three songs; Porcupine Tree’s Dark Matter after which the band left the stage but returned, after a bit of adjustment to the drums for Lazarus, with special guest Gavin Harrison, fresh from touring with King Crimson and easily remembering his old part, finally ending with another song I’d not heard before, The Sound of Muzak.
The sound (thanks to Ian Bond) was balanced and clear, even where we were seated on the extreme left and the presentation, as ever, was consummately professional. Wilson has a brilliant rapport with his audience, teasing those that hadn’t attended the first night and explaining how he was extending an introduction to make the correct pedal setting for his guitar. There was no veil on this night, though there had been on the 28th and if I have to make one complaint, it’s that the programme was the same as that sold during the spring leg of the tour, even though the two shows were more varied, more special, and the musicians had changed subtly.
All in all the occasion lived up to its hype: 4 hours of amazing music over the two nights. On reflection, I should have signed up for both shows, but I already have a ticket for January 2016...