There are often complaints from rock fans in Scotland when bands announce tours and they don’t complete any dates in the country. Progsters Lifesigns have stopped that happening by doing three shows in the Scotland, including one in the village/town of Kinross! The venue is called “Backstage At The Green Hotel”. Every time I hear it, it said makes me want to sing a Frank Zappa song! The place was pretty well full, despite being what could be considered in the middle of nowhere, with folks standing at the back along with all the seats just about taken up.
The venue was quite a laid back, which meant the band were walking about the crowd before they even got on stage. When they got there, there was no pomp or ceremony, just a quick “hello”.
Right from the off, you could tell what sort of night it was going to be, with much crowd participation and a lot of good humour. Who said Prog had to be serious all the time? As singer and keyboardist John Young offered around water, someone shouted out that it was really gin! Drummer Frosty Beedle immediately went “shoosh”, making it seem like a secret had been revealed. That really set the tone for the evening.
With a fabulous album called Cardington to promote they had plenty of good new music to impress the audience. They played the whole album during the two sets.
They opened up though with a track from a solo John Young album called Open Skies, which was quite a lively and heavy opener with some thunderous drumming from Frosty. I was most impressed at not only his power during the night, but his dexterity along with his ability to add little gentle touches of cymbals to create extra subtlety to tracks.
From then on, they played five tracks from the latest record in a row. The band have a really good ear for melody, as shown on “Voice In My Head”, which is almost a pop song being that easy on the ear. “Touch” showed off their excellence at vocal harmonies, as well as having a haunting tune and being the closest to a Steven Wilson track.
“Impossible”, according to John is about his dog. This led the very entertaining (as well as excellent bassist) Jon Poole (ex-Wildhearts and Cardiacs) to exclaim, “well I never knew that”. This resulted in much laughter onstage. Hecklers from the crowd also asked John if other songs were inspired by his dog. This is a song which really showed off the quality of new guitarist and Strawbs man Dave Bainbridge. The main solo was blindingly good, interesting as well as moving and melodic. There was immediate applause at the end from the audience, which happened after a few of his solos, whilst the music was still playing. Great to see solos that have melody and not just fret wanking, as too many guitarists do these days. Nothing wrong with an almost hummable solo!
They concluded the first set with the longest track on the new album, which is simply titled “N”. John did say as it was the longest, it would be a good time to go to the loo (toilet). However, as we were nearing an interval, he suggested we should hold it in until the break. He added that the band would probably see us all in the queue as well! He did say it was a difficult song to write, or at least finish, that it took some effort to complete. What I can say was that the mid- section was unbelievable live. So intricate and complex, but tighter than a very tight thing indeed. I sat mouth agape at it. It was 11 minutes or so of impressive musical interplay.
Following a break, where the band could be found chatting at the bar, they retook the stage for part II. The music continued to impress, along with moments of daft comedy. These are those which, as the frontman himself said, he has no control over. Things just happen and surprise him as well, making each show a gig in its own right. No two nights are exactly the same.
Opening with the title track itself (“Cardington”), we were told the background to his interest in the sheds and the airship and some of the spooky stuff that surrounded the flight and afterwards. I won’t say too much, as it could spoil it for others still to see them live. However, one or two bits were very strange. The song itself tells the story of airship R101, which crashed in France. The music throughout matched the lyrics and the fills and solos were exquisite. Again, at points, there were moments of spontaneous applause from the crowd.
“Carousel” from the first self-titled album was glorious. Near the beginning, Jon on bass appeared to be playing a bit of The Stranglers “Peaches”. They are happy to throw in bits and bobs. This was for partially their own amusement and also for the audience to have fun spotting. It sounded so playful at times and is the closest thing to early Genesis they did.
Things went a bit mad during the crazy but fabulous fun instrumental “Kings”. Jon decided to leave the stage, give his bass to play to someone in the audience, sat down and got a shoulder massage from the woman behind him! The looks from the guys on stage were fabulous. A mixture of laughing their heads off and confused bemusement! How the guys kept it together and did not miss a note, I have no idea.
They finished with a ballad which was written for the band John was in with John Wetton and Carl Palmer, called Quango. “Last One Home” brought the night back to the sublime (from possibly the ridiculous which preceded it). Subtle, understated with genuine emotion flowing through it, this was a mighty fine end to an evening of musical (and comedic) delights.
There is so much not mentioned in this review, believe it or not. This included John’s passionate pieces about supporting new music.
With radio only playing oldies or the most famous artists all the time, it is up to all of us in the room (and beyond) to support new artists and music. Buy albums, share on social media etc. Show that these guys are top of their game and can put on a terrific show.
Finally, a word on what they call their 5th member, Steve Rispin, who engineers the show beautifully. The sound was absolutely spot on all night!
In conclusion I would say that being at a Lifesigns gig is like being seated with a bunch of good friends, albeit ridiculously talented ones, having a fun evening together. The vibe they create is excellent. All round entertainers. Go and check them out.
UK shows 2018
Edinburgh Bannermans 11 November
Oxford Bullingdon 28 November
Tavistock Wharf 29 November