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Magenta - Montgomery Hall, Wath-upon-Dearne (UK) – 31st March 2012

The large number of Magenta devotees already queuing around the perimeter of the Montgomery Hall car park to gain early access to the venue and the extensive sales stand of Prog Rock Records suggested that this one would be close to a sell-out evening for the Classic Rock Society: and thus it proved to be.

This was an evening resourced entirely from the Magenta “family” past and present, but visiting the music of the pre-Magenta combo Cyan along with Rob Reed’s ChimpanA project, Christina Booth’s recent solo album ‘Broken Lives & Bleeding Hearts’, Chris Fry’s new solo album of instrumental guitar music (and which was officially launched that evening) as well as a full Magenta set to complete the proceedings.

The evening opened with the delightful instrumental ‘Nightflight’ from Cyan’s debut album ‘For King & Country’ and this was followed by the very melodic, uplifting instrumental ‘Home’ from their third album ‘The Creeping Vine’ that had some very definite shades of something that Gary Moore might have recorded. Christina added a very brief vocal section at the end of this and continued to sing the final selection (also from ‘King & Country’) ‘Call Me’ – a song that was to reappear in updated form on Magenta’s live album ‘Another Time…Another Place’, and then also as a studio recording on ‘The Singles’ – but here performed as a rather languid, lolloping version.

The ChimpanA project had utilised a wide range of vocalists, but for ‘You Move In Me’, Rob Reed and Christina duetted and provided harmony vocals that did not quite achieve the intensity of the original, alongside Rob’s acoustic guitar and programmed drums and sampled sounds. ‘The Secret Wish’ (which includes a sample of ‘Tubular Bells’) featured the whole of the current Magenta line-up (including Christina “with testicles attached” to enable her to perform in a lower register than usual!) This was more like it, and the brief guitar solo that concludes the piece was a total triumph!

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After a further brief pause it was the turn of Christina to feature several of the stylistically different songs from her recent solo album: ‘Free’, ‘Deep Oceans’, ‘Reel Life’ and ‘Immorality’ – the latter being a highlight of the album and a fitting end to a magnificent showcase. The voice so hugely deserving of the recent CRS accolade as Female Vocalist of the Year simply dazzled and enchanted across the numbers presented, whether backed acoustically (as for ‘Free’) or by the full band (all the others).

Next came guitarist Chris Fry along with the former Magenta bassist, his brother Dan, to perform half of the tracks from his new solo album ‘Composed’: the first four and then ‘Secret Garden’ that also brings the album to a close. Not only were the performances spellbinding, with Dan acting as a very able counterpoint to his brother, but we also got to hear the story of what happened when Chris ended up drinking too much wine with John Mitchell at the Loreley ‘Night Of The Prog Festival’ in Germany! An entertaining 20 or so minutes that concluded the first half of the evening and fully demonstrated the diverse talents of Magenta’s key members.

Magenta live now includes the rhythm section from Godsticks (Dan Nelson, bass and Steve Roberts, drums) and blow me, what a revelation they turned out to be, and especially young (well, he’s only 19 apparently) Mr Nelson. His predecessors (Matthew Chen and Dan Fry) were certainly no slouches, but here was the unexpected sight of a Magenta bassist prowling the stage and really attacking his four string as if his life depended upon it! The band now has such a large discography that it is becoming difficult to fit in all the favourites. ‘Gluttony’ was the only song from ‘Seven’ (generally acknowledged to be their best album) to grace the main part of the set, and proved to be an old favourite given new life, although Christina did miss some of the later high notes (perhaps she had forgotten to remove the temporary testicles from earlier?) However, the album’s two pinnacles, ‘Pride’ and ‘Anger’, were rolled out as the two encore numbers to popular acclaim.

Latest album ‘Chameleon’ provided the dramatic and dynamic set opener ‘Glitterball’ and also later on the very sad story of ‘Guernica’, poignantly performed as well as ‘Red’, although this was marred somewhat by a rare sound balance problem at a CRS gig. A medley from ‘Revolutions’ and a slightly abridged version of ‘Metamorphosis’ both hit the sweet spot, with the latter especially memorable. ‘Towers Of Hope’ and ‘Demons’ provided the two selections from ‘Home’, and despite seeing them perform these on numerous occasions, tonight they came across as definitive versions and I note that I commented “really great” in my notes!

I have two special favourites from the band’s recorded canon: the aforementioned ‘Anger’ which never fails to disappoint, and ‘I’m Alive’, which disappoints only when it is omitted from the set. Fortunately tonight it appeared right in the middle: and my notes reveal it to have been “jolly nearly a perfect rendition” – so I was a happy bunny. Indeed there were lots of “happy bunnies” at the end of the evening, for this was a possibly never to be repeated format, and one that will undoubtedly linger in the memories of all present for a very long time.

Paul Jerome Smith

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