Disclaimer: I only decided to do a write-up late on Sunday, so this is more a rough account of MY evening rather than a proper music review – I am sorry in advance for any mistakes! If you spot any, or would like to chime in, have pictures etc., drop me a line on the contact form!
A beautiful Spring evening.
The Castle Tavern is bustling with merry life that fully intends to get merrier as the night goes on. The beer garden is an enclosed, high-walled space perfect for bands and fans: there is a fully covered outdoor stage with a strange concrete overhang at the back (perfect for cramming your drummers into), and a tarp that extends to cover most of the crowd as well. I am impressed by the proper little raised shack that is the sound booth…
I should probably mention I am here at the behest of London-based Folk-Metallers ISARNOS, whose regular violinist, Madlena, can’t make it today, due to being in Russia (how cool!). They are doing a five-song set in the main support slot before KING LEVIATHAN. Due to my Sunday and Monday being full, I have had three days to get all the songs down, so unsurprisingly I’m pretty nervous and studying the sheet music up till the last available minute. That said, it’s an easy atmosphere to enjoy and I can’t get too worried with all the friendly faces around.
Also shredding tonight are (in rough order):
CONFORM TO SERVE, DRAUGR, ATORC, CERBERUS UNCHAINED, DORYLUS, the aforementioned KING LEVIATHAN aaand COUNTLESS SKIES who I believe took their name from a song by BE’LAKOR, an amazing Australian band who are (unsurprisingly) not here tonight. Yes. Yes, ‘Countless Skies’ SHOULD be Australia’s new National Anthem!)
(Sadly, WITH A VENGEANCE had to cancel, but I haven’t heard what happened yet.)
I spy old friends ATORC first, and natter to each one of the band over the course of the night, saving elegant violinist “Huldra” (stage name), whom I haven’t yet met and sadly didn’t get to speak to.
When we arrive, CONFORM TO SERVE are already tearing up the stage and DRAUGR are getting ready to go on. (Throughout the evening, I hear Janne and Ahti conversing in what turns out to be both Swedish and Finnish – which is pretty cool if you ask me.)
In a tent round the side there is free bottled-water and beer for the bands. While talking at the bar, I am asked by the bar lady if I would like to buy a drink. I say happily that I already have free beer, to which she replies (with good humour), “sneaky!” I puzzle for a millisecond over the word, then just laugh – who cares, everything’s great! – but it only occurs to me the next morning (at 3 A.M., as these things do), that she must have pretty much instantly assumed I wasn’t part of any band and had ‘snuck’ one of the beers. (I’m not at all offended because, hey, this assumption is easily made – I’m not wearing anything particularly ‘metal’ looking at the moment (band dress-code for tonight is casual) – though I’m by no means the only informally dressed musician around here… Perhaps it’s because I drum roll appear to be a laaaaydeee! I think it’s roughly a 1:9 ratio of gals to guys on stage tonight, but…you know. Lzzy Hale would probably have something to say.
Anyway, it’s all sounding really good this evening and I eventually put my sheet music down to listen to ATORC’s entire set. (You can’t call me unbiased here, but little did I know how entertaining this was going to be, for all sorts of reasons). There is fur and leather, war-paint, drinking horns and candles. A round, Viking-style shield adorns the front of the stage. The band have some rollicking good tunes, now fleshed-out by “Boudikath’s” (great, right?!) keyboard skills and backing vocals.
The smoke machine lends an air of mystery as they thunder through their songlist…until what has now been dubbed #Shoegate2017.
Yes, some drunken arse-hat decides HE wants the crowd’s attention. Standing between us and the stage, he makes a fool of himself, flipping ze bird to all and sundry, and eventually removing both shoes and launching them with great force (but little accuracy) at lead singer and Rob-Halford-channeller Andy (“Hellbard”) – who remains entirely unperturbed. The nameless party-pooper is soon escorted from the festival, but not before begging the band for the return of his footwear.
One shoe is retrieved.
Hellbard picks up the other, and, to a background of ribald jeering from the crowd, calmly pours the contents of his water-bottle into it before handing it over.
Job’s a good ‘un.
The rest of the set goes off without a hitch, a real sword appearing for the performance of new track “Sons of Ragnar” (face-melting solo courtesy of Tom Scales, the band’s resident “Scallawag”), bass and drums provided by Jon “The Battlebeast” Tilly and “Thor” on drums respectively.
I would love to ramble on about this part of the festival, but I am aware that we’re not even half-way through, so I’ll skip the obligatory mid-evening race to McDonalds and quite a bit of awesome music that I can’t properly describe and/or missed – and get to the part I can report, where the last of the daylight has died and ISARNOS actually take the stage!
…I feel very un-metal walking on with a music stand, but with only three days’ practice it is that or not play at all, as leader Ollie doesn’t mess around when he writes a violin part, haha. (I feel bad that I’ve actually had to simplify some of it so as to make sure I don’t fuck it up live, in fact.) So on I go and get all wired up, wondering if I will be able to read the music with all the flashy lighting effects going on (hint: I won’t).
…Then the other problems start…
Five minutes and three of my own cables later and it’s discovered that it’s the Tavern’s line-out that has somehow broken. We are now out of time, so the band launch into Maros whilst the tech guy frantically runs a new line-out from my D.I. to the mixer. Now at least the violin is coming out of the P.A….but we haven’t been able to sound-check, and this results in a problem with the monitor volume. So, though the festival-goers can now hear me, I can’t hear myself! Considering the artistry of the composition and the quality of everyone else’s playing, this is a massive problem. This isn’t a three-chords-and-attitude situation; it would be a crime to deliberately ham this.
(For the puzzled: playing an instrument – especially a fretless or keyless one – without hearing yourself back is like singing with your headphones on; it usually comes out disturbingly off-key to everyone else.)
I struggle through Maros and Bellos while staying in ‘first’* acutely aware of the noise I am potentially making. (*In violin terms these are the first patterns you ever learn and are probably as safe, tuning-wise, as you’re gonna get other than playing open strings).
I am assured afterwards that it was just fine, but at the time it’s NOT GOOOOOOD! I suspect muscle memory can take most string players only so far once the notes get higher and much closer together. (You know. Unless you’re Itzhak Perlman, in which case you are Violin God, and can do anything you like.)
There is a brief moment at the beginning of violin-led “Sirona” where the monitors do work – very loudly – and I am ashamed to say I am so worried about blasting people’s ears (yes, I should have left it to the sound guys), that I turn it down and begin again. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, my monitor sound then wanders off for a drink and never returns. (Note to self: Is it worth upgrading to a more powerful pre-amp, reckon?) At this point, more than halfway through the set, I try to imagine the scene from the crowd’s point of view and make the decision to dial my volume down completely and enthusiastically air-play, rather than spoil the vibe by making desperate faces in the direction of the sound booth, as I have been doing.
So. Not the show I was hoping for but these things happen.
(I should add that I’m certainly not trying to bash the sound guys – I asked one of them afterwards if it was something I had done, and it wasn’t, but I don’t think this stuff can be blamed on anyone in particular – sometimes things just fail and without a thorough sound check it’s very difficult to fix in such a short time.)
So, disappointing to not play after hours of practice. Maybe best to chalk it all up to experience. Either way, the well-oiled machine that is ISARNOS carry on just fine with all this going on around them and finish their set to loud cheers from a happy and sizeable crowd.
The seven of us clear off stage as fast as we can and are back out front in time to marvel at the tight riffs and boundless energy of KING LEVIATHAN. Their lead singer (to whom I’d spoken unawares beforehand and found completely charming), is now unrecognisable under frankly evil-looking war-paint – and is gloriously and demonically possessed. They prowl and glare and scream to the delight of fans old and new.
COUNTLESS SKIES are on last and the now (very merry, like I said) horde are dancing and nodding along while the pros onstage show us all how it’s done. They are wireless(!) and polished and the sound is sublime.
(I have to apologise at this point to CONFORM TO SERVE, DORYLUS, CERBERUS UNCHAINED and DRAUGR for not having seen enough to be able to make a proper, in-depth comment – all I heard was appreciative cheers and snippets of witty banter, so I’m confident the sets were a success – another time, I’m sure!)
Anyways, all too soon the stars are out and the Witching Hour is done and it is time to head home (courtesy of Ollie – ISARNOS’ leader – who has had to do without a drink the entire night because he is driving us back in the tour van. What a legend). We all pile in and sing tipsily to such gems as “The Unicorn Invasion of Dundee” and try to resist the pull of early-morning service-station doughnuts…before finally arriving at our respective homes in London and calling it a night.
Think I’ll wrap it up now, but here’s a big thank-you to Luton Live/s Promotions, Nick the ISARNOS bassist who was a great help all throughout the week, pre-gig, Min for letting me stay over with her, and everyone who made that such an awesome night. (Special shout-out to Mr Drew, to whom I chatted for a good while and who took some pictures of the band in action). I feel honoured to have been invited along. Maybe we’ll do it again sometime.
Stay strange everyone,