Day two arose to bright sunshine and we ate an ample breakfast in the hotel before a morning in the wonderful Museum of Art, with so many treasures to see. But enough of that, I am not here to talk about the wonderful historic sites in Barcelona, the colonnades lining the street to the museum, waterfalls and twin towers replicating the style of San Marco Campanile in Venice. Nor am I about to tell you of the excellent Spanish guitarist delighting a crowd in front of the museum, on his ‘silent guitar’. No, we shall leap forward to our much needed early afternoon siesta from which we woke abruptly, making haste to reach the Pobel Espanyol and the beckoning sounds of day 2, at Be Prog My Friend.
Unfortunately the second day started an hour earlier and we joined the queue of latecomers as we fed into the square just in time to catch the last three songs from the ravishing Anneke Van Giersbergen and The Gentle Storm. This lady’s voice as those who have heard her will know, is a tour de force and her powerful vocals tore through the tracks with gusto engaging with the slowly swelling crowd in some grand Prog Metal. Her energy was infectious and warmed the audience up nicely as did the mid afternoon sun and we watched from floor level partaking of much needed liquid refreshment.
Buoyant from the night before and with a rousing first act to start the day we were feeling rather pleasant and whilst we waited for the next band we wandered round and checked out the t-shirts. No contest as I have to say the lovely Sarah Ewing’s artwork conquered all comers. I thought I had done well in the t-shirt battle yesterday but Big Big Train’s ‘Grimspound’ drew so many admiring glances it felt like being on a catwalk.
We briefly met the gang from yesterday for a chat, but they wanted to go down the front and we decided we would hang back and find a seat somewhere with a decent view, if we were lucky.
And so to the second band, whilst I had only heard a couple of tracks from Between the Buried and Me which sounded promising. They appeared to be attracting favourable attention from the media recently and I was looking forward to being impressed as they had travelled over from the US of A. I’m still waiting I’m afraid. The sound wasn’t brilliant, louder than clearer and Konnie and I agreed it was like listening to an extended promo reel, with clips from songs cobbled together.
Konnie said she was unable to decipher when one track ended and another began as it sounded so disjointed. Despite an enthusiastic following nearer the stage and you may read differently elsewhere, we didn’t seem to be the only ones and for me the guttural vocals only added to my disappointment, sorry guys I’m sure there are many disagree with us including those at the front, but here’s a photo.
I was a child of the 70’s it was the blossoming of my teenage musical years and the awakening of my eyes and ears to Prog. Now I’m sure many will agree, some records are timeless and transgress all era’s without ageing badly and some you raved about then, you find hard to reconcile why in the present day. I would not have bought the next band’s albums then and wouldn’t now as I will happily tell you, ‘it’s not my sort of thing’. So on an increasingly hot and sunny, Spanish afternoon surrounded by a sizeable crowd of MAGMA t-shirts, what happened?
Like a rabbit in headlights or with myxomatosis, I stood rooted to the spot as MAGMA took the stage. They seemed quite the perfectionists and had taken some time to set up which may have explained why they couldn’t play as long as they wished, but as they strode on to the stage and the music and chanting of the first song began I was transported to Summerisle. I was transfixed as if drugged and the tune grew like some creeping, Dario Argento film soundtrack as it swelled most disturbingly. I forced myself to look away from the stage and those around me seemed entranced and swayed to the the throbbing rhythms. I’m glad there was still daylight to bring me comfort.
As the music continued the young man in his twenties standing in front of us took up the song. A cherub faced middle aged man, with rosy cheeks and glasses, clad in walking gear with a backpack, wandered through the ranks of the audience singing the lyrics in a deep resonating tone, an angelic smile spread across his face, arms wide in subjugation. Had I stepped into a pagan festival? Konnie stood on my left enraptured and I glanced to my right and the terrace above. A boy of no more than twelve stood in front of his father, chanting in the knowledge of every word, his small hands air drumming without missing a beat.
And then they finished , disgruntled they could not extend their set, with a shorter tune (over 10 minutes) and the veil lifted from everyone’s eyes. Konnie talked enthusiastically and I tried to figure out what had just happened. Would I buy the music, no. Would I travel and pay to watch them, I don’t think so. Would I be able to resist the lure of their unique performance if they were on a festival bill again, probably not and they have a new disciple in Konnie. Strangely watchable, if you have never seen them and happen upon them, watch, you may be enchanted but rest in the knowing you don’t have to weave flowers in your hair and there are no human sacrifices required during the performance.
It’s worth mentioning at this stage that the transitions between bands was not as smooth as the previous day. Whether the crew were different or more likely the bands on the second day were more demanding, either way the wheels were not as well oiled. This gave us more time for food and liquid sustenance and to soak up the atmosphere. A couple of large tattooed Scandinavian bikers asked we take their photos and they kindly reciprocated snapping the ‘Grimspound’ shots of Konnie and I. They also gave some of their stone step space so we could sit for a while which was most welcome until we found seating a little further back with a better view.
It was time for the main acts of the day, first came Opeth. I am a late convert and up until now only have ‘Pale Communion’ and still feel some of their older material may not be to my liking. But I have since ordered a couple of older CD’s to try and Lamentations DVD on the strength of their performance and what a show. The sun descended as the atmosphere grew, Michael Akerfeldt and the band striding the stage as giants of the prog metal genre, rousing the crowd who need little encouragement. With acknowledgement to the long faithful that the newer material has not always received favour, they pulled old favourites from their earlier albums to rapturous applause and drove them like giant machines crushing any doubters under the sound, loud and clear with the lighting matching the moods. It is well known Michael and Steven Wilson have become firm friends and you can catch elements of influence in the work, enhancing the massive production here.
Revelation of the day was Konnie’s response, she has never taken interest in Opeth before and had neglected to listen on the occasions I have played ‘Pale Communion’, fearing they weren’t to her liking. By the end of the first song she was hooked, loving every minute, extolling the virtues of their live performance and on completion she was grinning like a kid at Christmas. Had they been the only head-liner, the day would have finished on a tremendous high. As it was, we were to be spoiled further…..
We knew what to expect from Steven Wilson as we have seen him on his last three tours, but this did not lessen our excitement, merely settled us in the privy we bestowed upon our Spanish friends, eager to watch a man who verges on deity status in the genre and learn all they can about him. Mr Wilson has developed and perfected his style with such precision he holds all in his sway and has carefully honed his stage craft since we first saw him. Again I feel his friendship with Michael has influenced and benefited him especially in performing as he seems more at ease talking to and joking (yes, joking), with the crowd. His live sets are always louder these days, the tracks played are heavier and rockier than the album versions. We always pack our ear defenders, but that could be our age, yet he balances the delicate, ‘Lazarus/Routine’ finely, gently sprinkled like fairy dust on the sounds emanating from his current band.
All masters in their own fields, with none finer on the drums than Craig Blundell, as readily recognised by the work he has done as an international clinician for Paiste, Premier, and Roland, Adam Holzman is a rare keyboardist, having moved from the jazz fusion field to his current position in the band, he consistently earns critical acclaim as one of the most daring and best contemporary keyboardists alive.
No one could have predicted back in the Kajagoogoo days that Nick Beggs would go on to be such a luminary in Bass guitar and Chapman Stick, his mighty presence up front ably bookending Steve with current guitarist Dave Kilminster. Having spent the last few years as principal guitar player in the Roger Waters band, Dave brings his own, skillful style to the well renowned tracks and my only regret is that they didn’t play Drive Home, as I would like to have heard his take on the beautiful guitar solo.
It’s a commanding show and a fitting end to a wonderful couple of days though the fuzzier lighting employed for the majority of the set prevented my getting many photos.
But not quite an end: it was by now 02:00, weariness took hold and with an early start the next morning we elected to leave with the majority and head for our hotel. Which leaves me to apologise to metalcore band Textures, who bravely came on after we left and played to a greatly reduced crowd, so I cannot comment on their performance.
It only remains to say ‘Gracias’ to the organisers of BPMF, everyone who helped make it possible the bands themselves and the Spanish people we met along the way. Watch for next year’s line up, take the leap, make the trip and revel in what Barcelona and Be Prog My Friend have to offer, you won’t be disappointed.
Adios, hasta pronto………