I had booked to see this gig a few weeks ago when I came across it by chance after visiting the Comus website, I had wanted to see them last year but the gig was cancelled. To make my trip to London worth the expense I, as usual, tied it in with seeing a couple of exhibitions during the day with the gig in the evening. I may write about the exhibitions on another post because there was an unheralded musical theme running through the whole day which I had not previously expected.
The Borderline was new to me so before I left home I printed out a map and made sure I was there about an hour before the time on the ticket. It wasn’t clear if this was the time the doors opened or the performance started – it was actually the doors, so I was quite early – luckily Foyles was opposite so I sheltered in there for most of the time (I can’t think of a more perfect place to waste your time than in a bookshop). There was an added reason why I wanted to be early – I was after one of the few signed copies of their new album on vinyl (of which I will write more later). I kept checking to see if a queue was forming and at about 20 minutes to go I decided I’d better line up before it got any longer and I missed my chance of getting one of the albums. Unfortunately it was raining quite steadily and had been most of the day, as it had for most of the past few weeks, so I got a bit wet, but I also got my vinyl and then waited for the first of the two support acts.
First on stage were Purson – deeply influenced by the late 60’s and early 70’s, in look as much as musical style, their sound was heavy with progressive and psychedelic flourishes. The vocalist (Rosalie Cunningham), who also plays electric guitar was transfixing, and not just for the quality of her voice. Her sound reminded me of Sonja Kristina of Curved Air and she looked like a time-slipped advertisement for Biba which definitely suited the style of the band.
The second act was Fusion Orchestra 2. Apparently the original Fusion Orchestra had been a band who released an album (recorded at the EMI studios at Abbey Road in 1973 and called Skeleton In Armour) and this new version of the band is formed around the original guitarist. I have come across many obscure progressive bands in my quest for unusual music but I had never heard of this group – it really is amazing what is coming out of the woodwork and becoming more popular now than they were forty years ago. The crowd obviously loved what they heard, and it sounded as though a good few of them already knew the music inside out. Unfortunately I was not quite so impressed. I was impressed with the musicality and the bands vocalist (apparently only four weeks into the new job, she had amazing range and depth to her voice), but I was frustrated by the amount of sudden changes and inconsistency of style to their music. It can be great when a band suddenly switches form one style to another mid-song – but to do it numerous times and repeatedly in every song did not work for me. The body of a piece of music needs to have a sound, once established then it’s ok to play with it before returning to the main theme – without this I was not hooked. The best track by far was a standard length, out-and-out rocker that they played as an encore.
The third and final act was the one we were all waiting for – Comus. They have performed a couple of times over the last few years, but like their practice and recording sessions these were few and far between. This has mainly been due to the fact that they all now live in different parts of the country. This gig was to promote the release of their new album Out Of The Coma.
After setting up their largely acoustic instruments (only the bass was ever electric) they began with Song to Comus. I was impressed by how perfectly they managed to recreate the sound of the album live on stage – in terms of musicianship and vocal quality they had not aged at all. There were a few sound problems at first – we could not hear the violin at all in the opening song and they had a bit of trouble with the sound in their monitors, but apart from that all was fine. They then played Diana, the band’s completely un-radio-friendly ‘single’ and the start of their album First Utterance. This track relies heavily on the violin so thankfully the sound problem had been resolved by this time. The knotted intensity of Glenn Goring’s guitar playing and Roger Wootton’s crazed vocals were all on display and it was quite astonishing to hear.
It was strange hearing something live which had for the past forty years been a mysterious, half forgotten audio artifact, a collection of shaman songs all of a sudden revived and replayed in the age of the iPad. I wondered if it would sound a little ridiculous – a bunch of old folk trying to reconnect with their younthful, moody incarnations. In fact they managed to evoke all the power and suffocating density of the first album with genuine authority.
This brings me onto Out Of The Coma, or their new mini-album as they called it. It was released a couple of weeks ago on Rise Above Records, but up to this point I had not heard any of the new material. The next track was one of the three new compositions and the title track which opens side one of the new album. Again, this could also have been a worrying moment – would they be able to channel the same creative impulses they did over four decades ago and would the new material simply be a pale imitation of past glories or a sad parody of the old material. It was neither – the song proved that they could successfully create something new yet linear with that first album.
The band played all of First Utterance and the three new tracks which comprise side one of Out Of The Coma. Side two of the new album consists of the only known recording of the fabled The Malgaard Suite – previously thought lost as no known recordings were believed made at the time. Intended as part of a second album that never came to fruition the track was mentioned on the sleeve notes for the two disc Song To Comus release and I thought it would never surface, a lost document of what might have been (the actual second album, To Keep from Crying, was recorded years later with largely different band members). This copy of the Malgaard Suite was recorded live onto cassette tape and forgotten about until recently. I have yet to hear it but it has apparently been ‘cleaned-up’ as much as possible but is still a bit murky – the fact that it exists at all is quite incredible.
So, the gig was a resounding success – the crowd particularly thrilled to hear Drip, Drip (a seriously gruesome track) and The Herald (I heard a few people say it was their favourite – and mine included!). Another full album of new material was mentioned as hopefully being in the pipeline – dependant on logistics of course, as was “a free help line for all those affected by the issues raised in tonight’s performance” (good joke Mr Hellaby, on bass!).