Wednesday 19 August 2009

Cambridge Rock Festival

We went to Cambridge Rock Festival on Sunday 9th August. Plaudits should go to the organisers for a pleasant affair. "Pleasant" may seem an odd word for a rock festival, but these days, gatherings like these with an emphasis on classic or prog rock, are family affairs with all ages present. The location was good, the food pretty good, the toilets OK. I spent a while in the obligatory juggling space. What you want from a festival experience. Of course, we'd come for the acts, and three in particular: Karnataka, Focus and Asia.

Karnataka are a relatively recent prog band. On keyboards is Gonzalo Carrera, who also plays with Whimwise and dB-Infusion and may be known to Yes fans for working with Peter Banks. Unfortunately, Karnataka didn't get to play. Some never-entirely-explained problem saw the schedule for the main stage re-arranged to allow more setting-up time. While Simon McBride (3rd billing for the evening) got moved to a second stage, Karnataka (4th billing) were just dropped, through no fault of their own. I met the band who were still seemed shell-shocked by the experience. I hope to see them somewhere else soon.

No Karnataka left a long gap between up'n'coming prog band Touchstone and old favourites Focus on the main stage, so we bagged a sweet spot in front of the mixing desk and ate festival food. Despite all that extra setting up time, when they started, Focus were plagued by microphone/monitor problems, and a broken guitar string. Still, that didn't stop them or us having a good time.

Yes fans complain about a band with only three 'classic' members, but Focus is down to founder Thijs van Leer plus drummer, Pierre van der Linden, with two new members. Long gone is guitarist Jan Akkerman. The two new players are very competent and the two Focus fans I was with, my partner and her Mum, were happy enough to see van Leer. Perhaps because he's the other 'classic' member explains why van der Linden got three drums solos, which is about three too many.

As a band I don't know so well, I was happy for Focus to play their greatest hits with only a little new music, yet the next act I know so well that I don't want the greatest hits and would rather have new material. This is, of course, what bands have to deal with, an audience mix of some casual listeners and some hardcore fans.

That next act, headlining and closing, were Asia. Again, the extra setting-up time earlier seemed to no avail as they were over half an hour late, but a festival in a field out of town doesn't have to worry about a curfew so much and the band played their full allotted time.

Of course, Asia were coming off the back of 24 North American dates supporting Yes, and Steve "the hardest working man in rock" Howe was coming from 24 dates playing with both bands, but there was no sign of tiredness in their performance. The set, which was professionally recorded, concentrated on the debut album, although we got two Phoenix pieces and "Fanfare for the Common Man". I was sorry not to hear "In the Court of the Crimon King" and "Video Killed the Radio Star", which I thought would have gone down well with the festival crowd.

It was a good show, but it was a good show I've seen twice before and I was conscious that they will need to start varying the set more to keep audiences interested in 2010. See the poll on the Where Are They Now? front page for your thoughts on that.

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