The Enid - The Institute, Birmingham, 30th May 2013


Situated in a part of England’s second city you wouldn’t want to visit unless absolutely necessary, Birmingham’s The Institute, now without the HMV prefix, was originally a Methodist Chapel. Standing on Digbeth's insalubrious High Street and spread over three floors, tonight’s gig is on the smallest and top floor; with a capacity of around 300 the venue is around two thirds full by the time The Enid appear.

The support act were Enochian Theory, a band I was aware of but had never actually heard before the gig. Unfortunately I am still none the wiser as their set was bedevilled by the worst sound mix I’ve heard in years. The bass guitar was completely inaudible, which was a shame as Shaun Rayment looked like he knew his chops, but he may as well have been miming. The guitar and vocals of Ben Harris-Heyes were just about audible, but drowning everything out were the drums. ESPECIALLY THE BASS DRUM, which the “sound engineer”, and I use the term advisedly, saw fit to turn up to such levels that it felt like being on the receiving end of repeated punches to the sternum with a jackhammer. Bloody painful, it was!

When I and a few other punters attempted to query this godawful racket of a mix with the gimlet-eyed sound man he ignored us. Or so we thought; we soon realised he was wearing earplugs! Unbelievable. After the set I did get to ask the guy why he had turned up the drums so loud, to the detriment of everything else, and he replied “It’s ‘evvy metal, ent it”. It isn’t. And, nonsensically “It’s a small venue”. Huh? When we attempted to quiz him further he simply grunted and walked off! Ignoramus.

So, my advice is; if you’re going to The Institute in darkest Digbeth for an evening’s musical entertainment take some earplugs. At least that way you’ll get to hear what this deaf troglodyte considers to be a decent mix for the poor unsuspecting support group. Enochian Theory, you have my sympathy. Having since listened to their album on their website, and although not really my particular bag, I can say with 100% certainty that this is not “‘evvy metal”, a few cookie monster grunts aside, and there are some nice subtle melodic touches in there, completely lost on this night’s audience I’m afraid. 

So onwards to The Enid, a band who until very recently I considered far too twee for my perverse musical afflictions, that is until I heard the rather splendid Invicta album. My long-suffering gig-going companion Phil W has been a fan of the band for longer than he cares to remember and is quite chuffed that he's manged to convert me to the cause. He is also of the opinion that Invicta is the band's best ever album, and I fully trust his judgement on that score. 

Emerging stage right and making their way to their positions on the rather cramped stage we have Robert John Godfrey (electric piano, chat), Dave Storey (drums, anchor), Max Read (guitar, keyboards, technical whizz), Jason Ducker (guitar, studied calm), Nick Willes (bass, timpani, percussion, "eye candy"), and last but by no means least Joe Payne (vocals, keyboards, Akai EWI*, theatrics and knowing glances). *An Akai EWI is an electronic wind instrument MIDI - essentially an electronic clarinet...sort of!

This band communicates across generations; I've listed them above from oldest to youngest. They span ages from Robert & Dave, both original members of the band and both in their mid sixties, right down to Joe who is in his early twenties. There can be little doubt that the influx of youthful enthusiasm of Jason, Nick and Joe has given the band a renewed energy that is great to see.

After the sound shenanigans with Enochian Theory, I was a bit concerned as to how The Enid would fare. Although the sound was maybe a tad too loud, at least it was more than listenable as I believe The Enid used a different engineer, who seemed to know what he was doing. There were a few glitches though, and Max told us afterwards that the stage sound had been dreadful.

Invicta starts off in earnest with One & The Many, and I had always assumed its choir-boy vocals were synthesised, but was surprised to see Joe launch into a clear-as-a-bell falsetto and carry it off with no problem at all. This man has a quite remarkable range, all the way down into tenor territory. With his rock operatics and theatricals, and especially when multi-tracking his voice in harmony with Max, the affect is akin to how Queen might have sounded had they not been lured by the pop dollar. An earlier band that used bags of thespian shapes to great effect that sprung to mind was Sebastian-era Cockney Rebel.

However The Enid have definitely got their own unique sound, forged over decades of ploughing an almost obstinately lone furrow where symphonic progressive music is concerned, taking the form to its logical conclusion. Only now it seems to have reinvented itself and come out fighting. Knowingly camp it may be at times, but twee it certainly is not, much to my ongoing pleasant surprise.

After the first three songs, all taken from the splendid current album, Robert said hello, and informed us that as he has been recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, his remaining time with the band may be limited. This sad news already seemed to be known by the audience, most of whom are in The Enid fan club/support network The Enidi, and the news was taken with respectful British stoicism, probably just as Robert would have wanted.

Invicta is the second part of the trilogy that began with last year's Journey's End. The triptych depicts man's relationship with the Earth and his place in the greater scheme of things, and no doubt other grand metaphysical concerns, including such weighty subjects as the existence (or not) of God. Due to Robert's condition, the plan now is for the band to take the summer off in order to write the third and final part. Let's all hope that Robert remains well enough to play that concluding statement live with the band he formed way back in 1974.

Back to the music; the band continued with updated reworkings of old songs. Most if not all of these were originally instrumentals, and Joe has added his lyrics to them, making what amounts to new musical experiences for long-time fans. Phil tells me that some of the older fans were initially up in arms at the thought that their band's legacy was being tampered with in such a fashion, but as a "newbie" I really cannot see what all the fuss is about. The "new" songs work just fine as far as I can tell.  

The original version of Summer on 1985's The Spell did contain lyrics, but the new version is considerably beefed up, coming over as a grandiose elder cousin of Tears For Fears' Sowing The Seeds Of Love, and is a truly epic pop song. Robert probably wouldn't like the word "pop" appearing in a piece on The Enid, but this is a reference to pop when it had quality, nothing to do with the modern version which should probably be termed "pap"!

Robert also treated us to his thoughts on progressive music, which, quite rightly he differentiated from the comfy and usually bland fare now known as "prog". In using the pan-generational line up of his band as an example, he said it has been his mission to instill a love of pushing boundaries to the younger generation, and he sees The Enid as the only true progressive band out there. That last statement is somewhat wide of the mark, but I guess he does not get much time to listen to music, progressive or otherwise, other than his own. The sentiment is right however. It is up to our generation to pass on the love of exciting musical possibilities beyond what Cowell & Co force down youngsters' throats, otherwise the future for adventurous music is bleak indeed.

Jason, looking every inch a late 60s Jeff Beck played some stellar guitar, and when harmonising with Max's Strat, more Queen sonics are referenced. Nick added sundry dramatic blows on the timpani as well as playing consummately skilled bass, as Max maintained his studious pilot-at-the-controls stance throughout. Dave played with panache and a deftness of touch, and Robert, near invisible in the corner, hidden by Max and Joe's keyboard rigs, laid down flourishes of lovely piano in his trademark style. This is a confident band that knows they are on to something good.

Joe is a great visual focus, and would have given Freddy a run for his star dressing room, no question. A highly personable chap, Joe introduced the band and got into a jokey exchange with Robert as to whether Nick's surname is pronounced "Wills" or "Willis". Nick sensibly kept out of the discussion, which Robert won, and "Willis" it is! Joe also gave Nick the "eye candy" label, which he took in his affable stride.

So, after a poor start with the support band, and despite the less than perfect sonics for The Enid, the gig was something of a triumph, and an emotional rollercoaster. We all wish Robert the best health he can hope for in the coming years, and we all look forward to part three of the trilogy.

Now to escape Birmingham, which is easier said than done...


Setlist:

Judgement
One & the Many
Who Created Me?
Witch Hunt
Summer
Something Wicked This Way Comes
Malacandra
Dark Hydraulic

Encore
In The Region Of The Summer Stars

All sorts of info here:  http://www.theenid.co.uk/

I did take some pictures, but they are all terrible, so they're staying in the mobile!

Comments

  1. I was there. Enchonian Theory album is well worth a listen but I agree, the sound for their set was dreadfull.
    The Enid were spectacular. Since they re-emerge blinking into the sunlight three years or so ago, they were great but missing a focal point. As a front man, Joe Payne, fills that void admirably. The Enid is now complete in my eyes and I look forward to all that is to follow.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Agree with the comments on Enchonian Theory. Their set was ruined by a terrible mix. Way too loud and where I was stood both drums and bass were killing everything.
    The Enid fared better. I moved closer the the front and the sound was really very good. Better balance but vocals where a little lost at times.
    Since their re-emergence three or so years ago, the have been good and stayed fairly faithfull to the model but, lacked a focal point live. In the old days you got Francis Likerish and Steve Stewarts guitar heroics to focus on but, of late, Jason has a more introverted style and if I'm honest, the gigs have been like attending an intense rehersal. Where the audience is not there to be entertained at all. That has totally changed now though. Joe Payne is entertaining to watch, engages with his audience and is a fine singer/ musician to boot. No longer are we left as onlookers. The audience is now fully drawn into the show. I loved it and that's from a fan of oooh, many years standing. I wish them all the best. Can't wait for the next shows.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks Kevin.

    As a "newbie" I have to say I was well impressed with The Enid.

    Re your comment on Enochian Theory - I couldn't make out the bass at all in the general din. At one point I walked right to the front and stared intensely at what the bass player was doing, but still could not discern individual notes. I have since spoken to the band and Ben told me it was just "luck of the draw" and occasionally you do get a sound guy who has no idea. He also told me they would not be going back to the venue in a hurry!

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

2016 - A Year In Review

Pulling Fish Through Grandma's Eyes

A collection of misfits and awkwardness...