Part 1. - Initial Considerations and
I must recognize that I attended the concert offered by Arena in Madrid fortuitously, as I live 50 km away of the show Arena (and it is enough to me to go everyday to work there). It was a Saturday, the Spanish football team played, and none of the staff's of progVisions in Madrid (Eduardo, Cesar, José and Juan) were going to the concert. But as my wife had to work that day from 20.00 PM to 0.00 AM and I had to carry her to work, at the last moment, I came close to the Arena club, which permitted me to attend the show of Nolan, Pointer and Co..
Just arriving, I greeted the organizers of the event (our friends of the radio program Los recuerdos del Unicornio) and I entered the room while Pain of Salvation made their sound-check While I was speaking with Francisco -one of the organizers - Clive Nolan came by. Francisco presented us and Clive asked me if I wanted to interview him. I told him my story and I admitted that I had not prepared any questions. No problem, progVisions has something special, so Clive told me that it did not matter, I could just go to the bus of the band and asked him any questions.
Part 2. - The Cube, Frank Sinatra and
a not very usual interview
Yes, this part may have been better included in the "interviews" section. The problem was that I had no questions prepared. A recorder and pen and paper came as a courtesy of Clive Nolan. So the " interview " was rather a pleasant chat instead.
We sat down comfortably in a small room of the bus in which there was a small TV with video and movies, amongst them The cube. Clive and I spoke of this amazing film, reaching the conclusion that this kind of movies are like progressive rock full with art, but appreciated by only a minority that considers it cult art."
Given the nice atmosphere, I intended to ask him fan questions instead of the typical promotional questions. I told him that if there was any question that he preferred not to answer, there was no problem.
To the question, is Arena Clive Nolan and Mick Pointers band"? Clive answered no really. It is evident that we are the founders and the main composers, but the band is formed by five elements. No group likes to make changes in their formation. Many times it has been said that either Mike or me have fired musicians. It is not true, you can be sure that the decision of leaving or staying with the band came directly from the interested ones."
First direct question: "Did you create Arena like kind of a super-band a la Asia, knowing the impact it would have? Are your personal projects (Casino, Strangers on a Train,...) vehicles to make things that you cannot make in Pendragon?. Clive answered clearly: "Pendragon is Nick Barrett's band. He takes all the decisions, he is the composer and the leader of the band, although the rest also participates in the arrangements. My projects as Casino, etc..., are personal projects that allow me to express myself musically and to stay in constant activity inside the world of music. As for Arena, the band was born as another of my projects in which I would have Mick Pointers presence, but there was no any commercial intention in the creation of the band". Then, the success of "Songs from the lion´s cage" impelled you to record more CDs under the name of Arena?. Of course, the answer by the media and the fans to the our first CD made us reach the conclusion that this was the good path. We had not thought to record more CDs, but that artistic pressure made us continue with our work."
We enter in another dangerous land. "Arena has the same success as Pendragon, does this create some kind of tension among the two bands"?. Clive answered: "Arena and Pendragon are two totally different realities. In the musical aspect, for example, they don't sound like each other as if anything Pendragon has a sound closer to Camel or Pink Floyd, while the sound of Arena is more direct and compact, harder if you want. Also, Pendragon sells way more than Arena, so there is no tension in it."
"How is it possible that the first two albums of Arena are so close to the sound of Marillion and that later you radically changed your style towards what we could call a typically Arena sound"?. Ja, ja. This is a tricky question, isnt it? The truth is that Mick Pointer left music in "Script for a Jester´s Tear" and we recaptured it in "Songs from the Lion´s Cage", so it is understandable that his compositions had not varied in that whole time. Then, and with Arena already being a solid project, the music has evolved by means of a constant development and own evolution. It was not planned that Arena was to be the new Marillion. I can guarantee it to you"
We come now to another of the projects of Nolan, his collaboration with Oliver Wakeman. "Wicked tongues say that in Jabberwocky the whole work lies on you, while Oliver is only devoted to play the piano like his father, is it true?, How will your next album be"?. Noooo. Oliver and I share the credits, as the album is carried out to 50%. If you hear more my style is simply because I was in charge of making the arrangements, and, of course, my personality was patent there. The following CD will be based on "The hound of Baskerville", Sherlock Holmes's story. It will be released in April or May of next year and it will have such companies as Bob Catley, Peter Banks and Robert Powell in the narration"
To end up, I asked him for the kind of music he listened to. The answer, surprising: "I don't listen too much progressive rock. I like Queen, I consider them an authentic progressive band in their beginning and albums such as "Queen II". I also listen to a lot of "crooners" music like Dean Martín, Frank Sinatra or Danny Elfman, although my passion is classical music, given my academic formation"
Francisco entered to warn that the conversation had to end. After the corresponding pictures we said good-bye promising kindly that he would come with Pendragon once they started the tour of their next album Not of this world. A very interesting chat with a musician that convinced me of his honesty.
Part 3. - Unrelated interlude. Arena
in the Arena Club
Very little, very little public came to a concert of a first-rate group. The organizers of the concert were quite concerned (and with reason) as just 150 people attended the show. Nevertheless, the opportunity to know personally people that we previously knew only of emails was worthwhile. As for the merchandising, T-shirts of Arena and all the CDs of the saga Nolan were sold in a table, and as funny thing, many showed their interest in the clothing room for some videos or cassette mixes of Arena, a pity they were of the club, not of the band...
Part 4. - Pain of Salvation
The appetizer to Arena was the band Pain of Salvation (see review in the corresponding section, courtesy of Richard). They are some lads with a lot of energy and with a resemblance to Red Hot Chili Peppers (tattoos, goatees, piercing's, short pants) and that practice a brave mixture of progressive metal, alternative metal and symphonic rock. Too much for an audience of thirty-year old guys that worried more in talking of music that in another thing. The pieces were all surprisingly similar to each other, with a lot of saturation and plenty quantity of intensity. I must recognize that they made everything they could to please, but they didn't convince the audience, although we gave them some educated applause. As a curiosity, the singer came with a bandaged hand. Maybe that was the most interesting in Pain of Salvation, although, as I always say, it is very possible that bands like these may have a relative success in metallic circles and make a lot of people come closer to progressive rock.
Part 5. - Arena
After a brief interlude (at 23.30 the show had to finish) an intro gave way to Nolan and his boys that interpreted the suite Moviedrome corresponding to their last CD"Inmortal?". The singer, with the hair picked up in a ponytail and black glasses, adopted some robotics postures that showcased denounced the stupendous theatrical form that he would offer during the whole show. The sound was quite acceptable although at the beginning Ian Salmon's bass gave some problems.
After this beginning, Arena reviewed pieces corresponding to "The visitor" and "Immortal?". People respond vibrantly although, as I will tell later, the topics of the first phase of the group really made the audience crazy. Mick Pointer has improved very much in his technique, demonstrating one firm hit he lacked in his time in Marillion. Ian Salmon showed to be a serene guy but with pulsation capacity in his bass. He played remarkably without emulating Jowitt. John Mitchell was, without a doubt, the best in the night. A versatile, quick but melodic guitar and, mainly, a guy with sense of humor.Nolan, in his Wakeman style, retrenched after a barrier of keyboards and with a black cape. Rob Sowden for was the star. I had not seen in a long time such a theater show in progressive rock. In spite of the few resources, the light games together with the different suits, the expressions and the manners of Rob produced me a sensation that drama had returned to progressive rock. As for the voice... did not we argue that all the singers of Arena sang the same?
The best in the concert was, apart of "Moviedrome", the fantastic Butterfly Man and, mainly, the pieces corresponding to their first CDsSirens, Midas Touch and Jericho", sang and applauded there by the audience.
Unfortunately the band could only offer a encore. At this point the surprise was general for the band, the public, and the organizers, etc. As Paco commented me the band wanted to play a couple of encore pieces more, but the landlady owner of the club was more concerned in the money that she would collect in the night session -in which they open a snobs disco- than on the 150 people we were attending a concert or the organizers that had hired that room to be able to offer a show of progressive rock. For this reason almost without finishing the last piece of the encore, the lights lit completely and the music of the speakers of the room began to sound.
Part 6. - Happy Ending
At the end of the show, the musicians (I guess they were amazed) went down to the floor to sign autographs and to be photographed with people. Well, then the personnel of the club tossed us outside because they had to sweep and clean!. In short, fortunately people could receive their signatures and pictures in the entrance of the club. The musicians spoke, they signed and photographed WITH ALL THOSE that requested it to them. Sincerely I should acknowledge that Arena is one of the bands with the most honest, sincere members, concerned of their fans, etc., that I have seen in my life (as Mr. Fripp). Five stars' people.
When the last autograph was signed and the last picture taken, people retired. I could not have some beers with the friend José Sahagún and company because 50 km back home still waited for me. Another time.
Only to finish the chronicle with a couple of revolutionary mandates:
1. - BOYCOTT THE SALA ARENA. Never go there, even for a bachelor party.
2. - To my friends Paco and Luis (organizers of the concert): I know it was hard to see the little public (Spain football team played in Madrid and 120.000 people attended) and the problems with the room and others, but, and I believe that I speak for a lot of people, don't lose the illusion. Thanks to you, 150 people enjoyed something that is not usually seen in Madrid: a show of progressive rock. From progVisions you will always have our support. Thank you, you were our heroes in the Arena show.