Last Friday night turned into the most wonderful self-fulfilling prophecy. This started about 18 months ago when a former work colleague and fellow prog rock aficionado was gently chiding me about the albums to which I was then listening, the latest of which probably came out in about 1980.
Haven't you heard any of the new prog rock bands, he asked, trotting out names like Dream Theater, The Flower Kings, Spock’s Beard - Marillion perhaps?
Erm, actually no - apart from a smattering of Marillion - because I have been more than happy living in the past courtesy of Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Saga and Rush. They have been my prog comfort blanket and I was quite prepared to continue covering myself in their respective back catalogues rather than moving on – progressing if you like - musically.
Fast forward to last August…..and this will no doubt be covered in a separate blog…if we are going to talk about whether love is sweeter the third time around - the answer to which is a resounding yes.
That was when Martin first made contact through Facebook when he asked to become a friend because of our mutual love of prog rock. Fair enoughski! So friends we became and to our amazement this has moved on swiftly to us being a full-blown item, significant others, other halves, partners. But it was not his bank balance or flashy car to which I was first attracted: it was his CD collection. Bet you have never heard that reason before!
His vast library of CDs is a who's who of music with about 70 per cent prog rock, much of it comprised the newer bands to whom I was advised to listen 18 months ago.
Earlier this year, Martin mentioned that Transatlantic was appearing in London and that we absolutely had to go because it was one of his favourite bands. Fine by me, thought I not really appreciating the pukka pedigree of this otherwise unknown band.
When their latest album The Whirlwind came out a few months ago, he played it to me and hey, these guys were good. I then got acquainted with their previous collection A Bridge Across Forever – extraordinary stuff with not one song coming in at under 14 minutes. My kind of band!
So last Friday finally arrived and there we were outside the Shepherd’s Bush Empire with the rest of the predominantly male Transatlantic coterie. Seriously, there must have been no more than about 100 women in a 2,000 strong audience. So you know what that meant? No queues for the ladies' loos!
Well, to cut a long story short (unlike the length of their masterpieces), it was an evening of musical greatness. The opening number was The Whirlwind played in its 77 minute entirety and had the audience totally pinned to its seats (well, at least upstairs in the balcony as it was all standing down below).
And without going into to much detail, let’s just make the following observations. Mike Portnoy, about whom I had heard so much, is a force of nature or at least some friendly demonic power as I have never seen a drummer possessed with so much passion who can play with such precision while at the same time conducting both band and audience.
Neal Morse is a prog rock legend, blessed the kind of sensitivity, power and artistry which can transform and shape any sound. Guitarist Roine Stolte is another towering presence with the divine gift of coaxing from his guitar some beautiful fluid licks and passages while Peter Trewavas is a pivotal player in the Transatlantic axis as part of the rhythm engine-room and also as singer/composer.
With Daniel Gildenlow also on stage adding texture, depth and muscle to the overall sound and dynamics, well, it made for nearly three hours of prog perfection.
The best feature of all though is the way they interact and play off of each other. They were having fun out there and that makes all the difference because while they were, we could too.
And I did not mention that Portnoy decided to launch himself into the mosh pit during the second half, literally got carried aloft and was then safely returned to the stage afterwards.
We lost count of the standing ovations they received in part two for the rest of the set which included most of the Bridge Across Forever collection. No surprises then that the final curtain call lasted nearly five minutes.
It was breathtaking and brilliant; and I forgot to add, my former work colleague was also there. I caught up with him afterwards and had to laugh. Because remember what he has said to me 18 months previously? It just so happens the day jobs of the four members of Transatlantic are with Dream Theater, The Flower Kings, Spock’s Beard and yes, you’ve guessed it – Marillion!