I promised a kind of retrospective of the last 19 months or so of my musical landscape, so here’s the first course… Be warned! Despite my love of all things ‘metal’ I have developed a predilection for progressive rock again over the last 12-18 months, and it shows!
I’ve decided to start with a couple of artist/band/performer specific blogs and not the usual Live/Recorded review of the year type and first up is the ‘Little Red Rock Chick’ herself, well, actually, not much of it’s just her, but she’s definitely a uniting thread and major influence on it all.
I first came across Anne-Marie Helder in Karnataka some time ago but didn’t really pay much attention. It wasn’t until I saw her support Fish on the Return to Childhood tour, in Barnsley I do believe, that I began to sit up and take notice.
Fast forward to 2009 and, thanks to links with members of MR, I was now an acquaintance of Anne’s (she took MR’s first two promo shoots) and definitely keen to see her on stage again.
My first opportunity came at the Nick Harper gig at the Duchess in York shortly after I’d missed the Marillion convention where she’d performed to an exceptionally responsive crowd. I missed the first act that night and made it just in time to see Anne coming on stage. There was no guitar on the first track, unless you can call the rhythmic beating of its body playing a guitar? If I’d been in any doubt of her vocal abilities beforehand this one track cemented my opinion. To come on stage and open with an a cappella track like this was risky at best, to do it as well as this was pure talent. The set continued with one or two of the tracks from her The Contact EP from 2004 alongside some new material which has yet to see the inside of a recording studio. The set was a perfect mix of old and new material culminating in a track which I think may have been called ‘Wheels within Wheels’ that blew me away [think of a combination of Apocalypstick and Dark Star as a solo piece and you may be somewhere near it].
I bought The Contact that night. I’d heard it before but only once and had forgotten how much I liked the songs both in style and substance. It now has a firmly regular place in my sound system, on my PC and my iPhone. I can’t fault any of the tracks and they are easily better live than on this accomplished solo début.
Next up was the Breathing Space appearance at A Night for Heroes. For those of you not from York this was a charity event at The Duchess in memory of Howard Sparnenn a well-known drummer, musician and character from York whose daughter is now not only the vocal talent of Breathing Space but also of Mostly Autumn (who headed up the night)! On this occasion Anne was performing in a supporting role only. I believe there were backing vocals and flute involved, but my memory may be failing me on this occasion. Despite several opportunities I had never seen Breathing Space and, despite the pedigree of the cast, I must honestly admit that I do not believe it lives up to the sum of its parts. Brave words indeed! I’m not sure what it is? The music is well crafted and expertly performed, there is some (although perhaps not enough?) on stage presence and on paper this should be somewhat of a ‘supergroup’. Live, it just doesn’t live up to expectations. (Please read on before you reach an opinion of this… there’s more to come!)
Following on from the Breathing Space appearance, the next time I saw Anne was with Panic Room. This is, for all intents, one of the Karnataka successors and it more than lives up to it’s name. In fact I may even be as bold as to say that it surpasses that band on all levels. Most, if not all, of the writing in Panic Room is undertaken by Jon and Anne and if this is a sign of what’s to come I will definitely keep up the harrassment of her until a solo album appears! Again I was sufficiently tardy to miss the first, and part of the second support acts but I care not a jot. The night was all about Panic Room for me and it was, quite simply, stunning! Tracks such as Apocalypstick, Dark Star and Yasuni were perfectly executed while Anne lost herself in the tales being told and acted out her visions of the imagery inspired by the lyrics. I love this aspect of her performances, you can see her getting lost in her own worlds and it’s something to behold. [On a personal note, it’s something I envy and have begun to aspire to in my performances; the ability to lose myself under a spotlight in a crowded room…]
Next up should have been an absolute marathon of a weekend… with Mostly Autumn, Breathing Space and Parade performing on separate nights of the same weekend. For reasons which escape me now I completely missed the Friday night show which included a performance by Parade a band including Fish’s erstwhile guitarist Chris Johnson and Anne-Marie on vocals, guitar and keys. I then refused to fork out the money needed to see Mostly Autumn in York’s Grand Opera House and so it was to The Duchess again on the sunday night to see Breathing Space. Or so I thought.
As we arrived we bumped into Andy (Smith of Mostly Autumn/Morpheus Rising) who advised us that Anne and Chris had hurriedly put together an acoustic support set for the night. This was a boon for me as I was more than a little hacked off at having missed the Friday night’s Parade performance and this turned out to be an acoustic set of primarily the Parade material. Considering it had been put together in an afternoon’s warm up/sound check the resulting performance was proof that both these two are consummate musicians, there was even enough space for a little humour. I didn’t know the material sufficiently to recognise them at the time, but I was sufficiently impressed enough to head off and buy The Fabric from the band’s site.
And then for Breathing Space… Perhaps it’s the venue (I know from experience that it’s a bitch to get the sound right on stage), perhaps not. But I still can’t get to grips with this band. Strange as this may seem there is just something lacking. Don’t get me wrong, the music is beautiful, the performance impeccable. But that’s about it. There’s very little presence, in fact (in fear of being taken the wrong way!) if it weren’t for Livvy there’d be nothing to watch on stage at all, and after a couple of tracks it all seems much of a muchness. I will of course persevere and revisit both the albums and the live shows as I am determined to at lease realise what I think is missing if not bring myself round to liking them!
All in all I think I’ve seen Anne-Marie Helder live about half a dozen times in 2009 alone and I’d quite happily have seen her half a dozen more, under any one of her guises. I cannot recommend either here solo EP (The Contact), the Parade album (The Fabric) or the two Panic Room albums (Visionary Position & Satellite) enough. Those people I have managed to ‘come see her’ or ‘give it a listen’ will agree wholeheartedly that she is a talent worthy of far greater things than she has achieved to date. And I’ll be there listening and watching when it happens.
Having read this back I’ll admit I considered apologising now for the apparent worshipping at the altar of AMH. But I’ve decided against it, she really is that good!
All the best,