It’s hard to believe that Welsh proggers Magenta have been around for over twenty years now. Since they first emerged on the UK prog scene they’ve worked hard and established a quite decent reputation and produced some very well received albums, earning awards along the way for both the band itself and for the musicians as individuals. (A doff of the cap to the Classic Rock Society!)
To celebrate the band’s twentieth anniversary, on 19th May 2019 Magenta performed to a sold-out audience at the Arlington Arts Centre, Newbury, Berkshire. The band visited its back catalogue that evening and so this release features songs from all seven of Magenta’s studio albums, including perennial favourites such as The White Witch, Gluttony, and Red along with over three-quarters of an hour segment from the album Home from 2006. The set list also included a cover of Steve Hackett’s Spectral Mornings, performed here with added lyrics. (Magenta originally recorded this track as a charity single back in 2015 to help raise funds for Parkinson’s Society UK.)
Rob Reed on keyboards is the band’s leader, but the other mainstays of the band, vocalist Christina Booth and guitarist Chris Fry, are equally essential to the music. Christina is an excellent singer with both power and sensitivity in her performance, and Chris is one of the most under-rated guitarists around, whether it’s his nimble-fingered lead lines or adding chords to the rhythm, he is always impressive. From the opening atmosphere of Rob’s keyboards on Opus 3 that leads into Gluttony it is obvious that this is going to be a celebratory show to savour. The performances throughout are excellent with the interplay between the musicians being the highlight. On the night, the band made full use of the Arts Centre’s theatrical side and the performance includes actors and props but this does not take the attention away from the music. Magenta was joined by the addition of flute, oboe and orchestral percussion to excellent effect, and there are guest appearances from Peter Jones, who many will know from Tiger Moth Tales and Camel, along with Big Big Train’s Dave Longdon who duets superbly with Christina on Spectral Mornings. For those very familiar with the original instrumental version of Spectral Mornings the use of lyrics here causes something of a double-take, but it works well in this context. Peter’s contributions throughout are impressive and extremely apposite.
Because of all those performances, here the music is the winner. The band’s inspirations are celebrated rather than hidden, so you can hear nods to Genesis, Renaissance, Yes, maybe with touches of Camel and Mike Oldfield, but the musical personality is that of Magenta. Whether it’s Rob’s spacious and lithe keyboards, Chris’s dextrous, clear-lined guitars, or Christina’s clear and interpretive vocals (all the more impressive as she’d had a chest infection at the time), each contribution gives to the whole. The use of orchestral elements is tasteful and brings different colours to the band’s sound. The production is wonderful, with a sharpness and crispness that portrays an attention to detail.
This is an outstanding release for the band, and one that is more than just another live issue. It is great to hear a CD where the music itself has the starring role.
CD/DVD Disc 1:
Towers Of Hope
CD/DVD Disc 2:
The Ballad Of Samuel Layne
The White Witch
The Lizard King
Bass – Dan Nelson
Drums – Jiffy Griffiths
Electric Guitar, Acoustic Guitar – Chris Fry
Flute – Katie Axelsen
Keyboards – Rob Reed
Oboe – Karla Powell
Percussion – Simon Brittlebank
Vocals – Christina Booth
Vocals – David Longdon
Saxophone – Peter Jones
Live In Newbury, England on May 19th 2019
Media: 2DVD+2CD, also available with a 52 page booklet
Release Date: 28th May 2021
Wish you had namechecked Dan Nelson and Jiffy Griffiths in this review. One of the finest and most underrated rythm sections going.