"A Grand Day Out" - The Stone Free Festival, Sunday 19th June 2016. Review by Alan Hewitt. Photos by Alan Hewitt and Tony Bridgeman.
This should really be entitled the unexpected gig as originally I had no intentions of attending this one but when Mr and Mrs Hackett made me the kind offer of a place on their guest list over dinner a few days before, then it would have been rude to decline!
So, the day dawned sunny and fair and I made my way to the 02 Arena for the first time, meeting up with some of the usual suspects for few pre-gig shandies before hand - has to be done, doesn’t it?
The opening act, an orchestral version of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon did not appeal to us and so we remained ensconced in the bar, chewing over past gigs and other memories until it was time for us to take our seats for Steve’s final gig of the Wolflight To Acolyte tour. With only an hour into which to condense what was an almost three hour extravaganza this meant that Steve and the band took no prisoners.
Taking to the stage to a less than full arena did not deter the band and with Nick Beggs back in the fold the sheer power of the performance was immediately noticeable. Roine Stolt is a fine musician, but his bass work lacked the killer edge that Nick’s has and this was one of the more enjoyable aspects of tracks such as A Tower Struck Down, Every Day and Shadow Of The Hierophant all of which were greeted by enthusiastic applause as did the newer offerings including a delicious acoustic Loving Sea which was a brave step given the notoriously poor acoustics of venues such as this one - it worked though.
All too soon Steve’s set was over and we didn’t have long to wait for the next act: Marillion. Now, I have been a fan of this band pretty much since their inception back in the early Eighties, but I have to admit, their more recent material has left me cold and I have to say that I don’t even own their last couple of albums. I seem to have been in the minority however, as the crowd lapped up their performance which for me was a rather soulless one, apart from the sop to the older fans - Kayleigh and Lavender which did bring back some memories and some spine tingles but the rest of it was competent musically, but emotionally….flat!
And so on to the main event. I have been an ardent fan of Rick Wakeman’s for over forty years although sadly I never got to witness the ice bound version of King Arthur & The Knights Of The Round Table back in 1975 when many people questioned Rick’s sanity. No such problems for me however, the man was, and IS a musical genius of the highest calibre and I was eagerly waiting the opportunity to witness the performance of my favourite album of his in its glorious entirety.
Rick, resplendent in one of his famous capes, emerged on stage to thunderous applause, surrounded by a full rock band, choir and orchestra under the masterly control of Guy Protheroe, this was spectacular from the opening immortal words from Malory’s famous Morte D’Arthur… “Whosoever pulleth the sword from this stone and anvil, is the trueborn king of all Britain…” Well, suffice it to say that I simply do NOT have the words to describe the emotions which were running through me at this moment!
What followed was an old-fashioned Prog spectacular the likes of which I never thought to witness again here in the UK. Rick had, like his recent shows at Hampton Court where he finally got to stage his equally renowned Six Wives Of Henry VIII album, recreated the album and finally got to perform it as originally intended. For me, this meant getting used to a lot of genuinely new music sandwiched between the comfortably familiar. Now many fans might decry doing this but I am not one of them, especially if this was how Rick himself originally intended the album to be. The result was simply astonishing and I saw the entire spectacle unfold through a haze of tears as I never thought I would ever get to see it performed live. Delighted, elated and emotionally exhausted, I was not the only one cheering Rick and the rest of his incredible ensemble to the rafters at the end of what had been one performance that shall live on in my memory for the rest of my life.
And that was it, with a strict 10.30pm curfew in force (no idea why) it was still possible to retire to a suitable hostelry for a final celebratory lemonade! As usual, a few thank you’s are in order. First of all, to Jo and Steve Hackett for their incredible generosity without which… To the usual suspects Steph, Dave and Glen Kennedy, Paul Gibbon, Tony Reynolds, Alan Morgan and David Houghton for being part of what was a genuinely enjoyable day out. Thanks also to our guest photographer, Mr Tony Bridgeman for making himself known to me and for his efforts. And of course, to all of the musicians and stage crews whose work made sure we were royally entertained.