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Review of the Tangent at Danfest 2011

August 9, 2012

When The Tangent frontman Andy Tillison walked up to the microphone on the stage at The Musician in Leicester at a quarter past midnight announcing that their show had to be cancelled because the drum kit provided was unplayable, it seemed simply too cruel. I turned to Rodrigo, who had flown all the way from Brazil for the show and attempted to say something but neither of us could speak.

No sooner had he made the announcement than the guardian angels of prog rock quietly stepped in and put everything in order. The missing drum equipment was replaced thanks to a generous gesture by the drummer of the previous band on the bill, IO Earth. Rodrigo and I could finally speak again. Nothing sums up the ethos of the band better than Tillison’s subsequent “It’s amazing how far sincerity gets you”, echoing that famous line from Rush’s Spirit of Radio “It’s all just a question of your honesty”.

Despite the truncated set (a prog band that plays for an hour is surely unheard of), their show was an inspiration. Aside from the obvious delight of getting to see The Tangent for the first time, what I will most take away from this show is the feeling that I was present at the birth of a guitar legend. Watching the 22 year old virtuoso Luke Machin in action was one of those ‘I was there’ moments. He is receiving rave reviews for his work on The Tangent’s new album COMM, and tonight’s show was a clear demonstration of why.

Hours earlier, I had the immense good fortune of being able to spend some time with Tillison, Machin and former Tangent acoustic guitarist Guy Manning. When presented with an opportunity to talk to people like Andy Tillison and Guy Manning, two of the vanguards of modern progressive rock, all one really has to do is find a way to flip their ‘on’ switches, then to sit back and listen. It isn’t particularly hard in this case. Of course, the cliché is true. Just as the conversation between a group of mathematicians will rapidly disintegrate into unintelligible babble, so too will the conversation of prog fanatics. Manning and Tillison are no different, and before long, we were exchanging stories about Yes, Jethro Tull and Transatlantic and discussing how 1973 was the best year for prog (I believe that 2011 was as good). And playing the classic game of “who loves the more obscure album?” Tillison won on that front, but he does have a forty year head start on me. He firmly believes that much of the progressive rock released in the last decade easily sits side by side with the classic albums of the 70s, as he cites albums by The Flower Kings, Transatlantic and Spock’s Beard and modestly omits The Tangent’s own, although I am sure he knows as well as I do that they too belong in that group.

Almost two years ago now, while on a routine CD shopping trip, I discovered that The Tangent’s albums along with many others on the prog label InsideOut were suddenly available in India, as imports. As Indian prog rock fans, we find ourselves in the middle of a very exciting time. Not only can we walk down to the local music shop and pick up a copy of The Tangent’s The Music That Died Alone or Pain of Salvation’s Remedy Lane, but we can also legitimately hope to see such bands performing without the expense of having to fly to Europe.

The last three years have seen massive outdoor performances by Porcupine Tree, Katatonia, Opeth and Pain of Salvation even though almost none of their albums were legally available in India at the time of their shows. Pain of Salvation’s drummer Leo Margarit once told me that far more people attended their concerts in Brazil than had bought their albums. A similar statistic surely applies to India. He went on to say that if even half the people who had downloaded the albums had just bought them instead, then they would not find themselves in a situation where long term band members had to quit because it was no longer economically viable to stay in the band, despite their love for it. We are at a stage where bands are able to perform to large crowds in India because a large number of people simply download their albums to get acquainted with the music before the show. It makes for wonderful atmosphere at concerts, certainly, but it is a hollow and unsavoury situation. The argument presented was always a paraphrased complaint about the lack of availability, but that situation is changing now.

Andy Tillison’s passion and precision are truly inspiring, and over the last decade with The Tangent he has assembled around him some great musicians, spanning however many generations it takes to get from David Jackson (of Van Der Graaf Generator, who played on the first Tangent album) to Luke Machin. Aware of this sudden appearance of his albums in India, Tillison says that he and the band are just waiting for an invitation to play. There certainly is no shortage of playable drum kits here.  

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