Summer's End Festival, Chepstow

6 October 2017

"Who has seen us before?" asks Marjana Semkina. There is a small response. "Good, that means most of you haven't heard my jokes before." She made the same joke on Tuesday.

Summer's End is a three-day festival, and Iamthemorning are headlining the first night. The Drill Hall in Chepstow is basically a typical village hall, not really what I was expecting, but actually a perfect venue. It's well organised, with a bar (and food) in a separate room so people ordering drinks aren't interfering with the music, there are specialist record traders, and plenty of room for all the bands' merch stands, and a big stage, and, most surprisingly for a venue like this, an excellent sound quality, balanced and clear no matter where I was standing in the hall. I can see why people love Summer's End and keep coming back. The hall is comfortably packed—I'm not even going to estimate how many were there, but it was as many as you need to comfortably pack a village hall. I think every B&B in Chepstow must have been full to capacity!

It's my first time here, but the festival has been running for years, and seems to have attracted a loyal audience who come every year and all seem to know each other. It makes a great, friendly atmosphere, but it does mean that the audience is here for "the festival", not for Iamthemorning. So honestly, how will Iamthemorning go down with an audience like this? Marjana jokes about it, but I have been wondering ...

The other two bands on the bill are new to me. The first is This Winter Machine, who play highly melodic prog, with long songs, heavily keyboard dominated (the keyboards reminded me of Mark Stanway), and with a really excellent singer. I really liked them. CD bought on the spot.

Next was Midnight Sun. They're very good at what they do, but a bit too metal for my tastes. I can't fault their ability, and I do like the twin guitar sound, and they have a great rapport with each other and with the crowd (the singer has the two best jokes of the night (sorry, Marjana)), but they're not really my thing.

So, I work my way forward to (almost) front and centre while the bands change over, to watch Marjana sellotaping flowers to her microphone stand, and I think ... how are Iamthemorning possibly going to win over an audience that's come to listen to highly technical prog metal?

They are introduced, take the stage, and begin with the improbable choice of To Human Misery (great song, but it's not exactly prog, is it...?) and before the song even properly starts Gleb is "warming up" by playing more notes than any six prog metal guitarists could manage, and it sounds like the crowd is already won over. The song is played loud and aggressively, the sound and the style is nothing like either of the previous two bands, it's nothing like any other band you've ever heard, but how can you fail to fall in love with it?

The set is different from Tuesday's. Shorter, for a start (they play a little over an hour, maybe an hour and a quarter) but the biggest difference is that they seem to have lost their string players. So the set list is slightly changed around and the songs are rearranged to work with a four-piece band, but the strength of Iamthemorning's music is that it can do this, they can seemingly throw any combination of instruments at it and it still works. It helps that they have a virtuoso bass player and drummer with them—it's wrong to call them the "rhythm section", as they are both integral to the melody and harmonies of the music. And of course there's Gleb Kolyadin, who, even when he's using an electronic keyboard instead of a grand piano, he doesn't play "keyboards", he's a pianist, of the kind I've only ever seen in classical concerts before, and he is just so phenomenally talented ... I don't even know how to describe him, he has a sound that is so full, busy, intricate, energetic when it needs to be, he's like a whole band, including rhythm section, all by himself.

And Marjana is the perfect complement to the complex music, her voice so clear, and expressive, and powerful, I think getting more powerful year by year. And despite what she says, she doen't repeat all her old jokes, she develops a fantastic rapport with the audience, and probably everyone fell in love with her. How could you not?

There's a section in the middle of the set where the bassist and drummer leave the stage, and Gleb and Marjana play a couple of songs as a duo, and the crowd—which only an hour ago was playing air guitar to a prog metal band—listens in silent attention and the response lifts the roof. A response only topped a few minutes later when the instrumental coda of Crowded Corridors is


There aren't many bands that can move me to tears just with the memory while I'm writing my review the next morning.

I love this band more and more every time.

Best concert I've ever seen.