27 December 2013

Space Ritual at The Borderline (December 2013)

2013 ended in much the same way that it started, with a blistering concert by Space Ritual at The Borderline.

This time it was with just the core band of six which meant more space for Ms Angel to dance in. It also meant that all of the band members could be seen reasonably easily, though bassist Gary Smart did his best to hide towards the back of the stage and Chris Purdon was a little out on his own on the far left of the stage where it narrows towards the dressing rooms.

It was good to see Terry Ollis back on drums having been absent the last time and the time before that he was one of two drummers.

That left us with Nik front and centre flanked, at a little distance, by Mick Slattery on lead guitar to the left and Thomas Crimble on keyboards to the right.

I got there not long after the doors opened at 7pm. I had a pint in The Pillars of Hercules beforehand when a welcome encounter with Chris Purdon confirmed that the band would be on stage from 8. I also met another couple of Space Ritual regulars there which got the evening off to a good start.

Most Space Ritual fans seemed to know that the band would be on at 8 as The Borderline was embarrassingly empty at 7:50 and then it somehow filled to its usual lively level.

The blurb for the gig promised new songs from a new album but conversations with several band members beforehand confirmed that there were no new songs. It looks as though the blurb was written around the time of the band's last album, Otherworld in 2007, and has been used ever since.

Otherworld featured quite heavily in the set and the played some "new" tracks from it, e.g. Otherworld, Sonic Savages and Walking Backwards, as well as some of the older songs that also appeared on that album.

I usually try to get a photograph of the set list and/or an actual copy afterwards but I could not do that this time as they simply did not have one. There may have been a semblance of one in Nik's head but most songs started with a short group discussion on what to play next, sometimes this was pre-empted by one of the band starting to play a song.

At other times Nik called out to the audience for suggestions but I did not see and evidence that any attention was paid to these. Most people shouted for things like Brainstorm that they were going to play at some point anyway.

The lack of an apparent pre-arranged set list made little difference to the evening as we got all the songs that I expected, though possibly in a different order.

They played many of the same songs that I had seen Hawkwind play just a few weeks before but there the similarity ended. Space Ritual are the funky version of space rock, they are the sort of band that even I (almost) dance to.

Jamming is the defining characteristic of Space Ritual's music and whatever song the played or how they started it they ended up with an extended jam in the middle. Then, at some point, they all came back together to close the song. Previously this coming together had been agreed by the exchange of looks and nods but this time Nik sometimes went for the direct approach and called out 1-2-3-4 to mark out the end of the jam.

A couple of other new things from Nik were the use of sign language as part of his continuous arm movements (he explained that he had a deaf daughter and so had learnt British Sign Language) and his lack of use of percussion (tambourine and maracas) during the jams.

We also saw a lot more of Ms Angel than we had previously, which is always a good thing.

For just over two hours Space Ritual played their rich and bouncy version of space rock with all seven excelling as individuals and melding together brilliantly as a team.

As always, my only serious criticism of Space Ritual is that they do not play enough concerts and I am hoping that they have made a resolution to play more in 2014.

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