REVIEW: Syd Arthur Louisiana by Robin Askew 9/10
RESPLENDENT in a dodgy green felt hat, yet another of his trademark shapeless cardigans and a vintage Hatfield and the North (Google 'em, kids!) T-shirt, straggly-haired Syd Arthur frontman Liam Magill is the epitome of Canterbury scene chic, circa 1972.
Strange, then, that the youthful quartet's audience is dominated by young hipsters, heavily outnumbering ageing prog-rock enthusiasts who are suitably surprised and delighted by this most unlikely of revivals. It's been claimed that the band's name is a nod to Syd Barrett and Arthur Brown. Given their playfulness, I'm betting it's more likely to be a sly Herman Hesse/ Buddhism reference. Despite the retro attire, these aren't slavish copyists worshipping at the vinyl altar of Caravan and Soft Machine. The bucolic psychedelia and jazz/folk-derived prog of those bands are clearly woven into their musical DNA. But rather than simply curating a long-neglected strand of distinctively English music, they're forging ahead into new territory.
On a chilly February evening, an optimistic Ode to the Summer opens the set. It's followed by their best-known song, Edge of the Earth, driven by multi-instrumentalist Raven Bush's distinctive staccato violin. The key to Syd Arthur's increasing popularity seems to be that their deceptively dextrous musicianship is underpinned by a solid groove that keeps self-indulgence at bay. So while
Moving World recalls the ferocious complexity of Gentle Giant, it never wrongfoots those who are eager to dance. Perhaps pointedly, it's juxtaposed with the band's most beautiful and delicate song, the haunting, jazzy Dorothy. A couple of new compositions bode well for the future, boasting hard-edged proggy adventurousness anchored firmly in melody. Despite their steady upward career trajectory, however, it's really time Syd Arthur kicked things up a gear and reached out to a wider audience. This is the second time they've played the Louisiana in three months, with the same local support act. Perhaps Raven Bush could ask his auntie Kate for advice. After all, her career famously went stratospheric under the mentorship of a certain David Gilmour.
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