Lifesigns (Live gig review – Bannermans, Edinburgh, 5 September 2019)

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What’s to like?

Look before your very eyes, and see the world through new horizons”.

Amidst all the current strife and tension, prog band Lifesigns offer some respite with a mix of uplifting songs, talented players, good humour and an all-round good night out.

The low down

Given how tough it can be on a band’s finances to tour these days, especially for the smaller independent bands, it’s heartening to see a band like Lifesigns return to Scotland for their third tour in as many years.

And it’s even more heartening to see the audience numbers grow on each subsequent visit to Edinburgh. The first time I saw the band in Bannermans’ back-room, a poor turnout and a late soundcheck threatened to derail the gig, and as I wasn’t familiar with the band’s music, they weren’t the only ones winging it that night. But it turned out to be a very relaxed and enjoyable first encounter, and subsequent gigs have only strengthened this appreciation.

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Lifesigns’ music is very much rooted in melody, and while there are several “long songs” and plenty of time signature shifts to please the prog fraternity, the music side-steps becoming technically dull or indulgent. It’s music that is very easy to listen to and enjoy, helped along with confident singing and catchy choruses. So often with proggish bands it’s the lyrics and singing that can let the side down, but with Lifesigns it’s actually a core part of what makes it all work.

For a band relatively unknown beyond prog circles, the pedigree of each member is impressive. Band leader, keyboardist and singer John Young currently works with Bonnie Tyler, while guitarist Dave Bainbridge was a mainstay of the band Iona and also works with The Strawbs, and bassist Jon Poole has done stints with hard rockers The Wildhearts. But the really impressive cv award goes to drummer Frosty Beadle, who lists The Wombles as former clients! (oh, and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa).

So with such a pool of experience, it comes as no surprise that the music is so well put together. The band clearly have experience in writing and arrangement, and while the results might sound easy to listen to, but I’d imagine that’s down to the skill of the players delivering it. But they also have an ace in the hole with their fifth member, Steve Rispin. A bit like the fifth Beatle, Rispin works quietly in the background but his sound mixing skills bring the music alive. If you’ve heard either of the two studio albums they’ve released so far (Lifesigns and Cardington), they have warmth and clarity, offering no concessions to modern demands for volume and compression. For my taste, the albums perhaps sound a little too lush around the edges at times, but I suspect I’m in the minority.

However, hearing the songs live is whole different ball game for me, as the unpredictable acoustics of a live setting bring out a slightly more raw sound, with the guitar and bass benefiting from added bite. And yet, in spite of the challenges of mixing the live sound in a tiny room with the lowest of ceilings, Rispin still manages to conjure up the best of mixes – loud enough to feel you’re there in the moment for each note, but tempered enough not leave the ears ringing.

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With only two albums to pool the majority of the setlist from, there weren’t any real surprises at this gig, other than shifting around the running order. But watching the audience around me, it probably wouldn’t have mattered, as the small but appreciative crowd quickly settled into a comfort zone. Folk were simply here to dig the music, and it wasn’t until afterwards that I realised that we’d enjoyed a show free of the usual annoying chatterboxes who insist on talking (loudly) through the music. That was just so refreshing to experience!

This time around I was more familiar with the songs, so I was better able to take step back and just enjoy watching the four players work their craft. Dave Bainbridge in particular really impressed me with his guitar work, and even though the music is not guitar-driven I found myself constantly watching him coax the notes out of his instrument. I’m not a player myself, but I was fascinated watching how his bending of the strings translated into the guitar notes coming out of the speakers.

Even during the quieter passages you could sense he was discretely adding or withholding notes depending on what felt right for the moment in the song. Always aware of the other band members and never showboating, and often throwing a smile to the audience, he came across as the right guy in the right place at the right time.

However, it would be remiss to sideline the other players, as Lifesigns is very much the sum of all its parts. John Young’s keyboards and singing is the catalyst that brings it all together, and he comes across as a genial master of ceremonies when chatting in between songs. Jon Poole has some tricky stuff to cajole out of his basses, while still holding down the rhythm, and adding much of the backing vocals, and he manages to do it in a way that’s fun to watch without overstepping into silliness. And while Frosty Beadle may be sitting in the background, his drumming is always on point, adding flourishes where appropriate but holding down the beat.

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The relaxed chemistry between the whole band is clear to see from the stage. If the musicians are enjoying the whole experience that always feeds into the music and onward into the audience. And that’s what makes Lifesigns gigs so special, that feeling of bonhomie and goodwill reverberating around the room, and coming away feeling uplifted at the end of the night.

The band’s profile is now starting to grow, and much of this can be attributed to their willingness to get out there and play to audiences, reaching beyond the traditional UK touring spots, and giving them a night out that feels special. Judging from comments during this gig, the band plan to tour more frequently, at least in the UK, and there should be a third album on the horizon, and they’d welcome your support.

You can discover more about the band here.

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One response to “Lifesigns (Live gig review – Bannermans, Edinburgh, 5 September 2019)

  1. Pingback: A to Z links to reviews | Moments in Transition·

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