Dateline: November 21, 2005
By Simon Godfrey
The Syn @ The Marquee Ė Leicester Square, London, UK, Tuesday 15th of November 2005
As the nights begin to draw in and the temperature drops inexorably towards the zone usually reserved for brass monkeys, I find myself alongside ardent yes fan and fellow Prog Archives member, Phil, to see (I think) the first live gig by The Syn for around forty years.
A substantial crowd has gathered outside the Marqueeís entrance for two reasons; firstly, The Syn contains one of the true giants of progressive rock namely, Chris Squire of Yes and secondly; there is a TV studio in the room above with a large well lit window that contains a woman in hot pants, prancing about like sheís just lost a ferret in her nether regions.
Hey, Iím not judging boys and girls; Iím only reporting the facts.
Back in the real world, for those who do not know who The Syn are, this is the band that not only gave Yes two of its founding members (Chris Squire and Peter Banks), they also managed to land a residency at the Marquee Club which saw them support Jimi Hendrix for his one and only appearance at the venue. The band enjoyed a moderately successful life as part of the 60ís psychedelic movement before Squire and Banks left to form Mabel Greer's Toyshop and then Yes with Jon Anderson while singer/songwriter Steve Nardelli opened up a string of clothing boutiques in London.
With Yes on an extended hiatus, Squire and singer Nardelli have re-united after four decades to recorded a new album Syndestructible the fruits of which, will be on show this evening.
The new Marquee (this is the fourth location to bear the name) is located deep within the upper floors of a building that sits on the North side of Leicester Square. Upon admittance, I gamely struggle up a seemingly endless flight of stairs before spilling into the venue cursing my unfitness and scanning the room for the toilets. Such is middle age.
Phil had done the decent thing and shelled out for both the new album and a 'best of' compilation of other Syn material but itís no lie to say that the majority of the people here tonight are present because of Chris Squireís involvement.
The gig is an informal affair and there is little in the way of pomp and ceremony as the band (Nardelli Ė Vocals, Squire Ė Bass, Gerard Johnson Ė Keyboards, Jeremy Stacey Ė Drums and Paul Stacey Ė Guitar) wander on stage and after a short intro, they launch into Some Time, Some Way from the new album followed by the single Cathedral Of Love in which guitarist Paul Stacey pulls off a breathtakingly beautifully solo.
There are elements of Crosby, Stills and Nash and even early Floyd to the sound and yes, there are prog elements in the mix but itís refreshing to see Squire (dressed in a white suit with a black cravat thingy around his neck), just smiling and being part of something that isnít Yes. The Squire sound was unmistakably present as were those trademark shifts in octave but it was more laid back and dare I say it, funky! Not surprising when you consider that this band cut its teeth on Motown covers during the 1960ís before progressing on to original material.
Nardelli introduces the third song Silent Revolution, stating that it has yet to be recorded by the group and nods to Jeremy Stacey who lays down a latticework of hi-hats, rim clicks and bass drum which the rest of the band slot neatly into. It hits me just how good these guys are as they make it seem almost effortless. Itís a good sign.
The next song Grounded is dedicated to the memory of ex-Syn keyboard player Andrew Jackman and were informed by Nardelli that it was one of the first songs the band wrote (it might have been the B-side to their first single I think). Psychedelic sounds flood the room and weíre back in Syd Barret territory (albeit with a contemporary twist courtesy of the Stacey Brothers). All the way through this gig I can hear tantalising snippets of that early Yes sound and although Steve Nardelli is no Jon Anderson, he carries a tune perfectly well and has a good ear for a melody too.
Grounded seamlessly slips into Flowermen which although wonderfully played, had little in the way to separate it from the vast majority of 60ís Psychedelia that Iíve heard and inevitably, my attention begins to wander to the crowd. I have never seen so many bald heads in one room at one time which is I guess, is a sign of the vintage this band belongs to. It also warms my heart to see so many people who should be tucking into some warm milk and a pack of hob-nobs in front of the telly, shaking whatís left of their hair and punching the air like excited teenagers. Fantastic.
The in-between song banter is shared between Nardelli & Squire and both seem to be enjoying a healthy rapport with the audience as anecdotes (sharing a dressing room with Hendrix, meeting The Beatles, etc) abound and inevitably leads to the introduction of another non-album track 21st Century. Now this is a great song folks, full of harmony vocals and deliciously catchy melodies. Itís a joy to behold and Iím left wondering why this never made it onto the new album.
Nardelli straps on an acoustic guitar and launches into City Of Dreams which begins with an almost Dire Straits-like lilt. Iím momentarily puzzled as this soundís unlike anything the band had previously presented this evening but the haze of strumming gives way to something much darker and biting. Squire digs into his Rickenbacker and produces some truly brooding stuff while Nardelli weaves his vocals across the surface before returning to the initial wash of the opening refrain.
Each member of the band is introduced by Squire but it is he (along with drummer Jeremy Stacey) who gets the biggest cheer of the evening. I for one have been captivated by Paul Staceyís guitar work which although hampered by technical problems throughout the set, has not detracted from the fact that he was the unsung hero of the evening. His rhythm work was articulate, his solos were sublime and all through the equipment problems, he never dropped a note. A remarkable performance.
The last song of the evening The Promise clocks in at around fourteen minutes and is probably the most progressive number of the evening. Certainly itís the one that I personally found most satisfying and we are treated to everything that is good about prog music; a floaty intro, cascading cymbals and a flurry of notes from Squire and keyboardist Gerard Johnson. The song has a real modern edge to the sound but wisely steers clear from that Trevor Rabin super clean roar that typified Yes during the 80ís and early 90ís. Instead we are treated to something altogether earthier and evolved (straying close to Echolyn territory if a comparison were needed); the odd time section midway through the song is charged with energy and movement. Itís here that Squire, even with the limited space available to him on stage, takes charge of the proceedings and stalks forward to meet the crowd. Nardelli steps back to let the band flex their musical muscles while the audience responded with rapt attention. The guys twist and turn one way and then the other before finally reaching a crescendo that melts away into a cloud of swirling guitar FX. The band leave the stage, waving to an enthusiastic audience that know they have witnessed something special.
They return to play one last number, the Rolling Stonesesque Golden Age and itís quite obvious that they have the crowd where they want them. I even find myself forced to quietly boogie along too and before we know it (or indeed want it), they are gone again, this time for good.
Phil and I exit back into the cold London night and bid each-other farewell. We both agree that this band were worth the effort to see live and as the next gigs for this band will be two months hence in the USA, it is a good bet that the UK wonít see them again for some time to come (if ever).
The Syn are an excellent band to see live, they have the pedigree, the musicians and the songs to be more than just a one album deal. Whether they go on to produce another release I guess is down to what Yes does next.
In all honesty this is a band on the edge of prog, in the same way Floyd (at their most whimsical) once were in the 60ís and even It Bites were during the 80ís, traditional pop sensibility with prog prowess. It isnít ELP, it isnít even Yes but if you like a good tune and a modern sound to go with your spaceship sir, I would recommend seeing them.
Itís prog Jim, but not as we know it.