Buy Francis Dunnery's Tall Blonde Helicopter

Francis Dunnery and the Tall Blonde Helicopter Band
w/ Dorie Jackson Band
& The Syn

Carling Academy Islington, Saturday, 1 Nov 08
Buy The Syn's Syndestructible

The Syn: Steve Nardelli (vocals), Francis Dunnery (acoustic guitar, backing vocals), Dorie Jackson (backing vocals)

Set: "Devils & Demons", "Big Sky"

Despite some public disagreements with Steve Nardelli on multiple different subjects, he was kind enough to invite me to The Syn's new album "showcase" within Francis Dunnery's solo on 1st November at the Carling Academy Islington in London.

Perhaps it would be useful to consider how The Syn got here. After Syndestructible and US touring, The Syn as then had imploded with Chris Squire, Gerard Johnson, Paul Stacey, Jeremy Stacey, touring drummer Alan White and everyone else leaving the band in late 2006. 2007 was a low point: Nardelli demo'd some material, but there was no band and numerous grand announcements about Umbrello activities predictably came to naught. However, in July 2008, a new core line-up was announced with former It Bites guitarist Francis Dunnery and former touring keyboardist with Yes, Tom Brislin. With Brett Kull and Paul Ramsey (both of Echolyn), they have been recording a new album, Big Sky, due for release early in 2009.

While almost an entirely new line up, Dunnery does have a past connection with The Syn. He was to have been in the touring line-up for the More Drama Tour and had rehearsed with the band before that tour was cancelled. And it was through Dunnery that we've had a first peek at this new version of The Syn. At two shows in late October for his charity, Nardelli guested on stage with Dunnery and they repeated that formula for this, the last show on Dunnery's Tall Blonde Helicopter tour.

I arrived partway through the opening act, Dorie Jackson and her banda trio with Jackson on lead vocals and acoustic guitar, with an acoustic guitarist (Emily?) and a keyboardist, both also providing vocals. Their performance was pleasant, folksy, singer-songwriter stuff. Dorie is the daughter of Van der Graaf Generator's David Jackson and he and Dunnery play on her debut album, just released on Dunnery's Aquarian Records label.

I was only vaguely aware of Francis Dunnery's work before tonight. On this  tour, he is playing all(?) of his 1995 solo album Tall Blonde Helicopter. Dunnery played with a full band, a sextet including Paul Ramsey on drums and Dorie Jackson on backing vocals. It was a good show, with an endlessly energetic performance from Dunnery singing and on guitar, and I'm interested enough if anyone wants to make suggestions what albums I could try. The crowd were as enthusiastic as Dunnery: Dunnery could have not bothered singing given the audience knew all the words! A particular highlight was "I Believe", which Dunnery introduced talking about a recent benefit concert for Barack Obama, then 3 days before his election win.

About halfway through the set came what I'd been invited for, the "acoustic showcase" of new Syn songs. Dunnery introduced Steve Nardelli as one of the people who had "invented prog rock" with Chris Squire. Leaving aside such historical revisionism...

Nardelli sang lead, with Dunnery on acoustic guitar and backing vocals, and Jackson also on backing vocals, but no Paul Ramsey despite his involvement on the album. So, what are the new songs like? This may seem rather obvious... in fact, I feel rather guilty making you
read all this way for something so obvious... but they were a blend of Nardelli's songwriting with Dunnery's stylings. A good blend, I should add. First up was "Devils & Demons", a song with a great beginning, chorus and middle 8, but I found the verses a bit flat in comparison. Nardelli seemed nervous during the first number, but after a good crowd reaction at the end, he warmed up for their second song, "Big Sky". Not as strong as "Devils & Demons", I thought, but still a nice blend of Syn and Dunnery. Both songs, but particularly "Devils & Demons", had some strong vocal interplay between Dunnery and Jackson, so it's interesting to see Jackson being added to the studio line-up.

I have been critical of this new band still using "The Syn" name with Nardelli being the only connection to the original 1960s band and Nardelli and Dunnery's tenuous connection the only link to the reunion band before now. Not one person who plays on any track of Original Syn, Syndestructible or Armistice Day is still present, other than Nardelli. However, Nardelli's writing does provide a distinct continuity and the interaction with Dunnery seems to work well for both of them.

These were acoustic performances with half the band from an album that is not yet finished, so I don't know what these songs will be like on Big Sky. However, as far as I can judge from tonight's performance, those who were sceptical of Nardelli's singing or his lyrics will
remain unpersuaded. There were none of the prog stylings that Gerard Johnson, Paul Stacey and Chris Squire brought to Syndestructible. But those who like Nardelli's songwriting and like Dunnery's style should have something to look forward to.

Henry Potts, 10 Nov 08; revised 11 Nov 08

Originally posted to and 14Hour.