Arena (June 2001)

Date of Performance: June 3, 2001
Venue: Tivoli, Utrecht, NL

Unlocking The Cage: The 2nd Arena Fan Club Meeting

Arena Fan Club PassWhen years ago Mick Pointer and Clive Nolan had a couple of beers together and decided to give collaboration a try, they could never have guessed to be where they are now. Pointer, having been there, done that, with Marillion obviously knew what the game was all about. So in fact did Clive Nolan, who this year has been the keyboard player with Pendragon for no fewer than eighteen years! And as a member of Shadowland, Strangers On A Train, and numerous other side projects, Clive has been the driving force behind the Thin Ice Studios together with his great pal Threshold guitarist Karl Groom. So Mick and Clive got together and thought their musical ideas were good enough to form a real band. Although initially to be called Avalon, in the end Songs From The Lion's Cage was released as the band's debut album, way back in 1995, under the name of Arena. Since then Arena has lived through five different line-ups, and in fact has never released two consecutive (or even non-consecutive) albums with the same line-up. Not only did Songs From The Lion's Cage reach a lot of Marillion diehards who still were keen to hear the band's "old" Fish type of material, but the word "the cage" also meant the start of one of the hardest working fan clubs around.

Based in Holland, The Cage organized its second fan meeting in Utrecht, Holland at the famous Tivoli where so many prog gigs have taken place over the last ten years or so. Opening the doors at 3 pm on June 3rd, the day was packed with as much Arena Mick Pointer and related stuff as one can imagine. There were several stalls with Arena goodies, there were over 500 Arena fans that you could meet, and above all there was Arena next to some "surprises" brought to us by some of the members of the band. Sadly, because of the sheer impossibility to park your car in the surroundings of the venue, it took me way too long, meaning I only arrived two minutes prior to my interview with Clive Nolan, which was immediately followed by an interview with Mick Pointer and Rob SnowdenJohn Mitchell. The late arrival sadly meant I had missed the acoustic set between John Mitchell and singer Rob Sowden. Apparently Rob did, amongst others, a very touching rendition of a David Bowie song, which more than proved what a great singer he really is. As Mitchell pointed out to me afterwards, "it's when you pick up an acoustic guitar and stand next to this guy that you finally realize what a superb singer this man is."

No fan club meeting is complete without a raffle, so at 6 pm it was time for the lottery, giving away some tasty Arena prizes. The following "acts" were switched because Mick and Clive were not really sure what to do. They were asked to do a "surprise" act together, but still were not certain about the act's contents. Whilst that discussion was going on it was time to bring on the support act of the evening in the form of Ricocher. Well, what can you say of these guys? They were "typical Dutch neo-prog" all over! John MitchellIt was like listening to the nucleus of bands such as Marathon and For Absent Friends, whilst the singer did his best to be more "Geddy Lee" than Geddy himself. For me it was way too predictable, hence the fact I went back and forth to the backstage area more often than I wanted to because I still thought a chat with the Arena boys was far more interesting than listening to this crap. [ouch -ed.]

Introduced by The Cage president Marcel Steur as Mick, Clive and Ian, it was Clive Nolan who addressed himself to the unsuspecting audience, saying he once was a member of a band called Shadowland and, guess what, that band also sported a bass player who now is also a member of Arena! Small world indeed. So with Ian Salmon grabbing his acoustic guitar, Clive surprised us with a nice version of "Ring Of Roses," certainly THE Shadowland track if ever there was one. Clive NolanTo everyone's surprise, Clive didn't forget his lyrics, which must be a first. Sadly, this song has such a large "sing-a-long" potential that everyone around me suddenly thought they were singers, too, resulting in one of the biggest cacophonies I ever witnessed! Luckily, Ian's acoustic guitar solo nicely compensated for it all. Pity though for the audience that went on and on, talking as if nothing was happening on stage. Sometimes one wonders why the hell they bother to pay to get in when all they do all day is chat and drink beer as if they were attending a football match!

Clive goes on to tell the story of how he and Mick met and how the very first thing they ever wrote together was "Valley Of The Kings." That song felt so good that they decided to write some more stuff and also create a band. Ian SalmonThe rest, of course, is history. As Mick and Clive were asked to do something special for this fan club meeting, they decided to take an old piece of material that in the end never got used. It concerned a piece of music written during the recording of The Visitor, the band's 3rd album, but never released. It was sitting on the hard disc of one of the computers and formed an ideal backing track for the "surprise" slot of the show. With Mick joining him on drums, Clive took a keytar - a kind of combination between keyboard and guitar that is so popular with Spock's Beard's Ryo Okumoto - to extra emphasize on the visual side of things. Introduced to the audience as "the Peter Pan of prog," Pointer would add extra drumming to the already fierce sounding backing track. Totally untitled, this "song" started off with some dreamy early Jean-Michel Jarre kind of sequence before it switched towards a heavy organ, introducing kind of a Celtic feel. Nice guitar arpeggios would extra underline the drum breaks to turn it into an interesting and pleasant track, almost resulting in a heavier Riverdance track. "Maybe it'll be on our next album," said Mick as he left the stage.

Arena - The Visitor (1998)More drinks were brought in and more people arrived at the Tivoli just in time to see Arena live. With a brand new live album under their belt (Breakfast At Biaritz), rumours have it that not everyone is impressed with new vocalist Rob Sowden. If I have to be honest, this was my very first encounter with Arena live in this line-up and I am VERY impressed with both Rob's vocal talents and also his presence on stage, adding the necessary "show" elements that are so vital to Arena's dramatic music. From a vocalist point of view, it's true that all [of] Arena's singers up until now have had a similar sounding voice, but, as an "all-around entertainer," Sowden has to be their best pick. During the entire Arena concert that lasted for 1 hour and 45 minutes, loads of people kept on talking all through the music. It was probably the most annoying concert I ever attended in that respect, as one could not enjoy the music due to the egotistical attitude of some people. Especially the support band Ricocher, where their "fans," friends, and relatives kept on disturbing the entire concert. To me it felt like: "OK we are pleased about our concert and the rest can fuck off for all we care." If they want to go to places with this attitude, then I'm certain their support for Arena will be the band's only highlight. [ouch, again -ed.] It was embarrassing, childish and a disgrace to all the hard work The Cage had put into creating this wonderful event.

Instead of going through the entire set track by track, let me just say that I was astonished at how fluid Arena sounded, and how well-crafted the songs are. Arena certainly is a live band, but next time I check them out, it has to be Arena without a support act, as then and only then will the band reach its true fans! The band themselves seemed rather pleased with the crowd's response, and in his enthusiasm John Mitchell threw his guitar to his technician, but a bit too short, resulting in his guitar dropping on stage. [oops! -ed.] Not sure whether at all this guitar will be used in the future! Haven't you learned from Pete Townsend, John? There was an after party planned with loads of question marks added, but other than having a drink and a chat with the members of the band, nothing happened, so I left with another two and a half hours behind the wheel as compensation. Here's the tracklist of Arena live in Utrecht on June 3rd 2001:

  • Chosen
  • Don't Forget To Breathe
  • Crack In The Ice
  • Double Vision
  • Midas
  • The Hanging Tree
  • Moviedrome
  • Serenity
  • Tears In The Rain
  • Enemy Without
  • The Butterfly Man
  • Friday's Dream
  • Crying For Help 4
  • State Of Grace
  • Solomon

1st encore:

  • Jericho
  • Welcome To The Cage

2nd encore:

  • Crying For Help 7

Thanks to Arena, Marcel, Natasha and everyone else at The Cage. NO thanks to Ricocher!

You can reach The Cage at their website at {no longer active -ed.}

Arena after party

Added: June 5th 2001
Reviewer: John "Bobo" Bollenberg

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