Cardiff Point, 28th July 2008
As a poor journalist, I try not to spend too much cash getting to gigs, but with the return of It Bites the budget was lobbed out of the window and travel and hotel bookings duly made. The days are counted down in the manner of a child at Christmas, and after walking through what seems to be one of the less upmarket districts of Cardiff I arrive at The Point to discover it's actually an old church. Whilst it means it's not all that big, it does bode well for the acoustics, and judging by the roster of upcoming talent displayed on the posters (including a certain Francis Dunnery) it has a good reputation.
Being a stranger in town, I arrive way too early and amuse myself singing “Calling All The Heroes” in a very local pub over the road, with my karaoke exploits earning me plenty of bemused faces. Mind you, they quite like my version of “Kayleigh”, so I wisely decide to stop there before I start trying Iron Maiden out on them. Finally, it's time to venture inside The Point, and what I find is a smallish venue with a brilliantly high roof. Closer to God, and all that, y'know?
First up are a band that are new to me, Touchstone. The stage isn't huge, and their limited space is mainly taken up by an impressive keyboard bank, masterminded by Rob Cottingham, band lyricist and resident maths teacher lookalike. Most eyes, though, are on singer Kim Sevious, a petite 23 year old balanced on the sort of high heels that would make a spiffy murder weapon, looking more like she's just popped in on her way to a club. When the music starts it's apparent that she knows her stuff, however, bringing a clear, controlled voice to some very technical prog rock. Yep, Touchstone are a band who think that the more guitar and keyboard solos you have the better, and if I'm honest I don't really disagree when the compositions are this good. Good prog can go on for as long as it wants, whereas bad prog is just boring. Touchstone make guitar driven (and widdly solo filled) prog that doesn't get dull, and there's plenty in the ever increasing audience that are glad they turned up for them.
The main event soon trundles round, and by the time It Bites saunter onstage there's a fair amount of bodies in the hall, which isn't sold out but is very respectfully busy. For some reason the band are all dressed in white and there's a surreal air of watching a soap powder commercial. Fortunately, this is dispelled when they kick off with “Oh My God” and “Ghosts”, both from the excellent “The Tall Ships” album – music in soap powder commercials is never this good. This is the first time I've seen John “Workaholic” Mitchell, and I have to say I'm impressed. His voice is strong and clear, backed by an ability on the guitar that matches that of his predecessor, and it's amusing to see him standing on tiptoe a lot of the time, the mic set a little too high and turning him into a sort of prog Lemmy. Those who haven't been able to get a copy of the new album yet are catered for by a dawn raid on the It Bites back catalogue, and Mitchell sails through the likes of “All In Red” and the awesome “Plastic Dreamer” with ease. Unsurprisingly, the rest of the band keep up without any real difficulty, with special mention going to drummer Bob Dalton, who hides away at the back (all in white) banging away like a privy door in a hurricane. New boy Lee “I was in Take That, y'know” Pomeroy acquits himself very well on bass, although with the hair, the beard and the saintly white glow about him it does seem like Jesus has popped into the church for a go on the bass. Lastly, there's John Beck, wearing what looks like my Grandad's fishing hat, doing no wrong on the keyboards and keeping the songs flowing with a dozen little flourishes at a time. It's a nice touch when he comes out to the front mid set and joins Mitchell on acoustic guitar, the two of them blending the intro of “Once Around the World” and the whole of “Still To Young To Remember” (big singalong time) to great effect. New and old fans are well catered for, and those with longer memories applaud wildly at the surprise set inclusions of “Old man & The Angel” and “You'll Never Go To Heaven”. It's odd seeing these done without Francis Dunnery leading the band, but in John Mitchell they have certainly found a worthy replacement who both honours the original versions yet brings his own personality both musically and vocally. To my delight, the band encore with the superb “This Is England” epic from the new album (along with bouncy classic “Kiss Like Judas”), and it's fantastic to hear it played so well in a live setting. It's a perfect end to a gig that I thought I would never see, and I hope they stick around to do many more.