Victoria Hall - Stoke on Trent 22 May 2003 by Craig Henshall

I first saw Rick and the NERE many years ago at this venue and, remember thinking at the time, with no obvious front man/vocalist, who was going to introduce the numbers. It was a surprise to find Rick introducing them with his now familiar sense of humour and, after seeing numerous performances, this never seems to diminish.

Ant Glynne was excellent despite all he's been through recently, Lee Pomeroy must be one of the finest bass players "out there" switching seamlessly from a pounding rock style, to one of the funkiest, with ease. Tony Fernandez was, as always, a powerhouse drummer and his solo, whilst a little long for my tastes, was an abject lesson in how to play the drums.

It was good to see and hear Ashley Holt back on vocal duties, his performance on Out There appeared to be in a slightly lower register than Damian's and sounded better for it. With the majority of numbers containing large instrumental sections, it's always difficult for a vocalist to know what to do but his light hearted antics and interaction with the rest of the band were highly amusing.

The set list was pretty much as reported previously, opening with a 20-25 minute version of "Journey" If that isn't prog-rock, I don't know what is.

Numbers from No Earthly Connection were given an airing and, a personal favourite "Catherine Parr" was superb.

"Out There" gave us an opportunity to see the animation from the forthcoming DVD, projected onto the backdrop and, after a brief interlude, the band returned for "White Rock" and Rick's solo performance of "Dance of a thousand lights", complete with Liberace style candelabras.

The show closed with "Merlin" during which Rick ventured into the crowd with his portable keyboard and it was a real treat for me as a keyboard player myself, that he chose to sit immediately behind me so I got a great close up view of him action. He dragged a reluctant member of the audience onto the stage to hold the keyboard and, this number was given the added element of some joke choreography between Rick and Lee during one of the fastest renditions of "that bit" I've heard.

Not to be out done, Ant also ventured into the crowd for a blistering guitar solo and the band returned for a rousing rendition of "Starship Trooper" Rick joked with Ash about the high pitch vocal required and claimed to have offered him £40 for a pair of mole grips to help him reach the high notes – best not to think about that too much.

In this age of "manufactured" musical acts, it made a refreshing change to witness over 2 hours of some of the finest musicianship anyone could hope for and, as Rick's programme notes suggested, as nice as Kylie's bum is, it's not going to stay like that forever, let's hope Rick Wakeman and the NERE do.

Thanks to all the band for a thoroughly enjoyable evening.