This is my first visit to The Water Rats, a historic pub in the Kings Cross area of London with a separate 200 capacity music room to the rear. It was the site of Bob Dylan’s first UK performance in 1962 and some 32 years later, hosted the first London appearance of Oasis. This evening, however, proceedings are kicked off by Malcolm Galloway, guitarist and singer with eclectic prog rock duo, HATS OFF GENTLEMEN IT’S ADEQUATE, with a solo acoustic set of the band’s songs.

To say that the subject matters dealt with in these songs are melancholy would be a gross understatement, as they would undoubtedly give Morrissey a good run for his money in the “downright depressing stakes”. However, that’s where the comparison ends as Galloway delivers an enjoyable set in an upbeat fashion, with all songs delivered pitch perfectly, with a “pure in tone”, crystal clear vocal, matched only by the exquisite precision and sharpness of his guitar playing.

During the short 30 minute set, aside from half a dozen of his own compositions, he also has time to slip in short acoustic versions of Floyd’s ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ and finishes with Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’, again, played to perfection.

Next on stage are MELLOTRONANISM. Comprising Ed Percival (vocals and guitar), Matt Bell (Bass and backing vocals), and Terry Arnett (drums), this trio has been around for a while now and their style of play is what I’d consider being traditional prog rock. As they launch into their set, aided it has to be said by the use of backing tracks, Percival provides a very melodic lead guitar and vocal, with some hints of a Pink Floyd influence, while Bell maintains a strong bass line.

They start with ‘Stagestruck’, before moving onto what was probably my favourite of their trad prog numbers ‘Always Sarah’, followed by ‘Round Dance’, ‘Ebb and Flow’ and ‘Straight Lines’.

The most raucous applause of the night so far, however, comes with Ed Percival’s mid-set interjection of a little political satire. I won’t record the title of the song here however it’s aimed at a certain Tory politician widely expected to become the next Prime Minister. With the first line of the lyric ending with the words “....Jeremy Hunt”, you can probably guess where this one’s going!

Political observations over, they continue through their set list with ‘Tin Drum’, ‘Kingdom Come’ and ‘Beyond the Veil’ before finishing with the upbeat, acoustic-led, ‘Hello World’.

All in all, a very listenable set.

Finally, at 9:40 pm, CIRCU5 hit the stage. This project is the brainchild of talented multi-instrumentalist, Steve Tilling. The debut, self-titled album, a concept album some five years in the making, was released in September 2017 (was it really that long ago?). It tells the dark story of a child raised as a psychopath in a secret government institution, who subsequently learns the truth as an adult. Whilst Tilling plays the majority of instruments on the album, there are also a number of guest artists, probably the most well known being Dave Gregory of XTC fame.

And it’s great that tonight, the XTC connection is maintained, as on drum duty for CIRCU5 this evening, is Lee Moulding, son of former XTC bassist Colin Moulding, in what is the first outing for the current incarnation of the band. With Tilling himself on guitars and lead vocals, the line up is completed by Mark Kilminster (ex-Tin Spirits) on bass and backing vocals and Chris O’Leary (K Band) on lead guitar and backing vocals.

The set begins with the aptly titled ‘My Degenerate Mind’ followed by ‘Stars’. Although prog influenced, the music delivered by CIRCU5 certainly couldn’t be pigeon-holed as prog rock and I’d say is definitely more hard rock than prog - albeit melodic in its nature! There’s certainly none of the long, self-indulgent soloing that you might perhaps associate with the prog bands from back in the day.

Next we hear ‘Blame It On Me’ as the subject of the story has now murdered his parents and is incarcerated in a government compound. We then move on to the intricate multi-part piece, ‘The Chosen One’, from which we hear ‘Baptism’ (with Tilling demonstrating his talents on acoustic guitar), followed by ‘Transfiguration’, ‘Crucifixion’, and ‘Ascension’

A slight diversion from the CIRCU5 material then follows as bassist Mark Kilminster eloquently delivers the vocals on the Tin Spirits song, ‘Summer Now’, with Chris O’Leary contributing a superb solo on lead guitar.

The anticipation in the room then goes up a level as we hear the opening notes of the funfair themed music that introduces what has already become the band’s signature song, The Amazing Monstrous Grady’. This catchy, anthem-like song, guaranteed to give you an earworm, takes its inspiration from the story of Grady Stiles, an American sideshow attraction from the last century, born with a rare deformity of the hands where the middle digit is missing and the remaining fingers split and fused, giving them the appearance of lobster claws. The appreciative audience are not disappointed as the band delivers the song with spot-on precision.

This sadly brings us to the end of the CIRCU5 material but the show is not over.  As Steve Tilling promised in his earlier introductions, we’ll also get to hear some of their influences and he keeps his promise as we’re treated to a cover version of Blue Oyster Cult’s ‘Career of Evil’, before the 70 minute set is brought to a close with a stonking rendition of Queens of the Stoneage’s ‘No One Knows’.

Being familiar with the band’s material my expectations were already high, however, I can honestly say that I’m blown away with what’s delivered and those expectations are easily surpassed. The only disappointing aspect of the evening is that there are probably fewer than 50 people in attendance to witness this superb performance. I have no doubt however that Circu5 are a band whose star will continue to rise and are definitely ones to look out for over the coming months.