❉ We are not from this world… Den Cartlidge enjoys another night of ‘Cosmic Dross’ with intergalactic ambassadors, Henge.
Almost exactly twelve months since their last visitation, four-piece band and smiling extraterrestrial visitors, Henge, are back at The Foxlowe with another weird and wonderful selection of what they call: ‘Cosmic Dross’.
And what the heck is that, you may well ask? ‘Electronic crossover rock’ is one online definition, but from where I stood, standing a little way back from the happy melee of Henge fans before the stage, I’d describe it as: rave and acid house meets prog rock, with added twangy surf guitar, epic choruses and a variety of frankly bizarre electronic sounds, last heard on a ’70s children’s tv show. Those weird noises, and the band’s child-like sense of fun could be one reason why, in addition to tonight’s almost sell-out gig, Henge also performed at a matinee for delighted younger music fans earlier today. Close your eyes to the music, and then open them to see alien masks, beatific smiles, bizarre headwear and wizard cloaks, and you can almost imagine Henge staring in a children’s tv show in some alternative 1970s, where TV execs returned to the idea of a fictional band as a show format, but instead of Davy Jones and his fellow Monkees as a template, they hired Tangerine Dream and Brian Eno, and the Star Trek production crew.
Henge say they’re not of this world, but Wikipedia tells me they were formed in Manchester (although one claims, quite believably, to be from Venus). This is a band with a unique sound and a unique look. Grok on keyboards and Zpor on guitar and vocals, are the two human-looking members of the band; resembling hirsute wizards, they look like they’ve just returned from a tour with space rock pioneers, Hawkwind. Joining them on drums, bass and more keyboards, are Nom and Goo; who, hidden by alien facemasks, look like they’ve just returned from a tour with Captain Kirk and Mr Spock.
The perhaps unlikely location for this out-of-this-world gig is the impressive Georgian surroundings of the Foxlowe Arts Centre in North Staffordshire’s Leek – a market town on the edge of the Peak District. As this quite extraordinary band take to the stage, I’m reminded of one of those classic Dr Who episodes where aliens arrive with invasion plans in a pretty English village; and as the band start their set, I think I almost spot the velvet jacket of Jon Pertwee weaving his way through the crowd, but it’s actually a smiling Henge fan returning from the bar. And there’s obviously no malevolent plans for Earth from these smiling galactic ambassadors; this is a band that is clearly enjoying itself – and simply wants the audience to do the same.
Regulars on the festival circuit, another Henge fan tells me, including the science-themed Blue Dot Festival at Jodrell Bank, there were certainly a few regular festival goers at tonight’s gig, but there appears to be something about the feelgood space vibes in the air that attracts a truly eclectic crowd, with wild-haired youngsters in psychedelic outfits happily dancing side-by-side, and with, silver-haired music fans last seen at the local Blues & Americana festival.
Stand-out tracks for me tonight include: Mushroom One – where twangy guitars merge quite happily with strange electronic hiccups and a bonkers rap; the cosmic waltz of new track, Wanderlust – you could almost imagine Anton Du Beke dancing to this on a Strictly extraterrestrial special, with a many-tentacled reality star from Jupiter; New Planet, sounding to my ears like a lost collaboration between Ennio Morricone and Barry Gray; and the classic rave sound of Exo, where gorgeous infectious beats cavort with what sounds like a distorted guitar riff that could, quite happily, go on forever. The night concludes with Demilitarise – a sort of reverse call to arms, complete with Dylanesque prompt-cards deployed by Grok, asking humanity to unite in peace and ‘colonise space’.
My only complaint? No dancing mushrooms. Let me explain: dancers dressed as pirouetting fungi have often featured in their live show, if the Henge gigs on YouTube are anything to go by, but what the heck, it’s still another amazing, fun night, and anyway space is limited at the Foxlowe, so maybe they had to leave the dancing toadstools off-world for tonight’s performance.
So, in cosmic conclusion, let me send out this intergalactic message via the radio telescope at Jodrell Bank: Greetings Henge – please return to Planet Earth soon… and bring the dancing mushrooms next time!
Catch Henge materialising in your neighbourhood soon, or even appearing at your local venue.
❉ Upcoming shows: Chester Live Rooms, Chester, UK – 2nd Feb 2023; Arlington Arts, Newbury, UK – 11th Feb 2023.
❉ Den Cartlidge is a writer of submissions rarely accepted. After two failed novels, he’s currently failing to write a memoir.