Welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends...
Date published: 05 August 2007
Tom Szakaly throws his Hammond Organ around the stage!
In 1995 at the 25th Emerson Lake amp; Palmer Anniversary Convention in Birmingham ELP fanzine ‘Impressions’ wrote in a review of ELP tribute band Noddy’s Puncture: “it is possibly the closest you will get to see a live ELP performance” and went on to say of keyboard wizard Tom Szakaly: “Tom Szakaly strode the stage like a colossus...”. Fast forward 12 years to 2007 and the Hungarian Club in Tom’s home town of Rochdale and ELP fans were treated to another mesmerising performance by the UK’s foremost ELP tribute band.
Characterised by epic, grandiose, side-long works of art-rock, the power trio that was ELP pushed the boundaries of progressive rock throughout the seventies and captivated a young Szakaly to the extent that he was determined one day to form a band that would do their astonishingly broad range of music, classical, through jazz to rock, justice.
Noddy's Puncture was the brainchild of keyboard wizard Tom Szakaly and has over the years had a number of different line ups, the latest of which sees Tom Szakaly on keyboard, Kevin Conlon on bass, acoustic guitar and vocals, and Steve Roberts on drums/percussion.
Szakaly is quite simply an extraordinary talent, his keyboard skills matched by the showmanship of a born performer, but not to be overshadowed similar can be said about drummer Steve Roberts, though to call him a drummer given the range of percussion at his disposal would not do him justice. The ‘quiet’ man of the trio, Kevin Conlon, goes about his job on bass in an unassuming but technically excellent way, his acoustic guitar work is also top notch with perhaps the only flaw in this awesome line ups armoury being the slightly dodgy vocal skills of Conlon who is clearly uncomfortable with some numbers and in trying too hard to overcome his discomfort finds himself not only out of tune, but also shouting rather than singing at times. To be fair playing bass and singing is a difficult task but one that Conlon needs to improve to match the very high standard set by himself on strings, Roberts on drums and Szakaly on keyboard.
A quite astonishing three hour non-stop set began with a medley of Barbarian, Hoedown and Jerusalem and progressed on (pun intended!) via Peter Gunn and Romeo and Juliet before arriving at a track that even non ELP fans would recognise, America, from the musical West Side Story.
By this stage most bands would be coming close to the end of their set, for Noddy’s Puncture the first hour serves merely as a warm up!
If you are reading this thinking that more than hour would bore even the most ardent fan you could not be more wrong, Szakaly alone is worth paying to watch on his array of instruments, from his Hammond Organ, which in true Keith Emerson style he throws around stage like a furniture remover gone mad!, with Leslies whirling in the background, to his Moog and his Roland and Ensoniq synthesisers.
However, just as you may be thinking that Szakaly is the sole star of the show, Szakaly and Conlon leave the stage for Roberts to perform a full ten minute one man percussion extravaganza of such quality, such intricacy, such sheer technical ability that he has every last one of the audience on the edge of their seats captivated until they rise as one to give him a richly deserved standing ovation. My guess is Carl Palmer would be as impressed by Roberts percussion work as Emerson is on record as being of Szakaly’s keyboard playing.
From The Beginning, Lucky Man, Karn Evil Nine (2nd Impression) and onto Tarkus/Knife Edge we were taken on a mesmerising tour of the very best of Emerson Lake and Palmer, by Szakaly, Conlon and Roberts, and the show, and it truly was a show complete and resplendent with on stage pyrotechnics, moved on to another piece recognisable to any music fan, never mind ELP aficionados, Fanfare For The Common Man.
Next came Living Sin before virtually the whole of Pictures at an Exhibition, a medley of Nutrocker, Honky Tonk Train Blues, Show Me and Tiger before finally, after the obligatory fake ending, faux mockingly trailed in advance by Szakaly!, almost three hours of the highest quality music came to a close with Pathetique and Rondo.
The music and the performance of Noddy's Puncture is beyond doubt a quite magnificent tribute to what in the seventies was an extraordinary band. To pull off a tribute to a band of such musical talent, to perform such compelling and intricate music, to be as powerful and thought-provoking throughout as the original is very rare indeed, but something that Noddy's Puncture didn't just pull off at the Hungarian Club, they positively revelled in it.
If you are a live music fan then I would urge you to watch out for the next Noddy's gig as their ability to thrill an audience with a brilliant performance has to be seen to be believed.
If you are an ELP fan then quite simply you have to see Noddy's Puncture; back to the words written of Noddy's in 1995, and still holding fast today, "it is possibly the closest you will get to see a live ELP performance".