The prog prince of Reading
By Linda Serck
A Berkshire local bands promoter has, as he says, an alter ego - involving costumes, world tours and, err, being recognised in Poland. Meet Rob Sowden, the prog prince of Reading!
Arena: Rob Sowden in the middle
"I've got some frilly shirts and more cyber looking stuff. I've got a cape and a top hat - I do a good Gary Oldman version of Dracula."
So says Rob Sowden, a local bands promoter in Reading responsible for nights such as Bohemian Night at the 3Bs and Poptoys at South Street arts centre.
But Rob doesn't dress as he's described above to compere these nights - thankfully. It's for his 'other life' as the frontman of internationally-acclaimed prog rock band Arena.
Having charted in Germany and Holland and amassing thousands of fans around the world, Rob and the band have embarked on another tour of Europe.
"It's going to be a bit freaky playing to a lot of people that have never seen Arena but I've known for a long time," says Rob ahead of playing in his home town (Saturday 12 April 2008), "I'm sure it's going to be a shock to them because it's completely different to anything they've seen me do before."
Certainly fans of the local music scene have never witnessed Rob dressed as a prog rock Dracula before.
Arena: Rob on the right
"I try and get into the roles of the characters in the songs," says Rob of his on-stage persona.
"If I've got a big stage then I can really go for it and be theatrical and do a bit of costume-changing.
He adds: "The music and the structure of the songs and the lyrical content are quite story line-based and conceptual so you can really get your teeth into creating the characters on stage."
However if this is a side to Rob the Reading music crowd are unaccustomed to, Polish music fans are way ahead.
"I was walking down the street having a mosey around a town called Bydgoszcz," says Rob, "and in the middle of nowhere I was just checking I was on my way back in the right direction and I just stopped the first couple of people I saw.
"'Excuse do you know where the big venue is?', 'yes - you're Robert Sowden aren't you!'"
Rob exclaims: "They actually knew who I was in the middle of Poland - that was fantastic!".
Arena formed back in 1995 by Clive Nolan and Marillion drummer Mick Pointer. Guitarist John Mitchell, who runs the Outhouse Studios in Reading, is also in the band.
Originally Arena started out with John Carson on vocal duties, followed by Paul Wrightson, who also hails from Reading. Rob took over from Paul and has since enjoyed his position as prog rock frontman for the last eight years.
"I was friends with John Mitchell," says Rob, about how he was chosen as singer, "and because I was already recording in John's studio with my band, he suggested I audition.
"So I did and I got the job."
As far as alter egos go, becoming a prog rock prince ain't bad.
last updated: 20/05/2008 at 14:18
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