23 November 2018
Thursday 15th November
On route to HRH Prog, that question was raised “what is Prog”? 280+ miles one way was not enough time, easier subjects like how to sort out Brexit and how deep is space have shorter discussion life spans.
After last week’s rain down pours at HRH, was the weather going to play a part in the following HRH Prog 7? Actually no. Apart from a mild drizzle for a few hours, the Welsh weather was going to be kind, and considering it was mid-November, the sun shone, the cold was kept at bay and the numerous bars kept on-a-pumping.
I can promise you I started with the best intentions, however 30 bands, one reviewer, throw in lunch, dinner and loo stops the maths isn’t too difficult, the ball will be dropped at some point. I planned the festival itinerary to near military precision. All together not dissimilar to that of going to Disney Land with the kids and not having a fast track ticket. After all that was said, done and drank I got to see 26 bands , a progothon.
The festival openers were Luke Machin’s Maschine , a young talented 5 piece formed at Brighton’s school of music in 2008 . They are self-defined as a progressive band without boundaries. They are 2 albums into their career and the future looks bright, Machin has already come to notice working with more seasoned players and he himself could end up being seen as a vanguard for the future. The rest of the band were proficient and tight add into the mix keyboard player Marie-Eve de Gaulter voice which was haunting as it was beautiful. The bar has been raised, not for the night, but for the weekend.
The next two bands were not in the bracket of youth. Arthur Brown is 76 years old. Had he a step-o-meter in his pocket when on stage it would have surrendered, dear god, whatever that man has for breakfast , give me some. His voice is remarkably impressive, so was the Egyptian themed dancer, but the stand out by a mile is guitarist Nina Gromniak , another young talent to keep your eye on. Fire came in early along the set around the same time as the first outfit change. A fun trip was had by all.
Closing the Thursday was Martin Barre and his band. Jethro Tull classics were heavily covered but he wasn’t afraid to throw in material from his new LP Roads less travelled.Jethro Tull are without question in the bracket of Prog Rock, but when Martin Barre left he also left the Prog part behind. The Martin Barre Band are an out and out rock outfit. Lead singer/guitarist Dan Crisp sounded very similar to Ian Anderson, which is understandable but maybe it is just a little too close. Taking that away, the twist that the band has put on the JT songs adds a refreshing punch, the new songs are strong and it all works.Maybe this band was at the wrong weekend, Martin and his band really rock and they rock well , the crowd loved it and rightly so , the old fella for me stole the opening night, Barre none.
Friday 16th November
However, Day two kicked off at 20 to two on stage 2. I am the manic Whale laid the foundation for the rest to follow, they are a prog band from the Reading area in the vain of a classic prog band if there is such a thing. Gents of a certain age sitting at the back with their Times on the table accompanying the pint and nodded respectfully along with ex teacher Michael Whitemans’ vocals and the band. Looking at the reaction of those gents at the back, it’s going to be a long day of head nodding.
Haze bounced onto the main stage and did the unspeakable … exactly that , they bounced and moved about during the set. The band have been around for a long while and at times criminally overlooked. The first double necked guitar made its festival appearance. The first two singles out of the way a lady with a very large flute joined them for The Snake and remained.The band played material from their back catalogue and the hall even not half full appreciated them. Bassist /keyboard player Chris McMahon would re-appear later on in the day with Time Collider.
Stage 2 went folk rock with The Amber Herd who clearly were well supported by the bodies in the hall, and rightly so, the gents from earlier on were still there with their Times nodding away.
Tir Na NOg the Irish folk band of legendary status and cult following nearly filled the main stage at 3pm Leo O’Kelly and Sonny Condell skilful ran through their repertoire occasionally with the aid of a drum machine to the raptures of the sedate and dare I say older side of the HRH Prog crowd.
Last night a bloke with a big beard, which to be honest is about 40% of the punters thrust a flyer into my hand for Black Mother Cap who took to the smaller stage at 4pm. The Times brigade had dispersed, indicating this was maybe something for the younger less hairy lot. The first synth/ lead guitar and bandana of the day, and about time too! The band went from Marillionesk rock prog (not prog rock), into a Genesis like key change, with a bit of John Lord hammond sound. The Norfolk based band are 3 LP’s into their career and hopefully more will follow. The plan was to pop out and get a late bite to eat and a beer, unfortunately I enjoyed them too much and watched the whole set. Don’t let the bastard’s grind you down would not leave my head all evening, for me , a contender for song of the weekend?
For those who don’t know much about Time Collider their brief self description is a 6-piece band which makes music which is completely strange but invigorating combining time change and melody, making it super accessible. The nucleus of the band is vocalist Tommy Fox and guitarist Adrian Withers. The back beat comes from Pendragon veteran drummer Fudge Smith and that busy bass player from Haze, Mr McMahon. It appears to the uninitiated that the throng from HRH have descended onto the main stage to watch them play.
There was a distinct lack of hippies at the festival for me, I love a good hippy, GU-RU front man/keyboard player was my first. The Leicester trio place themselves in the Technicolour Wizard disco genre. WTF? Somewhere there is an empty box lying about from which the mad frogs have escaped. I am not sure anyone really got GU-RU, but as the youth text ,TBH does it really matter, we will all be dead in 100 years and GU-RU in the interim will no doubt have a great time picking mushrooms and dancing in a flower carpeted meadow under a rainbow with a unicorn.
As the moon took to the clear Welsh skies the multitude of prog inspired T-shirts diminished to just two bands ,the main stage headliners and preceding them Wishbone Ash. Martin Turner’s ex of the latter came on stage centre, full head of hair and a long tail suit which could only be described as .. interesting. Twin duelling guitars were always the master stroke of his former band, this was repeated as WA songs demand. If WA were unknown to the listener, this was going to be an education. From 1970-74 Wishbone Ash released 5 studio long players and a splattering across this era made the bulk of the set but with a few later gems and new material from the recent written in the stars release. No traditional concert finish tonight ,no on-core nonsense, they went straight through finishing with a crowd pleasing Blowin’ Free. A job very well done.
The main stage headliners for Friday were Gloucestershire’s Pendragon. Success and critical acclaim are unfortunately not one of the same, a prog disease. Coming from the same stable as IQ, Pallas and Marillion they should have been commercially bigger, but history is exactly that, and they weren’t, remaining one of the Prog scene best kept secrets. Backing singers supported the 4 pieces, led by guitarist and vocalist Nick Barrett. Peter Gee has literally been Barrett’s right hand (bass) man since the late 70’s and the genius that is Clive Nolan with his 360 degree rotating double organ makes for a hell of a band.When the band finished and the hall emptied into the cold night a punter remarked he didn’t know any Pendragon’s songs, but they were so good, he felt that he did. I concur.
Meanwhile on the small stage, the Parallax Method, an instrumental three piece played to a diminished crowd. They are very skilled at what they do, well-rehearsed, and having met them, really decent people. Jazz infusion, snippets of rock, it was all over the place and it was meant to be. There were nodding heads within the crowd. My only comment, and it is not a criticism in any form, is that I like to hum along or tap a toe occasionally to a track, this I couldn’t do. That said the crowd at the front, who don’t look like the humming type loved it. I was in a minority of one.
M.I.N.D finished off the Friday into Saturday morning on stage 2, they had a technical issue requiring their lead singer to miss the show and the rest of them to be late. Band leader and guitarist Andreia Gomez and her London band carried on with a bit of vocal improvisation , but hey, its HRH Prog , some of the more tanked up in the crowd most likely thought that was planned. I felt their pain , it wasn’t their fault and hopefully this set back will make them stronger as a musical unit.
A Long Friday, the boundaries of the definition of Prog were stretched and tomorrow is Saturday.
Saturday 17th November
The start was easy, only one band was on at 1230.
On route to HRH Prog I had the privilege to interview Uli Jon Roth in his Welsh home, off mic we talked about HRH and going through the line-up I mentioned the openers for the Saturday, he looked and nodded, “they are good” he smiled, “I remember them”.
This Winter Machine, an English six piece fronted by Al and his very floral shirt, which in any other normal Welsh November would have been inappropriate, however, the sun was out and all was good in Pwllheli. Man, who never was is the highly acclaimed debut LP and the set consisted tracks from it and the forthcoming 2nd long player, Tower of clocks.The small hall was close to full, either because TWM where the first and only band on or they had a dedicated and/or curious audience. Whatever the reason their support was genuine and the band clearly have made new friends. Evidence, if evidence was needed of this was the crowd, who in middle earth Prog terms went nuts after the closure of their set with Fracture.For the uninitiated a strong prolonged clap from a seasoned Progger equates to a triumph, a cheer, a riot. There was prolonged claps and cheers.TWM are a band on the up.
The following act was a quick call in to fill an unexpected slot , BB Black Dog accepted the challenge . Ok, it goes like this, a drummer who looks like he is a hairy biker chef, two bass players, one of which had a pith helmet adorned with goggles, rosette and feathers. Sounds weird? It was weird. I loved it.The rhythm bass player (?) had a Sisters of Mercy throbbing vibe, the drummer kept the beat and the vocalist who we gleamed to be a part time DJ, beardy lead bass playing, whistling, harmonica sucking, hat wearing, possibly time travelled British soldier from the 1879 Zulu war and soon to be global superstar did the rest. Apparently, his voice was going, they had no dancers or back drop, but for me, less is more.
The diehard proggers hated it, but the rest of the days is theirs, this was everyone else’s play time. BBBD are a must booking for every festival, irrelevant of the demographic They are just out and out mad bonkers fun.
Goldray were a nod and wink of a hint from someone who knows . If it wasn’t not for the above I would have been there for the opener, but I did get there.The Prog envelope had already been pushed with the first two bands and number 3 ripped it open. A four piece rock band, let’s be honest and open here from the outset. Goldray are a rock band, no prog here folks, this is out and out rock, and they do exactly that. Kenwyn House, the ex-Reef man and vocalist Leah Rasmussen make a great team. If Rasmussen wasn’t influenced by Kate Bush in her stage outfit and mannerisms then that is one hell of a coincidence, but my word does this lady know how to belt out a song. The three gents of the band wearing matching gold shimmering jackets is a bit too much for me, but I am not reviewing a fashion show. I am here to hear. Ball crushing bass, kidney tickling drums, rifftastic guitar, Leah Rasmussen singing and quality songs from their 2017 debut longer player Rising and self titled mini LP four years or so previously, that is a concoction for a band going places.My only gripe is that a live act of this quality needs more than an hour and should be much higher up the bill, but hey, in a few years times you won’t be able to get this close and personal with them.
Timings were in my favour, rushing from Goldray finishing I caught the start of The Osiris Club on stage 2.
This band had a strange beginning for any band, but to fuse extreme metal and horror sound tracks just isn’t my bag, but they have moved on. If any Proggies are reading this they are most likely to be unaware of a Swedish doom metal band from the 1980’s called Candlemass, that lead singer wore a cassock on stage, so do the whole of TOC, just the cloth is blue.The similarities in stage outfits is matched by elements of TOC music.A 7-piece, drummer, vocalist, twin guitars, bass, keyboard and that all important metal addition, a saxophone.
Earlier in this review the ultimate question was asked, what is the defining definition of Prog? Another similar one likewise is, what is the definition of Metal?
TOC have just released their The wine – dark sea LP and the London band focused on the material within, which is strong, brooding, punchy, very riffy at times and is without doubt good old fashioned metal. Prog Metal I will accept, Prog Rock they are not. There is a young hungry audience for TOC but this was not it, they should have been at HRH last week. Folks, if I can give some advice, and let’s be honest nobody takes it, get rid of the cassocks, the music is strong enough to stand on its own.
13 albums into a 28 year career Jump are seasoned pub gig warriors. They are a 6 piece crowd pleaser. For the faithful it was just another Jump gig, for those who are new to them, I think Wycombe’s favourite sons (and adopted daughter) will get a lot more likes on social media, and hopefully record sales.Sir Thomas and the passer by off the latest LP Over the top was nothing short of brilliant, my other contender for song of the weekend . Jump are criminally overlooked, if there is such a thing as a 28 year overnight sensation, Jump deserve to be it.
Munich’s Deafening Opera 2nd LP Let silence call, a concept album came highly recommended by MMH own Progmeister , the band have come a long way to play their music , and they were very keen to impress.If a DNA spiral from each of Pearl Jam , Counting Crows , Dream Theatre and indeed possibly Iron Maiden entwined with a dash of continental European flare , then this maybe where DO are at. There is a lot of very clever things going on , they have depth , real musical depth and the width is growing. A crowd pleaser that is for sure.
Due to schedules clash I was unable to see both Krankschaft and The Southern Empire , so by the tried and trusted method of eennee mine ee mo , the antipodeans got it.Sean Timms formerly of Unitopia and his bandmates will no doubt be compared to big hitters like Steve Wilson , Transatlantic and those Prog gods Dream Theatre. In 2016 TSE released their autonomous LP to critical acclaim.Band leader Tim Simms clearly had not read the script. Lead singer Danny Lopresto had a non prog Mohican hairstyle and his fast movement across the whole of stage may have brought gasps from any old school prog aficionados , in his defence he is from south of the equator ,and we were in a north Wales camp site in November. Brody Green and Jez Martin kept the beat , which with those key changes wasn’t an easy task at times, guitars by Cam Blokland filled in the gaps , and of course Mr Simms primarily on keyboards did the rest. A fellow Australian rocker once penned the immortal lines “it’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock n Roll”, The Southern Empire most certainly wont ever emulate the success of AC/DC , but who will , they are a different breed of band altogether so the comparison is unfair , but I will place a wager success will be ‘a knocking in the future.
The Strawbs from London formed in the 60’s , Dave Cousins joined the band in ‘67 and is their leader and primary song writer , 23 or so albums into their career they were supporting their latest release last years Ferrymans’Curse.
With such a massive back catalogue there was a lot of material to choose from, and the set spanned these. Mr Cousins voice was in fine fettle , there is something special about an acoustic guitar filling in whilst the electric lead soars above. When the band got into full flow they clicked . Lead guitarist Dave Lambert , bassist Chas Cronk , drummer Tony Fernandez with keyboard player Dace Bainbridge did a fine job. A crowd favourite for sure.
Not an electric six string in sight , piano based Exploring Birdsong are a totally different kettle of fish. The three piece , who had with them additional vocalists have a name that suggests gentle folk rock , don’t be fooled people, Matt Harrison and Jonny Knight on drums and bass respectively released their inner rock stars when the songs demanded , which was much more than I was expecting. There have been a lot of talented ladies this weekend , Lynsey Ward is no exception, keyboard player and vocalist , and what a voice. Kate Bush has been spoken over the whole weekend as a major influence in prog, EB’s Facebook page says the same , I am in no doubt this is the case , to me , there is Grace Slick and Judy Tzuke in there also, which , let’s be honest is not a bad thing in any measure.The band I hope will be releasing a long player in the near future , the band name maybe confusing to some , the music certainly is not.
The penultimate stage 2 band was Kindred Spirit . Not to be confused with the America ex-Bangles members group of the same name. This is the UK folk rock band fronted by Elaine Samuels , with flute and violins they make a rather enchanting sound .Sedate crowd clapping after each song is no disguise for a big thumbs up.
Enchanting sound and Hawkwind are not two words that are usually put in the same sentence. The headliners on the main stage have mythical status to many and a loyal fan base which made a sizeable majority of the Saturday night crowd. Dave Brock is remarkable for a gent of 77 , he formed the band in late 1969 and it has nearly had more members go through its ranks than Waterloo station in rush hour. Brock looks good , beanie cap and dressed in black and still sounds remarkable , he and Arthur Brown from Thursday have a lot in common , they are buddies , it appears rock and roll , well maybe the excesses of rock and roll may have its benefits for some.Richard Chadwick , unlike Brock is a relative newbie as he has only been with the band for the past 30 years , Niall Hone on bass has been in/out of the band since 2008 and the baby is Magnus Martin on guitar/synth who joined last year.Hawkwind don’t try to be cool , I don’t think they would know how too , they most certainly are not every bodies taste , but every bodies don’t usually go to Hawkwind gigs.1972’s Silver Machine was not the only song Brock recorded as the masses are led to believe , it was the set closure but between the opener and then the band ripped their way through a mighty fine collection of material to the delight of the packed crowd.Guttural bass lines , over distorted at times , dove tailed with Chadwick’s drums exquisitely when the band was in full flow , enhanced with Martins lead guitar they would give any rock band a run for their money.Before the on core Brock received his HRH life time music achievement award on stage as he was unable to attend the awards the week previously all to the cheers of his loyal legions and curious watchers.When the final cords of Silver Machine died , the punters in the packed Welsh hall were satisfied , job well done.
Genres can pidgeon hole many bands , Hawkwind need a full coop , they were/are rock , psychedelic ,Proto punk, metal ,synth, doom , stoner and or course Space . History will be less specific , Hawkwind will be shown as that one thing that so many are not , and that is quite simply , they are original. And loud.
The final band of the festival headlined stage 2 , that proggiest of prog names Gandalf’s Fist. A clockwork Fable , their 6th LP was the focus of the set, but that didn’t stop the Norfolk based sextet dipping into the other 5 . Red headed singer Keri Farish is the rose between the thorns of guitarist Dean Marsh and bass wielding Christopher Ewen. Metal riffs and shredding from Marsh and top hat wearing keys man Ben Bell with drummer Stefen Hepe and vocalist Luke Severn made the six.The drums and bass were a tad too loud , that said , did it detract from the quality of the songs , of course not. The GF loyal fan base didn’t care , either did those who followed the music from seeing Hawkwind .
A last treat for the HRH Prog crowd , there are a lot worse ways to end a festival.
HRH Prog was diverse , inclusive , weird , wonderful , delightful and Fun.
The MMH task force worked like Trojan’s and a special thanks to HRH own Claire who worked tirelessly throughout.
Tina Culbertson – sorter-outer
Rob Billingham – Photograph
Steph “The Progmeister “Gould – Interviewer
Jon Watkiss – Interviewer
Kate Watkiss – all round top assistant
Phil – band escort
JJ – guide dog and muttmuffs model
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arthur brown, BB Black Dog, Black Mother Cap, deafening opera, exploring birdsong, gandalf's fist, Goldray, gu-ru, Hawkwind, haze, hrh prog, i am the manic whale, jump, kindred spirit, m.i.n.d, Martin Barre Band, Martin Turner's Wishbone Ash, maschine, parallax method, pendragon, Review, SHOL, the amber herd, the osiris club, The Southern Empire, the strawbs, this winter machine, time collider, Tir na nOg