I remember the first time I attended the HRH Prog festival which was held at the ice cold Magna Centre in Rotherham; boy was it cold, even the artists had coats on whilst they performed!
But it looks like we have struck it lucky for this the fourth year of the festival as we have glorious sunshine and decent temperatures to kick off the weekend.
The Prog genre is so wide that there is something for everyone in this year’s line-up and indeed the three headliners all draw from varying styles but amongst the others there are some real gems just waiting to be discovered.
Yet again it is linked to the ever popular Sci-Fi Weekender which is now in its seventh year and brings together trekkies, gamers, Sci-Fi and fantasy lovers alike for a weekend of wonderment and workshops and also gives them the chance to head over to the Prog stages to sample some of the fine music on offer.
In the main arena there were talks from a number of people from the Sci-Fi world and over in the smaller arena there were plenty of workshops and demonstrations. You could have absorbed yourself in this aspect, aside from any music.
As I awoke early Saturday morning I could have sworn we were in Metropolis as Prince Vultan landed in downtown Pwllheli. Brian Blessed is still one of the most recognisable celebrities around – both vocally and visually – and took time to chat to fans before taking the stage for an hour long chat session.
Tonight was all about old school prog with three of the bands hailing from the 80s and earlier. Hammerhead who opened up like they were the headliners first struck a chord back in the late 70′s and three of that original line-up are still with them today: Elliot, Hodgson and Archer.
Their classic 80s prog rock set included ‘Lonely Man’ a track that the late great Tommy Vance had played way back in 1982 on the ‘Friday Night Rock Show’. A really great set to kick off with and made better when vocalist Pecker Woods came into he crowd with a tray of shots and handed them out, cheers!
Midlands’ based Oktopus were the young blood in the line-up tonight and had a very tight melodic prog sound that worked well but most of the set came from debut album Worlds Apart – a decent sound that was technically very good with some jazzy overtones.
Third Quadrant piled the synths into their set which for me lacked a bit of dynamics, but the crowd seemed to like it.
Ending the first night was the self-professed God of Hellfire Arthur Brown who takes to the stage in yet another array of costumes to bring us a wild and manic set, as ever delivered with so much energy and passion. Surrounded by a bunch of excellent young musicians it leaves him the space to entertain and contort with Angel Flame as she joins him onstage at various times over the set.
The classics ‘Spell On You’, ‘Gypsy Escapes’ and ‘Devils Grip’ form part of the set which takes you way back in time when music was being pushed by the avant garde performers of the time. Arthur Brown is still pushing the envelope not just his music but also his lavish stage performances. The dulcet tones of ‘Fire Poem’ rang out before one final flourish of ‘Fire’ to end what has been an extremely good evening.
The Fierce And The Dead impressed with their highly dynamic instrumental style which ranged from quiet intricate guitar passages to full on twin guitar work. This was well illustrated by the title track of their album ‘Magnet In The Face’.
Edgar Broughton played a solo set which actually turned out to be very enjoyable – full of anecdotes and some really good tunes, a great way to spend an hour or so chilling out.
Curved Air had to pull out of the festival which was a disappointment to many but this was soon dismissed as replacements Purson took to the stage and wowed the crowd with their blend of psychedelic trippy rock. With a lot of the set coming from their upcoming album Desire’s Magic Theatre they definitely had the substance to go with the style.
The whole band have a great 60s/70s vibe about them topped by guitarist/vocalist Rosalie’s alluring stage presence and by the end of the set they had a packed house and had gained a great number of new fans. For me Purson were the new band of the weekend.
Caravan, who I actually though should have been tonight’s headliners, are timeless and one of the Canterbury Sound originals and whom I have seen them a number of times over the years.
As usual it’s drummer Mark Walker who adds an element of joviality to the polished performance that we have come to expect from a band who will soon be in their 50th year!.
‘In The Land of Grey And Pink’ and ‘Golf Girl’ rang out to the packed crowd as Pye Hastings and Geoffrey Richardson took turns on vocals. To be picky, their set does major on the more familiar and it would be good to hear some of their more obscure stuff.
Bristol based Schnauser have a pop/prog sound similar to Beck and Flaming Lips with the harmonies and quirkiness. They were followed by Messenger who took the pace up again with a rockier sound and in fact something akin to The VHB who they are currently touring with.
I cannot think of enough superlatives about my band of the weekend. The Enid to me are the pinnacle of prog music, they have a perfectly balanced mix of classical arrangements and hard edged rockier sections. So much so that Thijs van Leer of Focus was sitting the photopit taking in the performance.
The relatively short set consisted of newer material from the album ‘Dust’. With Robert John Godfrey announcing that he is standing down from touring, and handing the reins over to the younger guys, this will be one of the last times to see him performing with the band on stage.
Focus have some of the most recognisable songs around and have even made yodelling trendy! Thijs Van Leer is joined in this latest line up of the band by long time drummer Pierre Van der Linden as they gave us a great set that included the inevitable ‘Sylvia’ and ‘Hocus Pocus’. If he doesn’t move too far from his trusty Hammond, off stage Van Leer can always be seen walking round the crowd and chatting with fans.
As headliners go, Ian Anderson was certainly the one to top this wonderful weekend with what turned out to be a classic Tull performance, starting with ‘Living In The Past’ and with Anderson’s flamboyant stage presence and flute playing as entertaining and stunning as ever. The crowd were also in fine form for ‘Too Old To Rock and Roll’ and the pace continued on to final track ‘Aqualung’ and encore of ‘Locomotion Breath’.
For many this was the end of the night and the festival but for those who stayed for the final band of the weekend they were in for a real treat. Finnish band The Von Hertzen Brothers certainly come from the rockier side of prog and they delivered a highly energetic show to ensure the night and the event ended on a high, with the epic ‘The Willing Victim’.
HRH Prog was another triumph and I understand next year they will be separating out the Sci-Fi from the Prog which means both events will get a sharper focus.
Review and photos by Simon Dunkerley
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