David Randall writes…
Edgar Broughton opened the proceedings on Stage 1 without his band but with tales of daring-do over a career spanning nearly 50 years and since his signing to the Harvest label in 1968. Apparently he presided at the death of arch-nemesis Mick Farren in 2013. Enough said.
Heather Findlay on the other hand breezed in with her band playing a selection of tunes from her latest solo album ‘I Am Snow’ sprinkled with a couple of Mostly Autumn memories ‘Unoriginal Sin’ and ‘Evergreen’ and a tribute to Liam Davison (who died earlier this month) with ‘Once In A Lifetime’. Away from Mostly Autumn with whom she sang for 14 years Heather hasn’t really flourished or found a niche in a prog world that may simply have moved on.
Hawklords seemed reluctant to dig back into their late seventies lineage but in fairness they do have a more recent album to promote ‘R:Evolution’. However, you can’t help thinking where’s Dave Brock and Simon King to add the grist to Harvey Bainbridge’s sonic mill.
Caravan frontman and founder member Pye Hastings looks like he’s just come in after a couple of rounds on the local Fairways golf range (with “Golf Girl”?) having carefully parked his Beemer. But judging by Geoffrey Richardson’s assertion that the band had not always been fully paid over the years (in his intro to ‘Fingers In The Till’) perhaps unlikely.
In 2018, Jethro Tull and Caravan celebrate 50 years since their first sorties at London’s Marquee Club. Of course Tull had the wider international success but Caravan have retained their enduring popularity with the prog cognescenti. ‘In The Land Of The Grey and Pink’ went down particularly well tonight, whilst Jan Schelhaas’ glorious and evocative keyboard work swept through the closing number ‘Nine Feet Underground’.
Von Hertzen Brothers inclusion on the bill may have shocked some hardened proggers: their brand of melodic hard rock makes few concessions to the genre. Promoting an excellent new album ‘War Is Over’, the engaging Finns remained animated and engaged throughout. Whether that applied to the audience also is debatable. Tracks like ‘The Arsonist’ and ‘Sunday Child’ were particularly impressive and their end song ‘Eye Of The Storm’ the most “proggy”.
Pete Whalley writes…
While most wouldn’t naturally equate Uriah Heep with ‘prog’, the rough rule of thumb on Friday seemed to be that if a number lasted more than three minutes, it’s prog. And Mick Box and Co. smouldered through a well received set that majored (naturally enough) on their core seventies repertoire as well as a few more recent numbers (which sounded more NWOBHM than ‘prog’) and with the promise of a new album in 2018.
Box looked in rude health, like a beaming Paul Hollywood who has let his crop grow out, and in long term vocalist Bernie Shaw Heep have the perfect counterpoint – a singer just at home hitting the high notes as ‘filling in’ during a drum kit malfunction and camping it up with the irresistible ‘Good evening campers!’
A voluminous trip down memory lane ensured – ‘Gypsy Queen’, ‘Sunrise’, ‘The Magician’s Birthday’, ‘Easy Living’ et al, and even a combined guitar/drum solo with strobe effect lights worked (if, perhaps, a little over lengthy) in a well balanced ‘festival’ set that included an acoustic ‘Lady In Black’ from their most proggy album Salisbury. And as if to defy predictability the band included a couple of songs off Outsider (2014), as well as less frequently aired numbers like ‘Between Two Worlds’ and ‘Shadows Of Grief’.
David Randall writes…
Over on Stage 2 closing act Threshold now have Glynn Morgan back in the fold after the departure of Damian Wilson. Second guitarist Pete Morten also left, earlier this year, but with less of a fanfare. On album, Threshold always have a great guitar sound but this performance was slightly underwhelming. The Morten/Groom axis will be missed.
Sounding less subtle and less melodic than expected it was also very loud. In response to a crowd protestation “could they play any louder?” Morgan implied that the setlist may have been thrown together and, to be honest, it sounded like it.
Pete Whalley writes…
In the absence of Touchstone on the main stage The Far Meadow, on Stage 2 were a good alternative – a bunch of technically gifted and ‘up for it’ old proggers, fronted by the face- sequinned Marguerita Alexandrou – a generation removed from most of the band.
Plying their very listenable debut, Given The Impossible, Alexandrou’s vocals had an element of Magenta’s Christina Booth, in both timbre and delivery. While The Far Meadow lacked some of the rigid discipline Rob Reed bestows on Magenta with popular songs like ‘Industry’ it’s not hard to imagine them encroaching on the Magenta audience and making progress up the ranks if they can build on what they have in place.
By way of contrast Magenta, unable to resist the attraction of a gig on home turf, were landed with a teatime spot before ‘the big boys’ came out to play. Christina Booth must win the award for ‘best female vocalist of the weekend’ with a wonderous, emotion-tugging delivery that could even make her the ‘Karen Carpenter of Prog’, and Chris Fry was also in decent form.
The current rhythm section on the other hand – and in particular drummer Jonathan ‘Jiffy’ Griffiths whose technique is to hit the drums as hard as is humanly possible – is somewhat at odds with both previous live incarnations, and much of the band’s recordings.
Yes, it gives Magenta a far harder live sound for numbers like ‘Metamorphosis’, but deployed without relent, at some cost – Christina Booth saying all she wants for Christmas is some ‘peace and quiet’ – and amid calls from the audience for her drowned vocals during ‘Speechless’ to be turned up. Even Fry struggled to be heard over the cacophonous drum barrage during the first couple of numbers – it was almost like Royal Blood had been recruited as a rhythm section.
Wales is known for some wonderful, technically gifted drummers – Panic Room’s Gavin Griffiths a current case in point – and it’s strange that Rob Reed (looking unnervingly like the government minister in ‘The Boat That Rocked’), who likes to control every aspect of the band, has sanctioned a course of direction that so obviously robs the band of some of its subtlety.
Thankfully, the more restrained ‘Pearl’ restored normal service and the mix improved as the set progressed, dipping for a second time into The Twenty Seven Club for ‘Devil At The Crossroads’, with the band’s current release We Are Legend represented by ‘Colours’ – a number that manages to pack in elements of Floyd, King Crimson, The Beatles and Marillion, as well as the band’s own ‘Speechless’.
Carl Palmer opened with a superb ‘Peter Gunn’ which was a highlight of a set that paid tribute to his former cohorts. This last man standing received a warm reception and hopefully he will continue to tour with his younger guitarist and bassist for some time to come. For some perhaps too bombastic, but keeping the legacy safe nevertheless.
Focus seem to have a new line up each time you see them – Thijs Van Leer and Pierre Van De Linden aside – and featured new bassist Udo Pannekeet alongside guitarist Menno Gootjes.
The main attraction, of course is Van Leer (sporting a fetching XXXL OGWT T shirt) and his ageing Hammond looks dangerously in need of some serious restoration. But as his distinctive swirling chords filled the air, the years are simply swept away. No one will, of course, ever fill Akkerman’s shoes. Gootjes takes the perhaps more sensible course of not trying to emulate the indelible lines laid down in the band’s heyday, instead opting for a less edgy and biting – more jazz infused – take on proceedings.
This was particularly noticeable on one of the band’s great set-pieces ‘Eruption’ which deviated from the straight-ahead rock guitar solo of the original, whilst maintaining Van Leer’s ever glorious and authentic flute and organ riffs.
It was Van Leer who really engaged, whether serenading with his flute playing, leading the audience through vocal aerobics, or just his so obvious joire de vivre.
Rock, jazz, funk – it was a marvellous trip down memory lane including ‘Round Goes The Gossip’, ‘Focus II’, ‘House Of The King’ but mixed with newer material like ‘All Hands On Deck’.
It was an all round masterful performance, new bassist Pannekeet slotting in seamlessly, but in a relatively short set there really wasn’t (even for a ‘prog’ weekend) the time for some of the indulgent soloing that took place in the second half on the back of ‘Harem Scarem’, with Van Der Linden’s equally ill-judged extended drum solo in the midst of the closing ‘Hocus Pocus’.
Magnum took the headline spot. And while some might argue about their positioning, relative to Focus and Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy, few could argue that their big crowd pleasers were well suited for closing both the night and the event.
It was a set designed for crowd participation on Clarkin’s finely crafted hooks, starting on the timeless ‘On A Storyteller’s Night’, and continuing unabated through a set including ‘Blood Red Laughter’, ‘Vigilante’, ‘All England’s Eyes’ and more.
If there was a complaint, it could only be that it was a somewhat restrained, soft rock, singularly paced – almost AOR set – with ‘Your Dreams Won’t Die’ almost in Traveling Wilbury/Jeff Lynne territory.
New band members Rick Benton (keys) and Lee Morris (drums) gave a good account of themselves and we look forward to Magnum’s early 2018 album and tour.
David Randall writes…
As ever HRH Prog was sold out, well organised and staged, well accommodated, and the only gripe might have been the usual Stage1 and 2 time clashes. Some might also question how “prog” some of the bands were.
Von Hertzen Brothers, for example played Hard Rock Hell only a week before, a strange duplication. Yes, Uriah Heep had their prog moments in the seventies but they’ve done a lot since and their set wasn’t confined to the earlier period. Similarly, the other headliners Magnum are hardly considered prog although like Heep they dallied with the genre in the seventies and much of their set was drawn from more recent albums.
And, given the resurgence of the genre in recent times there seemed to be a lack of really “deep prog” that would tick boxes for those who follow some of the modern bands coming out of continental Europe that we feature regularly in our reviews.
But, for ageing rockers both on stage and off, this is the perfect opportunity – whether it’s prog or it isn’t – to rediscover lost youth and timeless classics. For the younger prog bands it provides a further outlet to reach a wider audience, although with the time clashes they certainly have their work cut out. And at times Stage 2 was uncomfortably loud. Whatever, onward and upward to HRH Prog VII.
Review by David Randall and Pete Whalley
Photos by David Randall
In his weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio (Monday 20 Nov. and Friday 24, 22:00 GMT) David Randall features some of the bands appearing at this year’s HRH PROG event followed by an archive sequence with Uriah Heep’s Bernie Shaw (Monday) and Rob Reed (Magenta) on Friday. More information
Gallery (Friday) :
Gallery (Saturday) :
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