Published on 9th April 2017
H.R.H. PROG V – Day Two
Hafan Y Mor, Nr. Pwllheli, North Wales
16th – 18th March 2017
(‘America is f…ed, the UK is f…ed. Let’s just have a good time!’)
Leo: Friday was the official start to HRH Prog and witnessed the first time this event has been split into 2 stages, the Main Arena being a large auditorium which could accommodate very large crowds, and an adjacent smaller Stage Two which could still hold a few hundred punters. Having two stages meant frequent clashes in times and some difficult choices to be made. In some ways the festival started to develop as almost two separate events with some fans sticking to the mainly ‘Name’ bands in the packed Main Arena with others preferring to stay with the lesser known artists on Stage Two, which was not as rammed. However, many gig goers floated between the two stages easily enough.
Tony: The festival has grown from humble beginnings and is now in year 5 before moving to a two festivals a year format with Prog VI in November. After a six hour drive through rain, wind and seemingly every roadworks in Wales I arrived with about twenty minutes before the first act on Stage Two, and having quickly picked up the various passes, I made my way to the hall for my first band of two days of stage hopping. The two stages were no more than 100 metres apart, although the journey between could be quite bracing. From the HRH crew a very good example of well controlled logistics, with feedback from some bands on how polite and effective the crew was. Security were a nice bunch too. Given that there only ever seemed to be twenty minutes between acts, you can’t fault the efficiency. As a small criticism, I could have done with a couple of longer breaks to refuel – man cannot live by beer alone, although the attempt was made…
HRH Prog is a showcase in my view, whilst there is a large element of nostalgia to some of the main acts, although many still produce good new music, it is also an opportunity for bands who have never achieved the stratosphere to experience big audiences. On the whole this meant Stage Two, where the sound was significantly clearer than for the Main Stage. It’s a great value for money event in those terms, but also a big event for the bands. So, thought I, what do they have to say? So I asked! Interspersed with my reflections on an enjoyable musical weekend you will find a few quotes from band members, which I hope give a view from both sides of the pit.
PEARL HANDLED REVOLVER
Leo: Pearl Handled Revolver opened up the Main Arena with a confident, assured performance. A lesser known band but they definitely won over some new fans with a fine rocking show tinged with blues. A distinctive Hammond Organ and a strong vocalist helped to underline echoes of The Doors – the first small ‘surprise package’ of the weekend.
Tony: My first port of call was the Main Stage and Pearl Handled Revolver. I really enjoyed the set I saw, well most of it. A rock band first I think, prog band second, but do not let that detract from an excellent performance. My best description, quite bluesy, Animals-like (that’s the ’60s band, not the muppet). I in part would have liked to stay for the whole set, but with the overlaps felt required to go and see Maschine on Stage Two.
Tony: I was looking forward to Maschine’s performance, having heard much about them. Heavier than I was expecting in places but with a quality that raises them above “every prog”, those bands who have heard the ’70s and can do nothing more with it. They mix metal and whatever, music without boundaries which is what prog essentially is to me, irrespective of whether the song is five minutes or the full half hour. If you like prog metal, I can see the attraction and Maschine are a band with lots of energy in the right places that would appeal to a broad spectrum of Proglodytes. They have that extra something, a signature, with the addition of things like flute lifting them. When they play slow, they are almost sultry; a band with a lot of feeling and heart. I liked them, quite a lot.
Luke Machin – Guitar, Vocals
Dan Mash – Bass
Marie-Eve De Gaultier – Keyboards, Vocals
Elliott Fuller – Guitar,Vocals
James Stewart – Drums
Leo: Welsh band Panic Room pulled off a great gig in front of a large crowd in Main Arena. Dave Foster (Steve Rothery Band), adds a more powerful dimension on guitar, Gavin Griffiths (drummer for Fish’s live band) driving the set along with the dexterous Yatim Halimi on bass. Screens, one of four songs played from their 2012 album Skin, featured great keyboards from Jonathan Edwards and Panic Room play with a power that exceeds the impact of their album recordings. Apocalypstick, with its Eastern rhythms and sounds, from their fine 2008 debut album Visionary Position, is a particular highlight. Panic Room also have the confidence to play a song so new that Anne-Marie Helder was still writing the lyrics the previous night! As yet untitled, Helder tells us it’s “Based on a Particle Collider… or two people in a relationship”, and it is absolutely outstanding. The vocals are beautiful and the keyboards build in intensity to a great climax, indicating a great deal of promise for the next album. It goes down particularly well with the crowd which grows and grows as word spreads of the quality of this performance. They finish the set with a dramatic and transformed version of the title song from their 2014 album Incarnate, followed by a heavy rocking Hiding the World which delights the crowd. Many will have come early to get ready for more famous bands later on, but with a show this good it is certain that Panic Room rightly gained quite a few more fans.
Tony: Dodging the inclement weather I dashed to the Main Stage for Panic Room, who I have much enjoyed previously, so no hopping, it’s the whole set for me. There is warmth and expression in Anne Marie Helder’s voice that edges those who are technically brilliant but sometimes lack the heart. They strike me as a happy band, Dave Foster having only recently joined but everything pulled together here. Love the drums; love Yatim’s bass, and time for my first beer, Guinness! Well it is St Patrick’s Day. We had songs from their catalogue, but the standout for me was the new track, ink on the lyrics still wet, and nearly absconded with by one Leo Trimming in lieu of a set list. (He gave it back). Unnamed, I thought it was brilliant; whatever they finally call it, to me it shall always be Accelerate – Swiss Cheese Hearts… something to do with the Hadron Collider and the random meeting of two souls. They may explain it better!
Song for Tomorrow
Untitled New Song
Hiding the World
Anne Marie Helder – Vocals
Jonathan Edwards – Keyboards
Dave Foster – Guitars
Gavin Griffiths – Drums
Yatim Halimi – Bass
THE PRETTY THINGS
Leo: A veteran band dating back to the ’60s, The Pretty Things are best known for what is regarded by some as the one of the first Rock concept albums, SF Sorrow from 1968, said by some to have influenced The Who’s Tommy. Original singer Phil May still sings very effectively, alongside the undoubtedly fluid guitar skills of another original band member, Dick Taylor. They feature four songs from SF Sorrow, including a brilliant rendition of I See You. Their association with The Who is clear as they pound out solid and enjoyable R’n’B, with echoes also of The Kinks. Taylor shows his versatility with a blues tribute to Robert Johnson, and their finale underlines their association with the late ’60s with an appropriately psychedelic version of L.S.D. to the delight of the arena crowd, many of whom were unaware of this band’s history.
Tony: The Pretty Things are a band from my youth. I was introduced to them via David Bowie’s Pin Ups, one of my first albums, then I explored SF Sorrow and other odds and sods without actually purchasing any, pocket money being a limited resource. I still got a kick from their performance as they ran through a mixture of their repertoire and influences, including pieces from SF Sorrow. Great set; Prog, blues, rock n roll, a hint of skiffle. It may be nostalgia, but my cockles are warmed.
Phil May – Lead Vocals
Dick Taylor – Lead Guitar
Frank Holland – Guitar, Vocals
Jack Greenwood – Drums
George Woosey – Bass, Vocals
Tony: Prog Hop, it’s the brand new dance craze and over to Stage Two, where I catch the last three of Credo’s set. Second sight of Credo and they have nailed it at HRH, from the moment I step into the room they have it covered. Singer Mark Colton is in particularly fine form and the sizeable audience are appreciative; his voice seems well tuned to this venue. It makes me wish I had bought my DIY cloning kit with me so I could have covered both stages.
Mark Colton – Vocals, Percussion
Mike Varty – Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Tim Birrell – Electric & Acoustic Guitars
Gerald Mulligan – Drums
Jim Murdoch – Bass, Backing Vocals
Leo: Curved Air came to prominence in the early ’70s with iconic singer Sonja Kristina, who still leads this band to this day, and they take to the Main Arena. It has to be said that their performance does not grab the crowd. They play rock with folkie touches and interesting violin from Paul Sax, but something does not seem quite right as they appear out of sync at times. Kit Morgan displays good guitar skills, but the performance fails to ignite the audience. Sonja still has a stage presence but her voice was not on top form in a large venue, although some in the crowd clearly enjoyed the show. Classics Vivaldi (later covered by original Curved Air keyboardist Francis Monkman in his later band Sky) and hit single Back Street Luv gave the somewhat underwhelming show a positive finale.
(We do this so you don’t have to… its not always brilliant out here on the Front, you know!!!!)
Tony: I missed a few on Stage Two today, and compound this by returning to the premier stage where Curved Air are performing. I didn’t catch these in the early ’70s, with the exception of Back Street Luv, and I don’t really get them now. Best descriptive; a sort of Jazz, Folk, Rock fusion. To me the melodies seem lost in layers of complexity. The talent is wonderful; Sonia Kristina’s voice is something else, but it feels free-form to me and I find the new material more accessible than that of old. If you don’t like Jazz you may struggle with Curved Air. I love Jazz, but I struggled.
Sonja Kristina – Vocals
Florian Pilkington-Miksa – Drums
Kit Morgan – Guitar
Chris Harris – Bass
Robert Norton – Keyboards
Paul Sax – Violin
Tony: After struggling with Curved Air, I finished my beer and caught the end of Davy O’List’s set on Stage Two. A lot more fun, though audience feedback was a little mixed. However I enjoyed the two numbers I heard.
JOHN LEES’ BARCLAY JAMES HARVEST
TPA have a confession to make – they may not have been paying attention in class! Our initial reaction to Barclay James Harvest was unenthusiastic, but many in the crowd LOVED this show. SO, in an effort to be balanced we asked Tony Russell with rather more connection to this band to pen their thoughts for us (with some edits with his permission):
Tony Russell: The highlight of Friday for me was Barclay James Harvest. There are two bands sharing the name centred around the two surviving members, guitarist, singer and songwriter John Lees, 70 years old in January, brought his BJH to HRH Prog for a great show. This was not a ‘Star plus sidemen’, but a fine working band who clearly like each other. Lees is well supported by Jez Smith on keyboards, and Kevin Whitehead on drums. Craig Fletcher on bass and vocals also provided some entertaining Northern banter between songs.
The sound was very clear and crisp. Gone was the Mellotron and orchestra heaviness of the early days in favour of the subtlety of modern synths, which served the songs perfectly. Lees’ guitar work remains strong, nimble and full of tone, he also played some lovely touching recorder on one song. Lees has the voice of a seventy year old, but he sang well and the harmony vocals from the whole band were strong. Fletcher sang lead on a few songs and played some accomplished bass guitar with Jez Smith providing some quite breathtaking keyboard work. The set list came largely from their early albums, alongside material from 2013 album North. They chose to subtly rework their older songs, with the classic Mockingbird in particular benefiting from a delightfully light touch. Barclay James Harvest and other Short Stories provided the set with great versions of Medicine Man and a combined The Poet/After The Day, originally from 1972. Fletcher sang an impassioned lead vocal for She Said from 1971’s Once Again. They played the title track from most recent album North, but it was the song On Leave from that album which provided the most emotional moment of the gig, John Lees explaining that it was about the suicide of former band mate, Woolly Wolstenhome, who lost his battle with depression in 2010. This was skillfully played melodic rock, which went down very well with the large crowd.
In My Life
Summer Soldier/Medicine Man
Poet/After The Day
John Lees – Guitar, Vocals
Craig Fletcher – Bass, Vocals
Kev Whitehead – Drums
Jez Smith – Keyboards
DAVID CROSS BAND
Tony: John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest, an exercise in professionalism; Hymn was the first song I heard as I returned from the wild Welsh weather with a new battery for my camera. I enjoyed BJH, I own a fair bit, but, flagging after a long drive up, I needed more energy so went back to Stage Two where the David Cross Band were on. They were good, and an injection of energy was received from a band who seemed to be in tune with the audience. I loved what they were doing, will seek out the album and further listens will be had. Stage Two over for the day, I flipped back catching the tail end of BJH; still professional, and the out-and-out fans said it was a great set. And so to Hawkwind, but a confession: the audience from both stages crammed themselves into one, and tiredness from the resultant crush of enthused prog fans made me take the easy route. Sleep. I may regret this but my eyes needed rest.
David Cross – Violin
Jinian Wilde – Vocals
Mick Paul – Bass
Paul Clark – Guitar
Craig Blundell – Drums
David Jackson – Saxophone
Leo: What can I say?
Hawkwind rolled their Psychedelic Tanks right through our brains and sprayed what was left against the insides of our Skulls. The Hawkwind juggernaut of sound and colour cleared all before it in a masterclass of heavy stoner rock in front of a dazzling array of lights and exotic visual images.
Some fell by the wayside and left in bewilderment, but plenty of others in the Prog Battalions threw themselves with gusto into the psychic mental meat grinder in a packed Main Stage. Some in the rear part of the hall looked rather stunned and some quailed in terror whilst the front half of the audience was a human whirlpool of stoner dancing and blissed out amazement as these veterans blasted their way through a varied set list. They rolled out well trodden classics, such as Assault and Battery and more recent songs like the impressive Synchronised in Blue from their most recent album, 2016’s The Machine Stops. They even gave us a taster of the title track from their imminent new album, Into the Woods. Long time drummer Richard Chadwick pounded the way forward relentlessly, and even sang lead vocals on the inevitable set closer Silver Machine. Swathes of mind bending keyboard sounds and effects added to the visual feast projected behind this leviathan of a band. Mr Dibbs on lead vocals was a remarkable and enigmatic front man delivering his vocals in a forceful and almost punk way – probably the only way to front a band plunging onwards, taking no prisoners with their swirling wall of sound. When asked by Dave Brock to give his political views, Mr Dibbs shared with the crowd:
This little nugget of wisdom did sum up the best way forward – just go with it and dive into the musical maelstrom. Hassan I Sahba was a remarkable supertanker of a song relentlessly piling forward with an Eastern flavour, full of venom about the oil and arms trade.
The fulcrum of the band, and only original member left, is guitarist Dave Brock, who looked in very good shape and clearly enjoying the reaction engendered by his Sonic Warriors. Never one for glitzy guitar solos, Brock led the way as they often clearly improvised intuitively, injecting impactful guitar throughout the evening.
I confess from the front row mayhem that at times eyes were closed. Heads were banged! It’s also safe to say that, like many others, I came out high as a kite… but only on the music and the show!
(We do this so you don’t have to… even if it means sacrificing our brains!!)
Assault & Battery / Golden Void
Arrival in Utopia
In My Room
Hassan I Sahba
Into the Woods
Synchronised in Blue
Shot Down in the Night
Lost in Science
Dave Brock – Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards
Richard Chadwick – Drums, Vocals
Mr Dibs – Vocals
? – Keyboards
Haz Wheaton – Bass
All photos by Leo Trimming, Tony Colvill and Dave Glaves, used with thanks.