Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London
26th & 27th October, 2019
After a few years in the beautiful location of the LLeyn Peninsula in North Wales, HRH Prog had to relocate their festival due to redevelopment of the site and chose to split it over two sites, in Sheffield and London over the same weekend with interchangeable line–ups for each day. The iconic Shepherd’s Bush Empire was the impressive setting for the London-based gigs. The change in venue received a mixed reception from festival-goers, many having become ‘Hafn-Y-Mor Veterans’, convening in North Wales for a weekend of rock and camaraderie, enjoying the holiday site location and the attractions of the surrounding mountains and seaside. Friendships have developed at the festival with many returning year after year to stay together, and much of the attraction of the event was the socialising and imbibing in the relaxed surroundings. However, there was one rather large factor which was also quite a disincentive for many attendees and artists – the remoteness of the location, seemingly making it difficult to get to from just about anywhere in the country!
London and Sheffield are clearly better connected with the rest of the country, and in the case of London the Shepherd’s Bush Empire gave many bands the opportunity to play a prestigious venue in the capital in front of large crowds – an opportunity a number of these bands would never have the opportunity to do without HRH Prog, and therefore their music was introduced to a wider range of fans.
For many of the veterans of Hafn-Y-Mor, the loss was the sense of community and relaxed atmosphere in an enclosed environment as the Empire was much more divided in terms of the type of ticket bought, with fewer ‘breakout areas’ for drinking and socialising, and fewer opportunities for buying CDs and merchandise. For new festival-goers, without that experience at previous events, it is likely that they enjoyed the opportunity to see a large number of bands with relative ease with good transport connections and plenty of hotel accommodation nearby for the more distant travellers.
So in short… some will be lamenting the move away from North Wales (and may not be returning again) whilst others will not particularly mind and will have enjoyed the convenience of this event and will be back next time – it is suspected that the loss of some will be easily replaced by the numbers of new attendees feeling more able to get to this event… so what about the music?
Due to the number of artists this review is a series of short impressions (some shorter than others!) rather than full-on reviews, from Leo Trimming (LT), Rosamund Tomlins (RT), Owy Thomas (OT) and Rod Moor-Bardell (RMB), with photos by Stan Siarkiewicz.
DAY 1 – SATURDAY:
Monkey Trial kicked off the event for ‘Royalty’ and VIP ticket holder with a fairly ambient unchallenging Floydian or Tangerine Dream-ish trip flowing pleasantly over the growing crowd. Advertised as ‘unplugged’ there did seem rather a lot of electrified and amplified instrumentation from this trio. A gentle if not particularly remarkable introduction. (LT)
4th Labyrinth followed up with an entertaining set of rock with an engaging German frontman who specialised in amusing and witty banter with a good voice for Rock… and obviously a great taste in Hats!
This energetic set nicely warmed up the event. They were not really ‘Prog’ (whatever that really means), but certainly had some talent as a rock band. The crowd certainly seemed to enjoy them and joined in enthusiastically with some audience participation.
Rumours about the unfortunate fates of 1st, 2nd and 3rd Labyrinths cannot be verified. (LT)
Well, at the time of the event I suggested that they should be called ‘Krankwind’ as it felt very Hawkwind in style, but that may have been a little harsh in all fairness. They played a solid and relentless set of powerful acid punk rock (as they describe themselves!), showing a lot of humour and wit in the way they used back projection messages, ostensibly from the frontman who was told not to talk too much as the band wanted to squeeze in more songs. One of them was:
which was very funny… and in all honesty that’s where Stan and I bailed out for a while, with no disrespect intended to the band who were putting on a good show – we just needed to eat! (LT)
– INTERLUDE –
That issue does lead us to raise whether the organisers need to build in some sort of meal break as it’s a relentless day… too much music, indeed?
We still had to check in to our HRH hotel room which had a surprising issue… we found two women (honestly!) already checked in!
Turns out this wasn’t part of some very unorthodox and questionable ‘Room Service’, just a mess up by the Hotel. We found ourselves upgraded to a super deluxe room so they dealt with it very well. The quality of the room and hotel was very good… certainly a step up from the accommodation at Hafn-Y-Mor, although to be fair that was always fine for me… I kind of miss the caravan ethos of that event! (LT)
PEARL HANDLED REVOLVER
This Bedford-based rock band returned to HRH Prog and put on a very high-quality set. They sound like they are from California circa 1968… and that’s not a bad thing.
Excellent Hammond organ work from Simon Rinaldo and rather nifty guitar work Andy Paris. They are a talented band who could really groove, clearly inspired by The Doors, channelling their inner Morrison and Manzarek!
New song Siren from their album Fantasy Reigns was graced with a great harpsichord sounding opening. Lengthy set closer In the Belly of The Whale was very atmospheric, featuring great harmonica and drums. Alongside his fine harmonica skills, charismatic frontman Lee Vernon sang with great power and poise. I saw this band at HRH a couple of years ago and wasn’t blown away then, but to be fair they won me over this time with a really good performance which the crowd loved. (LT)
HRH Prog moved into a ‘Jazz’ groove with some laid-back sounds from these legendary veterans. Theo Travis excelled on flute and sax, as he always does in any band he plays… and there have been plenty! John Etheridge on guitar soloed at times fluidly and wildly, at other times Soft Machine gently took us into other realms… cool man!
Another band I’ve seen at HRH Prog previously, and last time I was left rather scratching my head as this sort of jazzier music is not my usual cuppa to be honest, but I ‘got it’ this time. (LT)
Caravan are ‘frequent flyers’ at HRH Prog, and with a set as assured and confident as this veteran band played, it’s hardly surprising why they keep being asked back. Pye Hastings’ distinctive voice still seems strong and his guitar playing was fluid. Multi-instrumentalist Geoffrey Richardson excelled on guitar, viola… spoons! He gave a fine and amusing spoon solo (I kid you not) and is a real star. They have been doing this for years and so are very well polished (the band, not the spoons!) but they also seem so engaged and enjoying the experience of playing live. Highlight of the set was the epic Nine Feet Underground from In the Land of Grey and Pink, along with Golf Girl and the title track from that classic 1971 album.
Jan Schelhaas was outstanding on keyboards, and all driven along deftly by Mark Walker on drums and Jim Leverton on bass.
The Caravan rolls on and on… and long may it do so if it’s this entertaining. (LT)
THE PINEAPPLE THIEF
[Fan Boy Alert!]
I have been a fan of The Pineapple Thief since 2004 and love this band – there, I’ve said it.
Seeing this band play a full Shepherd’s Bush Empire (as they did to the same sold-out venue last year) was a particular personal thrill. I have followed them since their very earliest days when they played tiny venues to three men and a dog… and myself… and then to see them end up headlining a major London venue to thousands of people and absolutely knocking it out of the park, like I always knew they could, felt special indeed.
Featuring the legendary King Crimson and Porcupine Tree drummer Gavin Harrison, The Pineapple Thief have become a very assured and finely tuned live outfit, with Bruce Soord’s soulful voice and fluid guitar leading the way. John Sykes nailed down the bass with his usual cool aplomb whilst Steve Kitch weaved patterns with his keyboards. The lighting was particularly striking and stark for the music. The set was populated with songs from across their career, including their successful 2018 album Dissolution. Perhaps knowing they are playing a more ‘Prog’ audience, they delve back to the extended Part Zero from 2004’s Variations on a Dream. Highlight of the set was the feedback-drenched pyrotechnics of 3000 Days with the usually restrained Soord demonstrating that he too can do the ‘guitar hero’ moves when necessary.
The Final Thing on my Mind from the first album Gavin Harrison played on with the band, 2016’s Your Wilderness, was a suitably epic and hypnotic set closer which generated a great ovation from many in the audience who had never experienced the power of ‘The Thief’.
Having said all that it was a little sad to see a significant portion of the audience leaving early, seemingly not taken with or open-minded enough to experience an immensely talented band probably more aligned to the alternative indie rock of Radiohead and far removed from playing ’70s inspired rock and ‘prog’. Full credit to the organisers for stretching the musical envelope of the gig with a truly ‘progressive’ modern band. The great majority of those that stayed, and that was most of the audience, responded to a great gig with acclaim. (LT)
DAY 2 – SUNDAY:
HATS OFF GENTLEMEN, IT’S ADEQUATE
I have seen Hat’s Off Gentleman a couple of times before and they have been fun, without seeming more than a “filler” act. The use of backing tracks on much of the material made them little more than a quirky pub act, in my opinion. However, at HRH Prog in Shepherd’s Bush things were very different for two reasons: firstly, it was acoustic, so no backing tracks. Secondly, and far more importantly for me, was the addition to the line-up of Malcolm Galloway’s wife on flute. The quirkiness was there, the humour was there, but now there were interesting counter melodies, the music acquired a depth and, dare I say it, seemed “prog” in a way much of the weekend did not. I understand that the flute was only there for the London leg of HRH Prog, but what a difference! One of the surprises of the weekend for me in an extremely positive way. (RMB)
Hats Off, with the addition of Kathryn Thomas, does make it something different, although at gigs with just the two of them (as they did at HRH Prog in Sheffield this weekend) they also do pretty well without her. Mark Gatland on bass is a pocket rocket power pack in himself, bouncing around, and Malcolm’s between-song banter is a clever juxtaposition of humour alongside the points he makes about inequality, hidden disabilities, and saving the planet. His genial oddball quirkiness is most endearing and his songs are from the heart and poignant at times, and rumbunctious and banner waving at others. (RT)
CAPTAIN STARFIGHTER & THE LOCKHEEDS
The group of musicians, including Dead Fred of Hawkwind & Inner City Unit, who occasionally guests with Hawklords, formed to pay homage to Robert Calvert songs, the band’s name inspired by his solo album ‘Captain Lockheed & The Starfighters’.
At HRH Prog 8, they played a couple of tracks from that album plus a pick of iconic Calvert songs from Hawkwind & the early Krankschaft era. It’s a tribute with original musicians but it’s taken on a jolly life of its own, & the collective brings to life songs we’d probably not hear any more otherwise along with some Hawkwind favourites. Clearly held dear in some quarters – essentially the gang down at the front of the stage – the appearance of legendary MC, DJ, & Kozfest organiser Kozmic Ken on stage with them cemented that affection + induced it in others too. The mirrored body-suited dancer, sporting various swirly props, added an extra visual dimension to the enthusiastic on stage space-rock-fest.
It was a little unexpected & slightly odd, with no credit given at the end, & the band didn’t appear particularly to notice the presence of the dancer, but perhaps it was meant as an up-to-date homage to Hawkwind’s Stacia.
Clearly enjoying themselves playing the music they love, they induced the first bit of audience dancing to the whole proceedings, and as part of the exuberant throng down the front, I delighted in their Facebook page’s urge “May the farce be with us”! (RT)
I personally missed Captain Starfighter & the Lockheeds, but I needn’t have worried because Pre-Med presented us with a very ‘Hawkwind-esque’ set of psych stoner rock… and even played a Hawkwind cover, chanting “Hashish” repeatedly.
This was a competent, powerful band who played their take on psychedelic rock with enthusiasm, if a little short on originality or a distinctive approach.
So after one Hawkwind influenced or inspired band on Saturday (Kranschaft) and then starting Sunday with a Hawkwind off-shoot band (Captain Starfighter) we were presented with this Hawkwind-style band as a warm-up for the next act… and yep, you guessed it, we had another Hawkwind off-shoot band – the Hawklords!
Was this some sort of trip? Had we been somehow sucked through a Black Hole into the annual ‘HawkEaster’ convention?! (LT)
The latest instalment in the ‘Hawkfest’… sorry, I meant HRH PROG, were The Hawklords, fronted by the legendary ‘Master of the Universe’ himself (apparently) Nik Turner… once of Hawkwind themselves (fancy that!).
A wall of ‘Hawkwind-y’ stoner rock psychedelically filled the auditorium with the aforementioned Mr Turner wibbling and wobbling a lot to some effect on saxophone… all very… Hawkwind-y (fancy that?!).
I lasted a few numbers but felt lost in an alternate Universe where EVERY band in existence were actually Hawkwind… and having had to consume a health challenging doner kebab at 1am the previous day, because we failed to take a meal break, we beat a retreat from ‘Hawkfest’ to a lovely Italian restaurant nearby… (please see previous remarks about meal breaks…), but don’t worry, we requested that the restaurant play Silver Machine on their music system to keep us all in the mood.
A quick straw poll taken in the restaurant gave the universal feedback from the many HRH Proggers taking sanctuary there that there was very clearly:
‘TOO MUCH HAWKWIND-Y STUFF!!’
Joking apart, the organisers need to consider how bands will interact on an all-day bill… and putting on a series of bands either directly off-shooting from or inspired by one particular band or artist may inevitably have the effect of not satisfying a significant portion of the crowd. The general feedback about the Sunday bands earlier in the day in London was clearly about an over-reliance on Hawkwind style bands… but then again some fans loved that line up… probably fans who love Hawkwind?!
THE VINTAGE CARAVAN
Well, this Icelandic power trio distinguished themselves with a high energy rock show of outstanding guitars, bass and drums… AND… (I hope you’re sitting down when you read this)… they sounded absolutely nothing like Hawkwind (fancy that!). They really impressed me with their refreshingly powerful rock show… and had NOTHING to do with classic Progressive rock band Caravan (which some were expecting!).
PS, Dear Vintage Caravan, next time you play HRH Prog please learn a cover of Silver Machine. (LT)
Well, slightly late to the party, fashionably so (maybe)… at 6.15 on the second day, and here we go with The Vintage Caravan. Bugger all to do with prog, but the Icelandic psychedelically tinged retro ’70s power trio are certainly talented and turn in an impressive performance. (OT)
Gong saved us all… the whole planet (not just HRH Prog) with a mesmerising set of spaced out blissful psychedelia… THANK YOU GONG!!!
Rejoice, I’m Dead indeed… take me in your glorious arms, hit those stratospheric notes, blind me with your divine images and Ascend me to another Astral plain.
Kavus Torabi and his eccentric bandmates put on a dazzling set of inspiring psychedelic rock with gorgeous visual images to accentuate the mind-bending music and quirky lyrics. (LT)
What can I say? They don’t really play progressive rock most of the time, more melodic/heavy rock, but they always deliver. Uriah Heep are a band that I have seen live more than thirty times and the reason that I continue to see the band live is two-fold – they play an impressive number of gigs per year, every year and their performances are incredibly professional and joyful. To watch a band play their set with huge grins on their faces, because they love what they are doing is amazingly energising.
To quote Uriah Heep’s latest album – they are “Living the Dream”, and for Mick Box it is a dream he has lived with Heep for almost fifty years. It is hard to fault anything about the performance because the band are such professionals; year after year they mix up the setlist with new and old songs. Unlike Deep Purple, a band of similar age and turnover of members, it seems no song from the back catalogue is considered “off-limits” – which is a source of joy to older fans, as who knows what may be in the setlist from one tour to another?
At Shepherd’s Bush, I believe the band surprised a few, it was a refreshing burst of upbeat musicianship. Old favourites such as Gypsy, Easy Livin’ and July Morning were interspersed with new songs Living the Dream and Grazed by Heaven, all delivered with energy and conviction.
Is it Prog?
Who cares? It is great music! (RMB)
[All photos by Stan Siarkiewicz, used with his kind permission.]
HRH Prog – Website | Facebook
Monkey Trial – Facebook | Bandcamp
4th Labyrinth – Website | Facebook
Krankschaft – Website | Facebook
Pearl Handled Revolver – Website | Facebook
Soft Machine – Facebook
Caravan – Website | Facebook
The Pineapple Thief – Website | Facebook | Twitter
Hats Off Gentlemen, It’s Adequate – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp
Captain Starfighter & the Lockheeds – Facebook
Pre-Med – Website | Facebook
The Hawklords – Facebook
The Vintage Caravan – Website | Facebook
Gong – Website | Facebook
Uriah Heep – Website | Facebook