HRH Prog Live

Dedicated prog festival makes a welcome return to Wales.

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The first thing Prog sees when we arrive at Hafan y Môr is Batman chatting to a lorry driver. It’s then we remember that this year HRH Prog is sharing the holiday park with a Sci-Fi Weekender – so there’s more cloaks in the town than you can shake a stick at, and not all worn by Rick Wakeman.

The Osiris Club are equally cloaked and masked when they arrive in the Prog arena; their theatrical stagewear is somewhat at odds with their lack of movement onstage, but they project a faux-ominous air that contrasts well with their music’s harsh electronics and strangely homely lyrics. Next, psychedelic proggers Dream Circuit bring a Hawkwind-esque style to a set that’s constantly changing with different atmospheres and narratives. Their instrumental work is the high point, and the audience steadily grows with each song they play.

Tonight Knifeworld are the embodiment of fun on stage, their unique psychedelic rock spearheading a new breed of ‘progressive’. With frontman Kavus Torabi playing the usual gregarious host, they bring a party feel to this opening night – which belies some of the songs’ darker and more challenging themes – as drinks flow and the atmosphere fizzes. Lithuania’s The Skys finish with a set worthy of any headliner. Swathed in synths, they turn the guitar widdliness up to 11. Boasting a stunning saxophone and the tightness born of years of performance, their hardcore fans dance throughout the whole set and get carried away with some synchronised headbanging during Walking Alone.

Burton-Upon-Trent’s Kitten Pyramid blow the Thursday night bar-crawl cobwebs away on Friday morning. Bizarre lyrics such as ‘She cut off the hair from her dad and Facebooked it/ then covered her shoes in the hair and texted it’ fit perfectly with this eclectic, experimental, quintessentially British band, and provide a rather psychedelic breakfast.

Sanguine Hum play two new tracks from their new album Now We Have Light, and Joff Winks’ vocals act as a nice complement to the instrumentation rather than a standout feature. Strong basslines that dip into funk at times help make the band’s set a hugely exciting display of their talents. But the early highlight of the weekend is Anna Phoebe. It’s rare to see an audience so enthralled by an instrumental act. With the violin at the forefront of each number, and with Anna as the showcase, there’s still enough going on from her richly exotic four-piece band to show that she’s not the only super-talented musician on stage. Lifesigns, too, add yet another layer of classy sheen to the day’s proceedings, with a set of rich, deep melody and very thoughtful songcraft.

Today was supposed to be Touchstone’s farewell appearance with singer Kim Seviour, but the fan reaction means those potential tearjerker shows are planned for later in the year. Instead their set serves as a timely reminder of what a force they became with the impishly engaging lead singer. New plans are afoot it seems, but they’re going out on a real high. Equally The Enid have been on such a creative roll of late, and their third appearance on the trot at HRH Prog is another unequivocal triumph. Making the most of the excellent sound in the Prog arena, the set of largely newer material is just perfect with frontman Joe Payne delivering a masterclass in creative elan. In these more prog-enlightened times, could we see this bunch of musical one-offs reap greater commercial rewards? Stranger things have happened. Either way, Robert John Godfrey must be so proud.

As no doubt are Mostly Autumn with drummer Alex Cromarty. The poor chap broke his hand backstage minutes before showtime (indeed Prog witnessed the paramedics in attendance). Yet the minute the band hit the stage, would you have known it? Not one bit. It may even have added fire to their performance; we can’t recall the last time we saw Bryan Josh whipping up such a fury on guitar. But with the ever-elegant Olivia Sparnenn in splendid voice, the band’s hard rocking set brought proceedings to an ecstatic close. Mr. Cromarty – we salute you!

Opening Saturday, young British prog metallers Collibus are the heaviest band on the bill. Gemma Fox is a hugely powerful singer, filling the arena with growls, screams and clean singing. Hollow is a high point – not as heavy as the rest but more textured – and their final song is long, complex prog metal at its finest. New Zealand’s Agent take the approach of Deftones, and prog it up, adding a touch of Tool-like depth. James Donaldson is certainly an engaging frontman, but they would have gone down better playing for a more prog metal-inclined audience.

Landskap are a beautiful, Atomic Rooster-like mix of stoner rock and keyboards, and Jake Harding’s deep vocals bring to mind Chris Goss in his Masters Of Reality heyday. Unlike Black Peaks singer Will Gardner’s growls, which completely fail to hit the mark and sound strained. This overshadows the band’s technical proficiency and great song structure, but a frankly exceptional sax break towards the end of the set shows more promise.

The sun is shining its last rays as Jump celebrate their 25th anniversary. They don’t push boundaries but there’s still a clear tone to John Dexter Jones’ voice that helps draw back much of the crowd frightened off by the earlier heavy assault on their senses. And if Jump serve as a nice tonic for half the crowd, then Magenta are received like all-conquering heroes. By the end of closing track, the epic Metamorphosis, it’s clear such adulation has not been misplaced.

Steeleye Span might flirt on the boundaries of prog, but they too go down a treat tonight. Heavier than we expected, there’s a real steely grit to the likes of Blackleg Miner and, tipping a hat to their late collaborator Sir Terry Pratchett, The Dark Morris Song. As expected, a riotous All Around My Hat gives everyone the chance to flex their vocal chords.

And so to headliner Rick Wakeman, who opts for ‘An audience with…’ style approach. To be honest, given the festival setting, that could have fallen flat. In reality, with Wakeman’s disarming style, way with a joke and anecdote, and love for the music he plays, it’s a winner from the off. We get some solo material (including a spellbinding Journey…), some Yes (And You And I, Wonderous Stories) and even Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman & Howe’s The Meeting. It’s a wonderful way to round off another winning bill from the HRH team.

Jerry Ewing and Felicity Hall

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