After a day of solid rain, today we have sun, as south west five-piece Unto Us open the Prog Stage.
Bassist Lee Blu-Sky’s floral shirt is a beacon that draws a decent throng as frontman Huw Lloyd-Jones croons a Gabriel-esque blinder on Plan B.
Touchstone’s set has fans singing along to Kim Seviour’s enchanting vocals, the ethereal singer swaying along to the powerful prog. The announcement that she is leaving Touchstone results in a somewhat serene atmosphere, but as the band plunge into their rocky cover of Mad World – with Lonely Robot’s John Mitchell joining on guitar – they’re not only turning a sad song into a party anthem, but a solemn situation into a cause for celebration.
The wistful, folksy tones of Messenger float out from the Prog Stage. Frontman Khaled Lowe is the epitome of chill, sporting a 60s-style patterned shirt that fits well with their soft, cosmic tunes.
On the Main Stage, Blue Öyster Cult are tripping out with their blues boogie. But the four-man guitar army still fit in some dextrous proto-Mastodon weirdness with Harvester Of Eyes, ME262 and a storming Godzilla/(Don’t Fear) The Reaper twofer.
Neo-proggers Pendragon are visibly thrilled with this afternoon’s turnout. Nick Barrett doesn’t stop grinning throughout their set, and chats casually with audience members – dedicating Faces Of Light to “the Swedish man” in the front row.
After a strong start, Haken’s sound projection gets buffeted around a bit this afternoon. Cockroach King is the highlight, but good on ’em for pulling out the 20-minute, djentadelic Crystallised to finish.
By then, though, a large chunk of the crowd has legged it to watch Dream Theater on the Main Stage. The band’s widdly theatrics could have done with a longer slot. But that doesn’t deter the rammed turnout, with plenty present to warble along to the likes of The Spirit Carries On and Behind The Veil.
Back on the Prog Stage, Anathema emphasise how they’re evolving. The fragile restraint of Untouchable and Thin Air become Faithless-style rocked-up rave anthems. Lee Douglas whirls and claps as the Cavanagh brothers brandish soaring guitars – Danny getting his Steve Rothery head on for The Beginning… – and Vinny’s emotionally-charged vocals turn Universal into a prog-blues Since I’ve Been Loving You Zep-out. Stunning.
Camel get a huge reception, accentuating all the classic elements of their sound. Andy Latimer is the fulcrum, his relaxed yet plunging guitar style leading the band through Song Within A Song and Lunar Sea. As always, the drama lies in the music not any provocative gimmicks.
We’re slid into the second day with Anna Phoebe’s ebullient violin virtuosity. Despite the damp conditions, this performance is bright and entertaining. She and her band reach a declamatory climax with In Continuum.
We feel for Knifeworld, who suffer from bad sound on the Prog Stage. Mainman Kavus Torabi looks distinctly irritated at the ongoing audio conditions, as it cuts the effectiveness of the band’s quirky, off kilter dynamic.
The Pineapple Thief march things back on track, getting the balance right between cultured melody and atmospheric darkness. Despite keyboard player Steve Kitch performing with a broken hand, there’s no let up in intensity.
Over on the Main Stage, well-dressed Icelandic cowboys Sólstafir have a jittery start – it’s raining and one song in frontman Addi’s mic fails. Thankfully it’s reinvigorated, and so is their performance, which ends up being one of the most emotionally rousing of the weekend.
Riverside get an ecstatic reaction; The Poles’ sumptuous presentation holds the large crowd in rapt attention. But the most pleasant surprise of the day are Alcest. On album they’re a little cloying, but here their ambient chemistry has vulnerability, clarity and perception.
Ian Anderson treads familiar Tull territory, but does it with a zest for making it relevant rather than nostalgia. He’s unquestionably the most charismatic performer on this stage over the weekend, moving with stealth and guile as Living In The Past, Aqualung and Locomotive Breath draw rapturous assent.
Marillion are in startling form. Opening with Gaza they deliver a towering performance, going beyond every expectation. The headliners mix newer songs like Power and The Invisible Man with more established ones such as Man Of A Thousand Faces and King. But it all reaches a crescendo with Sugar Mice, a surprise presence on a portentious night. This is Marillion showing the hallmarks of nifty greatness.