June is not the greatest month for outdoor festivals in the UK. So, how smug do we feel under cover and within reach of beer/seats/ pizza at prog’s takeover of the inaugural Stone Free event? Very. It’s not all a picnic, though. Even after a day to break it in (yesterday was Alice Cooper plus supports), the festival idea is lost on a venue that won’t let you out of the main arena once you’re in, thereby missing some of the satellite ents booked to add to its overall wonderfulness.
This side is not well-executed. Luckily, today’s line-up is, starting with the lush resonance of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here Symphonic. There are no special guests, in spite of one being just a dressing room away. It’s a classy display with many kettle drums, but a pinch of, say, the real D Gilmour would have shifted their appearance into break-the-prog-internet territory.
Cool, collected and packing in as much action as possible, Steve Hackett and his six-piece band are near-flawless. Tender on Loving Sea, menacing on A Tower Struck Down and dazzling on Revisited numbers with that shy, retiring vocalist Nad Sylvan, the whole thing is nearly eclipsed by Firth Of Fifth’s solo, audience members erupting in tiny prisms of progressive ecstasy. And that’s without a soundcheck. Wow.
There’s little time to gather ourselves before Marillion declare ownership of this huge space, Steve Hogarth’s voice piercing every nook with The Invisible Man and a dramatic Power. Topped by Steve Rothery’s stirring guitar and Mark Kelly’s gorgeous keyboard lines, Neverland is the extraordinary cherry on this emotional gateau. We’re all in bits, and it’s brilliant.
There are no Monty Python knights, no ice rink and no pea-souper of fake fog for our headliner tonight. But the one and only caped crusader, Rick Wakeman, does have an orchestra, choir, English Rock Ensemble and extra digit power in the shape of son Oliver. Debuting his now-double-sized 1975 epic The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur…, the spectacle comes in the shape of the score, the sparkles on Rick’s outfit and a snazzy throne for narrator Ian ‘Don’t Tell ’Em Pike’ Lavender.
Majestic-sounding from the get-go, the new compositions claim an early showstopper in Hayley Sanderson’s Morgan Le Fay. Whipping along at a lick, Lancelot And The Black Night is a (literally) punchy standout before Merlin The Magician casts a comedy spell using Keystone Cops chase music and bonkers banjo from Dave Calhoun. By The Best Knight, a reggae soul limbo throws the Dark Age script out of the window until we’re swept up in a riotous Last Battle and a standing ovation.
Supersized, gloriously over the top and giddy, this performance is truly the stuff of legend.
London’s O2 complex has seen its fair share of gigs, but it’s never seen anything quite like this before. In one corner, Roger Dean is unveiling the new artwork for Rick Wakeman’s re-recording of The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur… and in another, there’s a stall selling Wakeman-esque sparkly capes. For one day only, the O2 has been transformed into a welcoming space for prog fans.
The day’s entertainment kicks off in style with Knifeworld at the IndigO2. More used to squeezing themselves onto compact stages, the eight-piece are in their element with enough room to move while they play. The white-suited Kavus Torabi even throws in a few rock star jumps to make the most of the space. Their short but sweet set hones in on their quirky Bottled Out Of Eden album, with the fantastic centrepiece of Progressive Music Awards-nominated I Must Set Fire To Your Portrait. Torabi can hardly contain his bemusement that the off-kilter track is a contender for Anthem Of The Year. “You’ll be humming that one for weeks!” he laughs.
Teeth Of The Sea provide a completely different experience from any of the other acts on today’s bill. Combining trippy electronic soundscapes with sludgy post-industrial, acid jazz and post-rock, their hypnotic live experience is both darker and more sinister than their recordings. The only thing missing is some psychedelic visuals, which would have really enhanced the other‑worldly quality of their music.
Fresh from a hugely successful European tour, Haken make their second appearance in London in less than a month. Although their set is short – it contains just three songs from Affinity, plus the crowd-pleasing Cockroach King – they make up for it with their modern, punchy anthems. It’s slick performances like this that demonstrate just how far they’ve come. Don’t be surprised if they’re on the main stage next time.