HRH Prog 6 Review
Could the prog faithful handle two doses of HRH Prog Festival in one year? Another sold out event answers that question. The event remains at the fabulous setting of Hafan-y-Mor in Wales and the weather is glorious for those arriving on Thursday. As ever, the Thursday entertainment is kicked off by a hotly contested prog quiz in the Mash and Barrel pub.
There's a relaxed feel to Thursday with a reduced line up and only one stage in operation. This gives plenty of time for people to get accommodation sorted and to meet old friends for a beer.
IO Earth open up HRH Prog on the main stage on Thursday night and put on a great performance. The sound is excellent and there are plenty of impressive lead breaks from guitarist Dave Cureton. Singer Rosana Lefevre works the stage well and whilst they play that classic, slightly metal tinged style of prog, it's just on the right side of honest over pretentious. The longer they play the better it gets and they prove to be a shrewd choice for opening act as the crowd are certainly warmed up by the end.
Krankschaft follow and turn out to be one of the surprise finds of the weekend for many of the audience. Again the sound is excellent and that really adds to the overall performance. This is space rock at its core (and yes there is a strong link to Hawkwind via previous tenures in Inner City Unit) but with multiple twists and turns it never feels limited. As a three piece they are very impressive; fluid and well worked bass lines complement Steve Pond's effective and powerful riffs. The vocals and occasional harmony just soar above the tune and result in numerous bobbing heads and tapping feet. Krankschaft also play the after show party for a select band of punters and manage to run through the whole of their new album alongside some old favourites and receive further well deserved plaudits.
The audience were a lot more receptive than I feared, I was convinced they wanted symphonic rock heavy on the twiddlies, but they seemed to take to our racket readily enough. There's been loads of positive comments since we got back, a few people had us down as their fave band of the weekend which stunned me. The fest, or what we saw of it was great, I loved the location, the crew were brilliant, I wish we'd stayed longer. - Steve Pond - Krankschaft
Mostly Autumn are something of a marmite band, there are those that absolutely love their relatively lightweight approach to prog and yet they leave others rather cold. Whichever side of the fence you fall there is no denying that they are a superb band in terms of musicianship. They are tight, polished and you can hear every individual instrument at any given time. Olivia Sparnenn's vocals are as clear and strong as ever and contribute heavily to their distinctive style. They get a fantastic reception and play to their strengths, with enough classics like Evergreen to keep the faithful grinning. What Mostly Autumn lack though is any real charisma on stage. There is very little interaction with the crowd and very little movement on stage, so beyond the music itself, which operates within a fairly narrow tried and tested spectrum, there isn't much to go on.
Friday is when HRH Prog really gets into full swing with both stages boasting a full line up from early afternoon.
First up on the main stage is a return to the festival for Edgar Broughton. Once again it is just him, a chair and an acoustic guitar and despite the early hour of the day he pulls a good sized crowd. Broughton is a great guitarist, he creates such an effective and engaging sound that is totally captivating to both watch and listen to. His vocal style on the other hand is certainly an acquired taste and coupled with often dark and sombre lyrics, it can be a bit much. The crowd are appreciative however and Broughton acknowledges them with a broad grin.
Stage two is officially opened by London based five piece Kyros and they do a fine job of it. Whilst there is a good solid dose of prog in their set there are clear nods to metal and a hint of indie at times, all of which make for an interesting set. They get a good crowd and endear themselves to the assembled by clearly enjoying themselves throughout. Highlight of the set is the impressive and rather epic The Lamb, the Badger and the Bee, which really showcases every element of the band including three of the band taking it in turns to sing lead vocals. Well worth checking out.
Heather Findlay spent thirteen years in Mostly Autumn and her solo material is very much in a similar vein. A strong folk undercurrent permeates the set, which much like her former band, is very polished and well delivered. The real difference between the two is Findlay herself, who really puts in an engaging performance. Her voice is understated at times, befitting of the often gentle music but this just highlights it more when the band break into more upbeat rock numbers. Although it's several years since she left, there are a few nods to the past with the inclusion of the odd Mostly Autumn track but on this evidence Heather Findlay has moved onwards and upwards.
Third Quadrant make their third appearance at HRH Prog (since their reformation in 2012) a memorable one over on stage two. They overcome some technical issues to deliver a crowd winning set that is just full of big chords and sweeping synths. Thinking back to their debut here, the nerves were certainly evident but all of that has gone and their confidence really boosts the performance. Word has clearly spread that Third Quadrant are a band worth checking out as the crowd is good for a mid afternoon set and they get a great reaction after every track. The stand out track is the lengthy Dead Star, which really encapsulates all that Third Quadrant are about. The sound is good although it is noticeable that the synths/keys are a bit dominating and that guitarist Shaun's technical issues prevent his guitar from really cutting through the mix. Overall though it's another great performance, that is sure to have secured new followers to the cause.
For Third Quadrant this event is the highlight of the year, for gaining new fans, for seeing new music and meeting old friends. We had brilliant feedback from our set and we have to thank HRH for top quality support on stage. - Chris Hare - Third Quadrant
Hawklords start their set on the main stage in blistering fashion with a superb version of Bob Calvert's Aerospace Age Inferno. The sound on the main stage is great yet again and coupled with Hawklords psychedelic lightshow, it makes for a highly impressive opening. In the absence of Ron Tree, newly promoted frontman Jerry Richards does a solid job on vocals and guitar, whilst fellow ex-Hawkwind member Harvey Bainbridge continues to appear reinvigorated on keyboards and synth. The set is a mix of newer material from their highly acclaimed recent albums and some old Hawkwind/Hawklords classics. The more bluesy numbers don't work quite so well without the theatrics of Ron Tree but overall it's a well delivered set to large crowd.
L'Anima take up the mantle on stage two and perhaps don't get as big a crowd as they'd hoped, clashing at times with both Heather Findlay and Hawklords. They seem undeterred by this however and play as if they were on the main stage. Theirs is a complicated blend of melodic prog with distinct essence of metal; quite hard work in places, with complex riffs and time signatures but then breaking out into catchy choruses and melodies. There's plenty going on pretty much all the time in L'Anima's set and it's easy to see why they've been tagged as band to watch out for. Occassionally they let complexity get in the way of a good tune but there is definitely something about them that holds the attention.
Playing the HRH prog has been just great!, it is the right audience at that right time and right place for the occasion, we had a lot of fun and hopefully we can come back soon, we just need more festivals like this! Good stuff - Pedro - L'Anima
Caravan are possibly the quintessential English quirky prog band born out of the 1970s. They came to symbolise that whole Canterbury scene with nailed on classic albums like In the Land of Grey and Pink. It's evident that they certainly feel at home at HRH Prog and as ever turn in a relaxed and confident performance. They are so good at what they do and so used to doing it that more often than not it seems effortless, despite the complexity of the material. They can do no wrong here and if there was any doubt about that the crowd reaction tells you all you need to know.
Godsticks are another of those bands on the prog spectrum that you really need to work at in order to appreciate fully. This isn't relaxed easy listening prog, it's hard, edgy and thought provoking. Crunchy riffs and driving drums are countered by clean vocals and it's loud. Very loud. When Godsticks finish their set you almost feel as though you want them to play it again incase you missed something the first time round. They've been around a good few years now and it's clear that the knowledgeable HRH crowd are fully up to speed with Godsticks and respond accordingly. They really benefit from getting a clear 20 minutes when they are the only band playing following the end of Hawklords set on the main stage. The crowd noticeably swells and by the end is big enough to give Godsticks the send off the performance deserved.
We had a blast performing at HRH Prog VI! It was our first time playing at a festival like this and it's fair to say the amazing communal atmosphere on site made it a fun and memorable experience. Our set on stage 2 went very well and we had a great reaction from the ever-growing crowd; we can't thank everyone enough for the warm welcome! - Tom Price - Godsticks
Wheel follow Godsticks on stage two and it feels rather like a natural progression; a bit harder perhaps, more towards the Tool end of prog. There are some really nice vocal melodies here that soar above the music. It's catchy and engaging and gets plenty of heads nodding. What Wheel have is that odd killer moment that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up and that really sets them apart. We hear several comments over the weekend from punters that thought this one of the sets of the festival. For those wanting more, Wheel did it all over again at the after show party later that night.
Sonic Tapestry get the bum draw of the weekend, starting at the same time as the Von Hertzen Brothers and finishing five minutes before them! They needn't have worried however as they get a very healthy crowd throughout their set. Unknown to many before today, Sonic Tapestry deliver a superb set of classic sounding prog that just ticks every box. Great musicianship, enthusiasm and well crafted songs all work in their favour and they are visibly surprised (and clearly delighted) at the reaction they receive. The biggest cheer comes when singer and bassist Steve plucks his flute from it's holder; the prog purists love it and it's hard not to get carried along on for the ride. Those that missed the bands short acoustic set the following day really missed something special, including an excellent cover of Porcupine Tree's Lazarus.
We felt privileged to be part of such a brilliant festival and the reception we got from the audience literally blew us away! We couldn't have asked for any more. - John Byrne - Sonic Tapestry
The Von Hertzen Brothers are quite the darlings of HRH at the moment, this being their second visit to HRH Prog and having played here the previous weekend under another HRH banner. Therein lies part of the problem; there is much discussion over the weekend about whether they are a prog band or not, with many feeling they have gone too far towards being a straight rock band. For some proggers this matters but for many others (and judging from the huge crowd they got this was clearly the majority) they are just an exceedingly good band. They produce a massive sound and are so tight musically that it's hard to fault them. The harmonies are slick and always complimentary to the music and the stage banter is witty and endearing. The earlier material clearly has more of a prog core but how can you argue with a progressive band that progresses? Let's not go there. They absolutely nailed it tonight and the crowd loved it.
How do you follow the Von Hertzen Brothers? With Uriah Heep of course. This is old school classic rock with lashings of prog overtones and all the trappings of the 1970s in full flight. Long flowing hair, working the stage continually, pulling off all the classic poses, front man Bernie Shaw knows his craft and he's putting it all on show tonight. Guitarist Mick Box might be the only original member left in the band but it never feels like a one man show, they are very much the sum of their parts. They know what the crowd want and they don't disappoint. A fitting finale to the main stage on day one.
Over on stage two is the set we have been waiting for ever since hearing The David Cross Band at the HRH Prog V back in April. Led by ex-King Crimson member David Cross on electric violin, they also feature Van Der Graaf Generator saxophonist David Jackson. The interplay between the two throughout the set is highly entertaining, both musically and verbally. The music is just stunning from start to finish. It covers the whole spectrum from fast hard rock riffs and blistering solos, (both guitar and violin) to great catchy choruses, musical intricacy and Jackson playing two saxophones at the same time. They were great back in April but tonight is on another level. A definite contender for band of the festival and surely worthy of the main stage next time!
We absolutely love playing there. The event, the crew and the audience are absolutely wonderful. We also get to see and meet with many superb bands. We've played HRH Prog twice now and had wonderful experiences both times. We would very much like to play there many more times. - Paul Clark - David Cross Band
It's down to Threshold to close down Friday on stage two and what a job they do of it. The crowd is quite small when they start but as soon as Uriah Heap finish on the main stage, those not heading off for cocoa pile into stage two. Threshold are classic prog metal, slick lead guitar work abounds and the tunes are proper fist pumping anthems. They are so slick and veer between high intensity crunching rhythms and soaring guitars and keyboards at will. It might be late but there's certainly no drop in quality here. Friday night has become Saturday morning by the time they finish but nobody left standing is complaining.
We had an amazing time at HRH Prog, from the beautiful Welsh countryside to the beautiful progressive rock fans who stayed with us into the early hours singing along to their favourite Threshold tracks. Here's to the next one! - Threshold
It's been a full day with some outstanding performances and the usual wide variety of musical styles that fall under the prog banner. A bit of sleep and a veggie breakfast later and it's time for round two...
HRH Prog 6 Review