Once again a multitude of single-minded devotees convened at CAMP HRH in Pwllheli NORTH WALES this weekend for the UK’s pre-eminent 3 DAY PROG MUSIC EVENT.
After long trips via sparkling blue-waters and ice-coated mountains — the faithful had made their way to pay devotions and respect to PROG GODS both ancient and modern …
The classic rock outfit — HAMMERHEAD from Workington UK — kicked off the festival at the Bonga Wonga Show Room on Thursday evening with a set that could certainly be described as dynamically powerful — fizzulated even — although not necessarily progressive. Yet these guys possessed the raw edge to get things moving and the party started. It was a beglamored beginning.
Next was the technical prowess of the Birmingham trio OKTOPUS. They presented a brash mix of sexy jazz / funk and mathematized intellectual creativity. It was a big leap of faith for the revelers … to go from classic rock to genius-jazz-cookie in about an hour. Not everyone enjoyed the complexity … but there was enough sparkle on stage (and in the audience) to keep the mood going. We were reminded of the seventies folk-proggers Spirogyra.
There was double-necked bass complexification from British proggers THIRD QUADRANT as well as some sturdy compositions and honest keyboards. The band were mostly active in the 1980s and have seasoned well.
The irrepressible ARTHUR BROWN along with THIRD QUADRANT paved the way for the theme of the weekend … it soon became obvious the festival was to be a celebration of survival – even flourishing – we were assembled to toast these noble prog paladins who had defied the ravages of time to bring us our sounds…
The Welsh weather was ultra-sunny and warm as we headed into the Bonga Wonga on Friday. It was a shame that we were missing the rays… but THE FIERCE & THE DEAD were playing songs from their newly released MAGNET album.
SEPTEMBER CODE were not to be missed. This exceptional Greek band, singing in English, played a sequence of numbers which were often beautifullycrafted, of traditional character, and seemed spattered with gothic darkness.
The EDGAR BROUGHTON BAND were a successful outfit during the late 1960s psychedelic era. Slightly hallucinogenic, they were always controversial and a bit of an acquired taste. But “EDGAR” BROUGHTON is a calmer-cat now. His acoustic set at HRH PROG 4 was dotted with interesting fragments, delicious morsels, a little bit of clever bitchin’ and some very tasty tales.
Glasgow’s ABEL GANZ have been around since the 1980s too. They seemed reinvigorated, healthy and energetic.
CURVED AIR were one of two bands who had to pull out of the festival because of hardships (the other was SOLSTICE) — but PURSON slotted into the gap as snug as a pug in a velvet rug.
Sonja Kristina was a sexually powerful female entity back in her day (ask any member of the grey-hair army in the room and they will tell you!) PURSON’S founder and lead singer Rosalie Cunningham is built from much the same mold. When the Southend-on-Sea band last played at HAFAN Y MÔR they seemed exciting but a little haphazard and disconnected. Now they are shiny and sensational. Their new “Desire’s Magic Theatre ” release is highly desirable. And their show was a psychedelic cloud of trippy experimentalization and swiveling hippiness.
The Canterbury psychedelic rock and jazz scene were represented by SOFT MACHINE and CARAVAN. It’s amazing to think that “In the Land of Grey and Pink” was released 45 years ago! Despite drummer Richard Coughlan’s death in December 2013 the band have remained active.
The sun was hiding behind mist and mountains on Saturday. We emerged from floors and walls like bees from warming hives as we made way to the Mash & Barrel for a nice cup of tea and SCHNAUSER (first on) who had driven up from Bristol UK. Their crazy antics and psych pop tendencies together with art-school idiocy (songs about PPI misselling?) reminded us of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dahs back in the Seventies. We enjoyed bassist Holly McIntosh’s song though and their generally chaotic hijinks.
EMPTY YARD EXPERIMENT came all the way from Dubai. Consequently they felt the cold! They were one of five bands who played special unplugged sessions in the VIP bar . [The others were: Hammerhead’s Buzz Elliot who performed an amazing one-man version of Tubular Bells using his guitar and loops, and also September Code, Abel Ganz and MESSENGER.]
The Empty Yard Experiment played some bruising post-rock completed with lots of thoughtful tension running in spicy ribbons through each piece.
Meanwhile, up at the main stages of Pwllheli the clans from the Sci Fi and Fantasy worlds had gathered to celebrate the Seventh Sci-fi Weekender.
We took a walk over the railway bridge to see their costumes and get in some much-needed Jedi training before returning to the progressive stage for the HRH House Band THE ENID.
Their DUST tour has been amazingly successful and this was to be just one of a handful of shows to include Robert John Godfrey before he retires gracefully (from live rock) in April. He will hand the reigns of the ENID over to vocalist and “New Freddie” prog-Star Joe Payne. The audience were transported and beguiled by the incredible passion of the performance. For those who had not seen THE ENID before, this was an eye-opening experience.
Next was FOCUS. The DUTCH band formed by yodelling flautist and Hammond organeer THIJS VAN LEER have made a career out of one album “Moving Waves” (they created many others but this is the only one that folk remember.)
Almost everyone had a copy of Moving Waves back in 1971. Most punters purchased the disc to get the extended version of “Hocus Pocus” but went on to enjoy Side Two even more . And so we were delighted when the band played the entire movement for our pleasure. Naturally, the crowd went nuts for the 1973 single “Sylvia” and many punters commented afterwards that FOCUS put on the best show of the festival.
It might sound a bit churlish to suggest that there was too much jazz-flute and not enough rock n’ roll in IAN ANDERSON’S headlining set after FOCUS .
But don’t forget, we had already had the full Ron Burgundy from VAN LEER. The “Tull” show (if you can even call it that) was filled with small portions of recognizable songs … and plenty of jazzy interludes.
The fantastic festival came to a close in style with the fabuluxe VON HERTZEN BROTHERS [they played HRH PROG ONE back in Rotherham] They are from Helsinki in Finland.
If anyone is ever going to make another superlative prog-rock single that is able to survive in the pop charts — then it is gonna be the lads from Von Hertzen (or maybe Steven Wilson.) They tend to create loud ‘n’ fast prog-pop fantasies. It was just the right kind of restoration and refreshment we needed before daring to go back out into the icy mountain air.
What a show! What a party!
Thanks to all the organisers and artists for putting so much work into making this the ultimate prog rock weekend! And a special thanks must go to the ever-slaving staff at the Mash and Barrel who served good food and cool beer all weekend to an insatiable army of hungregarious and slightly hung-over patrons.
Next year’s event will be ‘stand-alone’ at Hafan y Môr [16-19 March 2017] info at: http://www.hrhprog.com.