John Lodge of The Moody Blues, releases B Yond – The Very Best Of on 27th September through BMG Records.

John Lodge, bass guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter for the iconic Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame 2018 inductees, The Moody Blues releases B Yond – The Very Best Of on 27th September through BMG Records.  The album will be available initially as a CD or Digital Audio. A double vinyl gatefold (180g) will be released in November.

You can pre-order the album here:  https://johnlodge.tmstor.es/ 

B Yond features 3 new recordings, 2 new remixes, and other tracks chosen by John as he revisits the very best of his career with the Moody Blues together with his solo work.
For this album Lodge went back into the studio to totally recreate Street Café(Evening) Time to Get Away and Legend of a Mind, with the wonderful musicians of the 10,000 Light Years Band.  The tracks were co-produced by John and Alan Hewitt, and features John on his original Fender Precision Bass which he recorded all of the classic Moody Blues songs on.  He is joined by Hewitt on keyboards, Duffy King on guitars, Billy Ashbaugh on drums and Jason Charboneau on Cello.

The result is a fresh modern feel whilst still retaining the original magic of these songs. Legend of a Mind was particularly important for John to include on this album as it is his tribute to his friend Ray Thomas. The original 24 track recordings of ‘Say You Love Me’ and ‘Summer Breeze, Summer Song’, were also remixed and remastered to create a 2019 feel to these songs that were so much part of John’s first solo ventures.

Lodge states: “With this album I want to share with you my ‘deep cuts’ – songs that I’ve wanted to revisit, and songs which have become an important part of my life. It is this which has taken meback into the studio, to share with you my music and record again with my Fender Precision Bass.I hope you too can join me on this journey… B Yond” 

Full Tracklisting for B Yond – The Very Best Of:
1.  I’m Just A Singer (In A Rock And Roll Band) (Live) 2.  Summer Breeze, Summer Song (2019 Remix) 3.  In My Mind 4.  Street Café (2019) 5.  (Evening) Time To Get Away (2019)6.  Saved By The Music (Live) 7.  Legend Of A Mind (2019) 8.  Say You Love Me (2019 Remix) 9.  Get Me Out Of Here 10. Gemini Dream (Live) 11. Isn’t Life Strange (Live) 12. Ride My See-Saw (Live)

Single Review – Rise – Radio Silence – by Progradar

Rise – Radio Silence

Radio Silence, the second single from upcoming album ‘Strangers’ is a bitter/sweet and raw account of being cut out or ghosted and alludes to some gut wrenching references, such as a woman whose parachute is cut by her husband, a biblical scapegoat and the dark fate of the lifeboat keepers of Small’s Lighthouse.

R I S E (aka Jo Beth Young) is an English songwriter whose relentlessly authentic songs and mesmeric voice cut deep into the fabric of human frailty with a visionary sound swaying hypnotically between dream folk and progressive grit; at times dark but always beautiful.

Since the release of her debut album ‘An Abandoned Orchid House’ in 2018 (under the longer moniker of Talitha Rise) she has been gathering international acclaim and support from BBC 6, BBC Introducing Devon, and the legendary ECHOES Radio in the USA who made her the number 1 album of the year 2018.

Establishing her unique sound early on in Ireland cutting her teeth on the folk circuit, she returned to the UK and met her long-term collaborator Martyn Barker (Shriekback, Goldfrapp, Robert Plant) and caught the attention of Chris Difford (Squeeze) who sang on her debut EP Blue.

Rise’s haunting and mesmerising vocal is the mainstay and backbone of this incredibly moving track. The ethereal and waif-like voice has you completely enthralled in this bitter-sweet tale and the raw, pared back music is a perfect accompaniment.

There’s a painfully wistful overtone to the whole song, it’s beauty wrought from a tender agony and one that cuts deep to the bone. As the track comes to a close you are left almost bereft but with an urge to hear more, testimony to the wonderful art of the songwriter.

“Radio Silence
A new kind of violence.
Who took the leaves out of the trees?
A consequence you cannot believe is radio silence.
A special kind of violence.
A consequence you can defend.
Betrayal of your only friend.”

Raw, painful but beautifully mesmerising, Rise once again shows that she is a serious talent and one that the world is waking up to and taking notice of…

Released 22nd August 2019

Pre-order from iTunes here: https://music.apple.com/us/album/radio-silence-single/1474912486

Progradar Recommends

As most of you will know, I’ve taken a back seat for the last six months when it has come to reviewing albums. Now, while I may occasionally step back into the ring and write a full review, going forward I will be recommending a few albums with , hopefully, a few well chosen and pithy words of description.

I am starting with a round dozen of albums new to me over the previous six months or so and I hope you will enjoy them as much as I have…

Avandra – Descender

Released on April 26th, Descender, the sophomore album from Puerto Rican prog-metallers Avandra, is an incredibly mature and complex record full of thunderous riffs, intelligent vocals and catchy hooks. In a genre well known for formality, this act with the most humble of beginnings have unleashed something truly different and special and with an impact similar to prog metal legends Dream Theater’s own career defining second album Images and Words.


Avandra – Even/You
This Winter Machine – A Tower of Clocks

A Tower Of Clocks is the long awaited second album from multi award-winning UK progressive rock band This Winter Machine. Almost 2 years in the making, this new release has the band tackling universal themes such as time, loss and identity within a loose conceptual framework.

With a feel of early Genesis and Fish era Marillion, the band haven’t strayed too far from the accepted progressive rock path but this album has been created flawlessly and with obvious affection and the musicianship on show is second to none. The impressive songwriting weaves captivating tales that draw the listener into the story and keep them there as willing companions on a spectacular musical journey.

I liked it that much that I bought the vinyl…

Released 24th June 2019

This Winter Machine – Justified
Our Destiny – Awakening

Our Destiny is the brainchild of Vikram Shankar (keyboardist of American progressive bands Redemption and Lux Terminus), whose piano playing on Awakening is paired with the angelic vocals of his partner Lauren Nolan. Awakening showcases the duo’s unique synthesis of genres and stylistic approaches, with emotive progressive rock married to pop, singer-songwriter, alternative and electronic flavors.

Vikram is a multi-talented musician of considerable skill and he shows his lighter side on this most graceful of recordings. A collection of ethereal, wistful songs that lend themselves to Lauren’s spectacular vocals perfectly. In a world full of chaos and anger, this wonderful record delivers some calm, elegance and decorum. An injection of peace into your soul, truly breathtaking.

Released 21st June 2019

none other – s/t

None Other is a prog rock power trio from Volos, Greece who have released three albums since 2012. The brainchild of Spyros Charmanis, this eponymous third album is a sometimes brutal voyage that leaves no mountain unmoved and no stone unturned in its compelling forty minute running time.

Thunderous guitar and monstrous bass combine with the mighty drums and authoritarian vocals to deliver an addictive aural assault. Not for the faint of heart but a truly forceful piece of music that is definitely worth your time and attention.

Released 6th May 2019

Neal Morse – Jesus Christ The Exorcist

“Jesus Christ – The Exorcist” is a monumental project in Neal Morse’s already impressive discography. A Progressive Rock Opera 10 years in the making, it was written and produced by Morse and includes performances by Neal and an all-star cast of vocalists and musicians. Featuring about two hours of music that encompass all the spectrums and genres Neal Morse is known for, the album will, of course, tell the Story of Stories. 

Now I know Neal’s religious leanings do put a lot of people off but if you can get past that and just listen to the incredible music then you will be privy to an incredible musical journey full of wonderful pomposity, amazing songs and just incredible musicianship. Whatever you say about the man, he is one incredible musician and storyteller and this Rock Opera is a remarkable and thoroughly enjoyable roller coaster ride.

Released 14th June 2019

Bruce Springsteen – Western Stars

Yes, I know, it’s not exactly progressive rock but then that’s not all I listen to anyway. Western Stars is a wonderful album and one that everyone should have in their collection, it is that good! Forget the fact that it’s a Bruce Springsteen record, that really is irrelevant here, what it is is a truly memorable collection of beautiful songs that show a calm and reflective side to The Boss.

Take the title track, you will not hear a more captivating four and a half minutes of music this year, believe me. Chasing Wild Horses, Moonlight Motel, Stones and more, thirteen tracks of perfect Americana and country music that some are calling Springsteen’s best release in years. Now I can’t comment on that but I can tell you that it is currently my album of the year and it will take something incredible to move it from that spot, a truly special release.

Released 14th June 2019

Magic Pie – Fragments Of The 5th Element

Fragments of the 5th Element is Magic Pie’s long awaited 5th album, made up from 5 tracks  showcasing the band’s very diverse influences. On this record, they have tried to steer clear of the sterile perfection which modern prog bands have a tendency to get caught up in – and have gone for a slightly more unpolished sound, a bit rough in the edges. A little more ‘bite’.

From the incredibly infectious and upbeat opening salvo of The Man Who Had It All to the mighty bombast of the epic twenty three minute album closer The Hedonist Magic Pie have delivered joyous symphonic prog perfection. Epic, energetic melodic and sometimes heavy  prog rock with splendid vocal harmonies and great musicianship, this album has it all!

Released 30th August 2019

Magic Pie – The Man Who Had It All
Norrie Mcculloch – Compass

Norrie McCulloch is a singer-songwriter and award-winning visual artist originally from Ayrshire he currently lives and works out of of Stirling, Scotland. McCulloch’s songs are a tangle up of folk, indie and country influences that manage to stay true to his Scottish roots, equating to a style that offers a welcome touch of originality.

Compass is this talented musician’s fourth full length album and builds on his unique blend of Caledonian Americana with exquisite songwriting, plaintive, heartfelt vocals and pared back instruments to deliver his most fulfilling and accomplished release yet. There’s a simple, stark beauty to these tracks, a feeling of a heart laid bare, a truly emotive collection of tunes that leave you emotionally spent.

Released 31st May 2019

Norrie Mcculloch – Road Sign
Marco Ragni – Oceans Of Thought

“Oceans of Thought” was originally called “The Merchant of Eternal Youth” but during the time of the recordings Marcohad some personal problems and was a little depressed. So the songs, the cover but above all the lyrics, have undergone a change because the music comes from what he has inside his mind and soul. 

“So this album talks about the difficulties that life sometimes brings us, but also talks about how to try to overcome them. It’s a record that I care a lot about because it talks a lot about me.”

I’ve always been a big fan of this outrageously talented musician who delivers some intelligent and thought provoking progressive rock with an undertone of eastern promise. Care is lavished on every aspect of the recording and Marco enlists the help of some highly talented individuals to deliver his most intense and complete album yet, a thoroughly engrossing achievement that rewards your complete attention.

Check out Open My Arms with Norwegian guitar maestro Bjørn Riis, a contender for song of the year.

Released 21st June 2019

Broken Parachute – Living Dangerously

Living Dangerously is the band’s second release, coming six years after the first and is described as a “Sonic cocktail on the rocks blending equal parts classic, progressive jazz and blues and cheekily spiking with whatever they found lurking at the back of the cupboard…”

There’s bits of King Crimson, bits of Van Der Graff Generator and a whole lot of intelligent, sharp-suited songwriting that has gone into this album and its stays just on right side of being too clever for itself. Broken Parachute craft some impressive tunes on this release and its another album that requires a lot of you time and attention to completely reward but, trust me, it is worth the effort. The blues soaked guitar and jazz infused keyboards are utter works of art and are worth the entry prize alone.

Released 31st May 2019

Broken Parachute – Living Dangerously
Gandalf’s Fist – The Clockwork Prologue

How do you follow the monumental three disc wonder that was Gandalf’s Fist’s 2016 epic The Clockwork Fable? With a two disc prologue, that’s how!

The Clockwork Prologue is the first release for Gandalf’s Fist as a six-piece and returns the listener once more to the dark and steamy city of Cogtopolis, a city beneath the surface, the once safe shelter for post-apocalyptic mankind, now a microcosmos following its own crude laws, rules and religions.

I called The Clockwork Fable, “A mesmerising musical masterpiece epic in scope and utterly breathtaking in its delivery” and this companion piece takes what the first release gave us and adds to it with the bands’ singular flair for drama, theatre and the spectacular. The stellar cast of voice actors, including Mark Benton and Bill Fellows, return to give a familiar feel to proceedings but its the musical talents of the band and the ever impressive vocals of Keri Farish that are the real draw.

The Clockwork Prologue isn’t meant to reinvent the wheel, it is meant to add to the wonderment of the original album and Gandalf’s Fist have delivered that in spades.

Released 1st July 2019

Gandalf’s Fist – The Lamplighter (Overture)
Djam Karet – A Sky Full Of Stars For A Roof

A Sky Full of Stars For A Roof is Djam Karet’s 19th album. The group was formed back in 1984, and this is a celebration of the band’s 35 years together.

Combining analog and modular synthesizers with numerous acoustic instruments from around the world, Djam Karet is exploring new territory on this psychedelic journey of discovery. Harmonium, dilruba, mbira, udu and other exotic instruments, help bring a warm vibe to this highly melodic and visionary work. Swirling electronic soundscapes expand to reveal new acoustic environments of exotic goodness.

With an almost spiritual feel to the intricate music, this collection of tunes has a raw feel, almost primeval, literally music that has come from the Earth. This band always produce thought provoking pieces that take the listener out of any comfort zone and take them on an intensely melodic musical crusade and A Sky Full of Stars For A Roof is surely the pinnacle of what Djam Karet have been producing together over all of their 35 years as a band.

Released 15th April 2019

Djam Karet – Beyond The Frontier

So, there you have it. The first in a relatively regular feature on my recommendations. See you soon for the next Progradar Recommends!!

Review – The Gift – Antenna – by Leo Trimming

Antenna, the diverse fourth album from The Gift signals a significant change in direction and style for this London based band, driven by a fresh and accessible impetus. In a recent interview Mike Morton of The Gift summarised their new album as focusing on the ‘Difficulty of being Human’, and added that it was about ‘communication missing the mark’ which he encapsulated in the metaphor ‘Broken Plugs and Sockets’.

This is an ambitious and brave project, leaving behind their previous leanings towards more ornate ‘prog’ sounds so one has to ask did they succeed in the communication hitting the mark and connecting?

What is very clear right from the start is that this is a band that has chosen not to stand still or remain in a comfort zone. We are Connected is a striking opening song, with slight echoes of INXS, riding on an insistent guitar riff and threaded throughout with a popping synth backing, indicative of the subject of electronic obsession with social media. Mike Morton sounds angry as he spits out:

A myriad of souls, We have abandoned all controls,

Naked to the core, exposing our emotion

We are connected – we are one – we are connected

The songwriter, David Lloyd, explained in the same TPA interview :

‘It’s about the way in which people have sold their soul to social media… the way people can be damaged or manipulated without really realising it, just through participating in it. It’s got a corrupting side to it.’

This opening is important as a cracking introduction to the album but also as a very clear marker that this is The Gift like you’ve never really heard them before, and they have moved a long way from the expansive and mythically influenced previous album ‘Why the Sea is Salt’. If that album’s lush oil painting like artwork by Mark Buckingham reflected their epic musical canvasses of ornate, multi-layered passages, then Antenna’s more angular, ‘Metropolis’ film graphic based artwork by Brian Mitchell is indicative of the new album’s more direct but carefully constructed contemporary songs. For instance, there is an impressively flowing but understated guitar solo by David Lloyd in We are Connected, but whereas previously it may have been more lengthy and elaborate, on Antenna it is brief but consequently stands out all the more on a song filled with memorable hooks and straightforward lyrics.

The Gift are blessed with a combination of four songwriters in Mike Morton, David Lloyd, Gabriele Baldocci and Leroy James, who all bring something different to the table. Long Time Dead is a song which has appeared occasionally in The Gift’s live set in recent times and this ‘road testing’ has probably helped hone it into an outstanding song. Song writer Leroy James evokes a Wild West atmosphere with a Spaghetti Western type harmonica intro and then we are transported by atmospheric distorted wah wah guitar sounds. Evocatively played ensemble playing conveys a swagger befitting the feel of the song. Gabriele Baldocci even struts into the musical saloon with a dash of bar room piano. Morton carries the ‘carpe diem’ no regrets message of the song perfectly:

So come now raise your head – you’re a long time dead

Love the life you’ve led – you’re a long time dead

In contrast the following song Snowfall exemplifies the differing aspects that characterise The Gift. Over a delicate piano backing which brings to mind images of softly falling snow Morton touchingly sings about a lost relationship. Lyrically and melodically this is simply heart-breaking, and it is imbued with pure emotion and truth. Similarly, the instrumental piece Hand in Hand, the title of which echoes a Snowfall lyric, is also a thing of lovely subtlety, featuring guitarist Lloyd alongside bassist Stef Dickers, showing his versatility on acoustic guitar.

Snowfall and Hand in Hand bookend the far more angular piece Far Stranger, with a staccato, robotic feel appropriate for its subject matter of synthetic humans, with references to ‘Rachel and Roy’ (of the film ‘Bladerunner’) and ‘Pinocchio’. This song does not fully connect for this reviewer – it feels like a song which The Gift would have expanded upon in previous albums to convey the full story, but to me here it sounds like rather a lot of ideas and narrative squeezed in to a shorter piece. This is disappointing as it’s a fascinating theme, possibly fitting an earlier abandoned idea for the album title about being ‘Almost Human but not quite’, and the song and theme may have benefited from a more ambitious, expansive setting. On Far Stranger it is almost as if The Gift were caught between two stools in their transition from their previous ‘proggier’ style into a more succinct approach.

As if to underline that thought the extended piece Changeling is altogether more successful in conveying a narrative as it tells the story of the rise and fall of a politician corrupted by power in three distinct phases, which could easily be separate songs in themselves. This treatment gives the music and narrative time to develop and breath… but this is no extravagant, lush 70’s style ‘prog’ extravaganza. The sparse synth and programmed percussion of opening section A Saviour’s Shoes echoes 80’s era Japan (surely a good thing) with a finely judged vocal from Morton introducing a politician starting out with sincere intentions.  This fascinating opening descends in to much darker territory on the much more ‘rock’ oriented The Shadow Behind part with Neil Hayman in spectacular form on powerful and precise drumming alongside Dickers’ deft use of bass in the driving sections or more contemplative passages. Baldocci throws in a great twisting synth solo to convey the insidious effect ambition has upon the politician’s initial integrity. This outstanding piece then takes a definite ‘left turn’ in the closing Finest Hour section which is a pure glam rock stomp with Morton, acting out the fall of the politician in to total corruption, at his most dramatically camp on vocals and Lloyd and James on great form on guitars. The Gift premiered this section as a stand-alone song at the Fusion Festival in March and it went down a storm with the crowd, getting them to their feet. Curiously, it could be argued that this nearly ten minute piece demonstrates that The Gift remain  very much in the mainstream ‘Prog’ world, but trust me, you won’t think that when you hear it. It’s an interesting melding of different musical styles not normally associated with classic rock tropes, skilfully moulded in to a song cycle conveying the changes of the main character.

Perhaps as a ‘palate cleanser’ after such an extended and thematically dark piece The Gift follow it up with the optimistic rock/pop of Back to Eden, which rolls along brightly. This is in stark contrast to When you are old, with words by poet W.B Yeats. This slow and sombre piece of reminiscence and regret has hints of ‘Low’ era Bowie – some may love it’s melancholic atmosphere,  some may find it a rather depressing drone… but one has to wonder about it’s sequencing directly after the remarkably rocking Wild Roses.

The highlight of Antenna for this reviewer is definitely Wild Roses, which announces itself with ‘Art of Noise’ like synth effects and percussion before plunging straight in to pure Thin Lizzy territory. Leroy James and David Lloyd really rock out on the guitars and Dickers and Hayman thunder along brilliantly in the rhythm section, whilst Baldocci throws in occasional keyboard stabs and synth runs… but the real surprise is Mike Morton’s vocals – he really throws himself in to a powerful ‘Rock’ vocal, with more than a little resemblance to Phil Lynott! The Gift truly excel in a live setting and one can only imagine just how much they will rock the audiences when they pull that one out of the drawer.

Antenna concludes appropriately with Closer about relationships, which commences with bright jangling guitars over a cool bass line and Hayman in almost funky form on drums in the Where all Roads Divide section. However, for this reviewer curiously for an album which focuses so much on connection this is a song which does feel a little disconnected as that opening section quite suddenly jars in to the rocking instrumental Out of Reach section with synth and guitar soloing. It almost feels like The Gift felt compelled to pull out some ‘Prog Stops’ before the end of the album. As a section alone it sounds fine, but it did not flow naturally from the first part. Similarly, after a significant pause the emotional Closer finale does not flow on from the previous passage. Nevertheless, as a piece in itself Closer impressively builds and builds with delicately picked, almost bluegrass guitar, organ and then a lovely fluid piano. A lyrical soaring guitar solo elevates the piece to even greater heights as Morton proclaims:

If our journeys ever synchronize, Let’s be thankful for whatever, Brings our Universe together

We can be Closer…. Closer…. We can be Closer

On this album Closer feels ironically a little disjointed but as a live piece it may mature, and the excellent closing section will certainly stir the soul.

Well, as asked earlier, did The Gift succeed in communicating and connecting?

For this reviewer the answer is a qualified ‘Yes’.

There are some truly outstanding pieces on this album, but for me some songs did not quite hit the mark or fully connect. In essence some of the ‘plugs’ did not seem to quite fit some of the ‘plugs’. In truth The Gift were never a ‘full-on’ ornate ‘Prog’ band, and each album had more accessible, less musically ambitious and unashamedly ‘catchy’ pieces alongside their epic forays. However, the clear main direction was down well-trodden progressive rock paths, and with classic songs like The Willows they really did it so well. In contrast Antenna feels like a band trying to break out of what may have started to feel like a pigeon-holing musical straightjacket. There may also be a sense of liberation for the wide range of song writing talent within the band, which has added a wholly different and fascinating range of musical colours to their spectrum. The great qualities that marked out The Gift previously are still there in the DNA of their material but maybe inevitably this album does have the feel of a ‘Transition’ album. Sometimes in a transition process older ways of doing things do not always sit comfortably together with new paths. However, that is not a bad thing – transition means growth and ‘progression’ in the true sense of the word. The Gift should be commended for having had the balls to significantly change their sound – as Morton said in a recent interview that change may ‘piss some people off and disappoint’ but ‘that’s just the way it is…’ It will be fascinating to see where they go from here.

The hope is that their previous fans remember the core of what made The Gift worth following before and remain on board, whilst the undoubted high quality of the different range of largely more accessible songs on this album also justifiably attracts other new fans who like … well just rock music, whatever the label.

Antenna sends out a strong signal from The Gift – they do not stand still so leave your preconceptions at the door, open your minds and explore their changing world.

Released 28th June 2019

Order from Bad Elephant Music here:

https://thegiftuk.bandcamp.com/album/antenna

John Wetton Boxset and Book Announced

John Wetton

The John Wetton Estate proudly announces work has commenced on a solo career box set featuring expanded editions of his iconic albums and a lavish hardback book. 12th June 2019 would have been John’s 70th birthday. 

Since John Wetton’s passing in January 2017, his family, friends and management have been working on finding a fitting tribute to such a remarkable man and iconic artist.  The result of this labour of love is a box set entitled “An Extraordinary Life”, dedicatedentirely to John’s solo career.  The project has the full support of John’s wife, Lisa, and his son, Dylan, who are wholly involved with compiling the contents.    

The set will include definitive, remastered editions of each of his six solo albums, with bonus tracks and artwork selected by John towards the end of his lifetime, and in some cases expanded to two discs:

  1. Caught in the Crossfire
  2. Battle Lines
  3. Arkangel
  4. Sinister
  5. Rock of Faith
  6. Raised in Captivity

   An Extraordinary Life will also feature a lavish hardback “coffee table” book written by one of John’s friends, the journalist Nick Shilton.  Nick has interviewed dozens of John’s collaborators, peers and associates, both in and out of the music business, as well as friends from his childhood and through all eras of his career, collecting a multitude of exclusive, poignant and wonderful stories along the way.

This box set – a “must have” for every John Wetton fan – will also feature high resolution video tributes as well as unique bonus material.  The Official John Wetton website will launch a dedicated webpage entitled “An Extraordinary Life” which will become an ever-evolving digital gathering place for the inner circle of John’s fans.  

An Extraordinary Life will be completed during 2019 and initially be exclusively available via Burning Shed ahead of a wider scale retail release. The Burning shed store is now at https://burningshed.com/store/john-wetton

Coinciding with John’s 70th birthday today, Asia begins a 28 date USA tour as special guests of Yes on their Royal Affair Tour, which will premiere tonight in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.  Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy and John Lodge from the Moody Blues will also be on the bill.  Asia’s new line-up comprises Carl Palmer, Geoff Downes Billy Sherwood, Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal and a special guest appearance by Steve Howe.  John Wetton’s great friend Roger Dean will have an exhibition at each show, including iconic Asia artwork.

To celebrate John’s birthday, and as a teaser to the box set, we release a never before heard fly-on-the-wall of an early Asia rehearsal, recorded exactly 38 years ago today on June 12, 1981.  Ricky Nelson has lovingly nurtured this Holy Grail recording, and has created a collage slide-show of rare photos through the decades to remind you of John’s genius.  The question arises – what song did this morph into?

Further, Ricky has curated a special video recording of John’s last ever tour singing Asia songs, with the Rock Meets Classic arena tour in March 2015, where John delivers a supreme performance, one of his finest ever versions of “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes”.  This will be a special release today at 12noon UK time from John’s twitter page [see below].

Dylan Wetton says: “This is helping me come to terms with the loss of my Dad, and is opening my eyes to his genius.  It is truly a labour of love”.

Lisa Wetton says: “When you open your box set for the first time, you will know that every person involved with its creation was touched deeply by John Wetton. You will be playing the music that revealed his personal life story, and you will be perpetuating a legacy that was meant to be a shining light for everyone. The physical light may have flickered out on January 31, 2017, but there is an extra radiant star aglow in the firmament today. It is my hope that when you listen, you will still feel the warmth from that light, and hear the Lion roar for generations to come”.

Official Website: www.johnwetton.co.uk

Remembering John Wetton Twitter: https://twitter.com/officialjwetton Remembering John Wetton Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/1377795682293955/

EP Review – ‘Antique Lands: OER Live at ArcTangent’ by Only Echoes Remain

Antique Lands: OER Live at ArcTanGent is the first official release of new material since Only Echoes Remain’s 2017 debut The Exigent, and features several live versions of new songs that will eventually feature on the band’s sophomore studio album (due next year), as well as a powerful version of Exigent ‘fan-favourite’ Aurora.  

Guitarist Arran Oakes told me, “The significance for us is that, being the first official release since the album, it’s a big statement for us since we think we’ve evolved quite a lot musically/compositionally since writing the Exigent over 2016/17. If the Exigent was more post-rock with some prog tinges, our new material is a lot more progressive, with much more elements of post-metal and math-rock, while still retaining those signature OER moments of reflection and euphoria that does tend to come with post-rock. I don’t think we’d call ourselves a post-rock band any more though, definitely more contemporary prog with post-metal influences.”

Following on from the sweeping, monstrous soundscapes and riffs of The Exigent, the new material shows an increasing maturity from this intelligent, thought provoking band.

With as many crushing guitars and riffs as moments of blissful euphoria, the new material demonstrates that OER have picked up the baton from their debut album The Exigent and truly run with it, honing their sound to a tighter, more progressive and more explosive peak.

Their sound on this record is a welcome evolution from the more traditional post-rock of The Exigent, now being far more in-your-face and compositionally diverse – contemporary prog with more than a little post-metal thrown in for good measure, while still retaining those moments of calm melodic euphoria from their post-rock roots.

That’s not to take away from an utterly blistering live version of perennial favourite Aurora which literally raises the roof but the brooding genius of recent single Monolith certainly showcases their sophisticated development, along with the dark and delicious I Am Ozymandias and the pulsating, hard-edged post-rock of Eclipse, another song that fans are sure to take to their hearts.

It all augurs well for Only Echoes Remain’s forthcoming second album, due in 2020. It’s certainly a release I am really looking forward to!

Released 24th May 2019

Order the EP from: https://onlyechoesremain.bandcamp.com/album/antique-lands-oer-live-at-arctangent

KING CRIMSON CELEBRATE 50TH ANNIVERSARY with 3 UK SHOWS at the ROYAL ALBERT HALL 18TH, 19TH & 20TH JUNE

King Crimson celebrate their 50th Anniversary this year. As part of these celebrations they will perform a trio of shows at the Royal Albert Hall on 18th, 19th and 20th June and special concerts across three continents, including both festivals and headline shows.

Tickets are available here: https://www.dgmlive.com/tours?liveshow=on
Often acclaimed as one of the best live bands in the world, King Crimson has constantly re-invented itself throughout its 50-year existence. Having reformed in 2014 the current seven-piece line-up features Robert Fripp (guitar), Mel Collins (saxophones & flute), Tony Levin (bass, stick and backing vocals), Jakko Jakszyk (guitar & vocals) and drummers Gavin Harrison, Pat Mastelotto and Jeremy Stacey – who doubles on keyboards.

This very special group of musicians has allowed the band, for the very first time, to access material from throughout King Crimson’s long history. In fact, since 2014, they have played a large number of historic pieces which have never previously been performed live, as well as old favourites, and their own newly written material.

The shows are regularly around three hours long, with a setlist newly written each day by Robert Fripp.
Founding member Robert Fripp who has been a constant throughout the band’s history recently observed the Anniversary with an exclusive one-day event in London which was attended by worldwide media. The event included a presentation by film director, Toby Amies who is currently editing his forthcoming King Crimson documentary Cosmic F*kc which will be released later this year.

The latest in KC’s acclaimed boxed set series: Heaven and Earth – 18CDs, 2DVD-a, 4Blu-Ray – covering King Crimson 1997 – 2008 and including much unreleased audio/video/Hi-res stereo & 5.1 surround audio in the band’s most comprehensive boxed set release to date.

Also released on the same day, drawn from the boxed set:
The ReconstruKction of Light – CD/DVD-a set featuring the 1997 album in original stereo/radically remixed/part rerecorded new stereo & 5.1 Surround sound plus bonus material – all in hi-res audio on the dvd-a
The Power to Believe – CD/DVD-a set featuring the 1003 album in original stereo/expanded mix/& 5.1 Surround sound plus bonus material – all in hi-res audio on the dvd-a.

Completing the availability of all of King Crimson’s studio albums from 1969 – 2003 in hi-res stereo & 5.1 surround sound.
More releases follow later in the year.

2018’s Top 10 Albums – Part 2 – James R Turner’s Picks

Blimey, as we hurtle towards the season finale of 2018, with 2019 ready and waiting in the wings, it’s that time of year for an arbitrary jog through some of the albums that have made my year. Lists being lists these, of course, are totally personal. My Christmas list, for instance, looks nothing like Lord Progradar’s (being mostly filled with 5.1 box sets and socks, whilst Lord Progradar probably wants more vinyl and lycra shorts).

There have been plenty of albums that were close to getting into this list and, of course, the top ten could easily become a top twenty or thirty and before you know it I’d have run out of space and, indeed, time. I am also, of course, unable to include any BEM albums in here, as that would be a big old conflict of interest, and we don’t want that to colour any perception you may have.

Instead here’s my top ten, albums that have resonated withme this year, and albums that have made the commute so much better.

The Pineapple Thief – Dissolution

I have seen these fine chaps, led by the brilliant Bruce Soord, a couple of times here at Bristol, having really got into them with their ‘Magnolia’ album. For their last album ‘Your Wilderness’, they were joined by an up and coming drummer, a chap called Gavin Harrison, you might have heard of him?

Luckily he decided to hang around and join the band for ‘Dissolution’, which, as I said earlier in the year, is the sound of a band reborn and energised and whilst the album has its dark moments and bleak lyrics, musically it is one of the best they have made, and like all the best albums, flows perfectly.

No dipping in and out of tracks here, this is a journey, musically and lyrically and Bruce again has shown why The Pineapple Thief are one of the finest bands out there, and one who you must see live.

The Pineapple Thief – Far Below


http://www.kscopemusic.com/artists/thepineapplethief/

She Makes War – Brace For Impact

Matt Stevens pointed me in the direction of Bristol multi-instrumentalist and performer Laura Kidd, who I’ve been lucky enough to see perform at Bristol’s legendary Harbour fest, as well as at iconic venues like the Louisiana and the Thekla, and she always knows how to put on a show.

This, like her last album ‘Direction of Travel’ was funded by Laura’s fan family on pledge music and is, simply, her finest album yet.

Laura has no big label backing and everything she does is pushing the boundaries of DIY music making for the better. It’s a testament to her creativity and focused vision that she inspires so many fans to join heron her musical journey.

From the autobiographical rock of London Bites to the haunting beauty of Then The Quiet Came, Laura as a songwriter, evolves with each album she makes. The opening single, the crunching rock of Devastate Me being a statement of intent, as well as a fantastic album opener.

If you haven’t heard She Makes War then I suggest you bookmark this article here, nip off to her Bandcamp page where she still has copies of the ‘Brace for Impact’ vinyl available, have a listen, and if you like what you hear (and I guarantee you will), you can amend your Christmas list!

She Makes War – Devastate Me


https://shemakeswar.bandcamp.com/album/brace-for-impact


Zombie Picnic – Rise of a New Ideology

There has been some fantastic instrumental music released this year, with Irish post prog band Zombie Picnic being one of the names at the forefront of this ever expanding genre.

From mixing science fiction with dystopia and big meatyriffs and then adding technically adept and quirky art rock stylings, this 4 piece (JimGriffin and Dave Tobin on guitar, Brendan Miller (drums) & Brian Fitzgerald(Bass)) really know how to build intricate and intelligent rock pieces.

From the opening 9 minute Democracy Cannot Survive (oh how prescient that title is) to the closing three minute Anger in Storage (Denial Will Follow), this is intelligent, progressive instrumental rock at it’s finest and one that would sit happily in any collection that includes such bands as The Fierce and the Dead.

Zombie Picnic – Anger In Storage


https://zombiepicnic1.bandcamp.com/album/rise-of-a-new-ideology


The Sevateem – The Caves

OK, so this is niche, in fact you could dive deeper and say it’s certainly beyond niche but, bear with me. It’s a brilliant record and concept.

Named after a tribe in the 1977 Tom Baker Dr Who serial The Face of the Evil, The Sevateem are Christian Erickson and Janey Winterbauer and this album was influenced by the 1984 Peter Davison regeneration story The Caves of Androzani (arguably the highpoint of 1980’s Dr Who – but I’ll leave that for another place, or another time) and is a fantastic space opera, mixing rock, ballads, electronica and musical tropes that could easily have fallen off the back of a radiophonic workshop.

Taking exquisite care not to breach copyright, this is pitched perfectly with the right balance of nods to our intrepid time travelling hero, big musical numbers, and a fantastic reinterpretation of aclassic story.

Available online from The Sevateem Bandcamp site, all proceeds from this go to the charity Doctors Without Frontiers as well.

From being curious about what it sounded like to getting absorbed in the sheer musical skill and smart song writing and performances on here, this has ended up as one of my albums of the year. I absolutely love it.

The Sevateem – Anywhere in the Universe

https://thesevateem.bandcamp.com/album/the-caves


North Atlantic Oscillation – Grind Show

The latest release from post rock trio North Atlantic Oscillation, sees the band continue to build on their well honed mix of rock and electronica. Opening with the wonderful Low Earth Orbit, this see’s more crossover from Sam Healy’s Sand project into the NAO sound, which is no bad thing. Healy’s vocals are superb and are part of the hypnotic mix.

Stand out tracks for me are the closing trio of Sequoia, Fernweh (a mesmerising 7 minutes of haunting beauty) and the closing Kcenrebbur where, like so much of NAO’s work, the music teases and builds.

This is an album that gets better with each listen as you get more and more from the music and it draws you in with it’s hypnotic and cyclical sound. There’s no band out there sounding like NAO, it’s always a delight to get a new album from these guys. 

North Atlantic Oscillation – Sirens

https://www.musicglue.com/northatlanticoscillation/


Jet Black Sea – The Overview Effect

Prior to reviewing this album, I had never heard any Jet Black Sea, however I am now an absolute convert, this record has been on constant rotation since I first got it.

Bold, epic and not afraid to push their musical boundaries, this album’s title track ebbs and flows, builds and climbs, crossing multiple genres and sounds, from ambient soundscapes to works that would nestle in any record collection alongside No-Man or even Mike Oldfield. I am reminded of Mike’s early 90’s ambient electronica albums, like ‘Songs of Distant Earth’, in approach if not in sound.

The two musicians here are immensely talented individuals and they bounce ideas off each other to create a vast, beautiful and all-encompassing sound, one that is the musical equivalent of a big hug.

This is the sort of music that the album format was invented for, big and yet surprisingly intimate, not afraid to push big ideas in a beautiful way. The track builds and builds, with some sublime vocals from O’Shaughnessy, whilst the musicians weave intricate musical webs that pull you in and keep you hooked.

With only three tracks on here to play with, this is asprogressive as anything out there, and is well worth your time and money.

Jet Black Sea – Home (E.D.L)

https://jetblacksea.bandcamp.com/album/the-overview-effect

Talitha Rise – An Abandoned Orchid House

Reviewed elsewhere on this site by the esteemed Lord Progradar, this is one of the warmest and most beautiful albums I have had the pleasure to hear this year. I got the album on a download to review, landing in my inbox with nary a Bing.

I always think that albums of this magnificence when they arrive should come with a bang, like We Are Kin’s Pandora a few years ago,which had the same effect.

This new album from someone I’d never heard of, blew me away.

Listening to this album was a revelation and took me back to the mid 90’s. As a bit of history, I loved, and still love, music with bags of guitar and filled with testosterone, nowt wrong with that but then I discovered Tori Amos, who opened my ears to a new kind of music.

That feeling runs rife through this amazing album, as Jo-Beth is one of the finest songwriter’s I have come across in the last few years, from songs like the wonderful Lifeboat or the nearest we get to a title track, the atmospheric and haunting Orchid House, with its wonderful violin counterpoint to Jo-Beth’s vocals, which define the word ethereal.

This is musical beauty operating on another level, and her innate sense of music, and her wonderfully evocative lyrics, on tracks like Hungry Ghost or Bloodfox, are ripe in imagery and the sonic tapestry weaved around her words is a joy to behold.

My stand out track on an album full of beauty is the amazing River which, with its wonderful chorus and driving rhythm, encapsulates the beauty in this album.The lyrical beauty married with the musical accompaniment makes this one of the songs of the years, and Jo-Beth’s vocals are the icing on this musical cake.

This one that I keep returning to, time after time, and let me tell you, albums don’t get much better than this.

Talitha Rise – Chapel Bell

https://www.talitharise.com/


Regal Worm – Pig Views

I love Jarrod Gosling’s work, from his artwork for Tim Bowness, his Cobalt Chapel project, I, Monster and Regal Worm he covers more bases musically and artistically than many other artists can manage. He is a 21stcentury renaissance man and, on ‘Pig Views’, the third Regal Worm album he’s made a masterpiece.

This new addition to the family, with its stunning artwork and availability as a pink double vinyl set, looks very smart indeed, art work, of course, is by the man himself.

Among Jarrod’s musical arsenal are items like Mellotrons, Hammond Organs, Rickenbacker basses, Mandolins, Lap steel guitars and many others. This mix of instrumentation, particularly the sax and flute, give this a very English sound, reminiscent of Canterbury scene bands. Throw in Jarrod’s love of jazz and psych, and his rock sensibilities, all of this combines to create a unique musical delight.

As a musician Jarrod has always done something different and interesting with every release and this is no different, whilst there are hints of the styles that dominate Cobalt Chapel and I, Monster, Regal Worm is its own different musical entity, one that draws you in with some of the most innovative and eclectic sounds I have heard on record all year.

Regal Worn – Pig Views Trailer
https://regalworm.bandcamp.com/album/pig-views



Southern Empire – Civilisation

This one is getting into a lot of these lists, absolutely no doubt of the fact that Southern Empire have toured the pants off it in the UK, making new friends and winning converts to the cause. Their spellbinding and stage stealing set at HRH Prog in November brought them to my attention, having never heard them before.

This is their second album and starts with the wonderfully progtatstically titled Goliath’s Moon, a song I know that polarises opinion. However, having seen them perform it live, with frontman Danny Lopresto in fine form, it’s a fab opener to an album filled with wonderful music.

These 4 tracks, yup 4 tracks, are the finest sound of contemporary progressive music lasting over 70 minutes. There’s plenty to love about this album from the wonderful epic tracks Cries for the Lonely and Crossroads and the keyboard and vocal work of Sean Timms, who formed this band after Unitopia folded. The guitars of Danny and Cam Blokland work so well together and the sound is fleshed out by the sterling Brody Green on drums and Jez Martin on bass and vocals.

The harmony vocals are a core part of their unique sound and they mix rock, metal and prog into an amazing sound and, in Danny they have an irrepressible and charming frontman.

The guys put on a show and have made a belter of an album and, if it wasn’t for seeing them at HRH, this album would probably have completely passed me by. So well done chaps, a late entry into my top ten, but well worth it.

Southern Empire – Goliath’s Moon

https://www.gep.co.uk/store/southern-empire-c-1_5/southern-empire-civilisation-p-32.html


Thumpermonkey – Make Me Young, etc.

After a long hiatus, Thumpermonkey released their latest album this year, an epic eclectic album about the upcoming apocalypse.

Now Thumpermonkey cannot be filed under easy listening and that suits me fine, they fit into a nice niche of the musical world where Gong collide with The Cardiacs and Knifeworld (or at least in my head they should do) and create something new out of the explosion.

As a reviewer who gets quite a lot of stuff sent to me from various places to listen to, I would rather receive one album like this than half a dozen generic middle of the road, let’s make an album that sounds like 1974 Yes or 1976 Genesis because we’re prog and it’s what we do (if I want Yes circa ’74, I will go put ‘Relayer’ on).

This stuck out so much this year from the crop of albums by its sheer otherness, it’s innate musical skills and of course the fact it’s bloody good. Thumpermonkey successfully mix widescreen cinemascope sounds with big riffs, piano sound to die for and an overarching concept that never feels forced or shoehorned into.

Very much like the best films and plays, the narrative drives and unfolds across these 7 tracks, and it is an album that rewards, nay demands, repeat listening (luckily, I’ve been enjoying it on the commute to work through my headphones, so I am there, immersed in their world and sound).

It is still an exciting and eclectic album, and whilst it’s not one you can listen to in the background, it’s an album that is (rightfully so) demanding of your time and attention, time and attention well spent.

Thumpermonkey – Veldt

https://thumpermonkey.bandcamp.com/album/make-me-young-etc


All that’s left for me to do now is wish you a Happy Christmas, glorious New Year and hope that I’ve not got this up too late to influence your Christmas lists (mind you, if you get Christmas money – head over to Bandcamp on Xmas day, buy direct from the artists and have excitin music to listen to over the Chrimbo Limbo). I would like to wish all of you loyal Progradar readers a Happy New Year as well, and I will see you on the other side.

2018’s Top Ten Albums – Part 1 – Progradar’s Picks

So, it’s that time of year where us journos pick our top albums of the year. It’s been another stellar year for new releases and there have been some absolutely wonderful albums that have crossed our paths here at Progradar.

Both myself and James R. Turner will give you our selections and we are starting with mine. The first nine can be taken in any order but the final album is my definitive top release of 2018!

Haken – Vector

The prog-metal trend setters returned with their most visceral and intense offering yet. Just over 40 minutes of powerful, bruising music with a definitive melodic edge that saw Ross Jennings at his powerful best as a vocalist. 

Not everyone’s cup of tea but to most ears, mine included, Haken delivered one of the sonic experiences of the year!

Haken – Puzzle Box

Order the album here: https://haken.lnk.to/Vector

Kingcrow – The Persistence

The masters of Italian prog-metal released their most complete album yet. 10 lovingly crafted compositions of raw, unfiltered emotion that took the band’s bass, heavy roots and built on that foundation to deliver a stand out release of maturity and gravitas.

Kingcrow explored and developed their sound to become, as band member Diego Cafolla explains in the band’s press release, ‘a dark ambient, more modern vibe’ that fits beautifully with their existing heavy rock persona.

Kingcrow – The Persistence


https://lasersedge.bandcamp.com/album/the-persistence

Riversea – The Tide

The long awaited second album from Riversea, the on/off musical project of my good friends Marc Atkinson and Brendan Eyre.

There’s been some good music released this year already and also some utterly outstanding albums and ‘The Tide’ definitely falls into the latter category. Marc and Brendan have lovingly crafted twelve pieces of music that come together to create a release of beauty and refinement and one that will stay in your heart for a very long time. It’s not just music, this is something that is actually life-affirming and I can’t give it higher praise than that.

Riversea – Shine


http://riversea-band.com/?page_id=129

Talitha Rise – An Abandoned Orchard House

Following on from the beautiful EP ‘Blue’, Talitha Rise released her debut full length album ‘An Abandoned Orchid House’ on June 1st. It is a release full of captivating, wistful songs wound around themes of isolation and abandonment.

In my humble opinion everybody needs music to complete their life, to give you a reason to get up every morning and go out to work and Talitha Rise has delivered one of those perfect moments in time, an album of songs of such rare quality, delivered by the most wonderful voice, that stands out like a ray of light in the darkening world that increasingly surrounds us. My music loving friends it just doesn’t get any better than this!

Talitha Rise – The Lake


https://www.talitharise.com/store.html
Lux Terminus – The Courage To Be

Well, what can I say, it really does take something special to get me waxing lyrical about a new release nowadays but ‘Courage To Be’ is one of those rare albums that excites and inspires from the first listen but that will also have the longevity to keep you listening to it in many months to come. Virtuoso musicianship along with intelligent, involving songwriting, Lux Terminus have surely seen the light of the tunnel with this utterly captivating release.

Lux Terminus – Electrocommunion

https://luxterminus.bandcamp.com/releases

Riverside – Wasteland

One cannot truly appreciate the light unless one has first walked in the dark. We talk of the light at the end of the tunnel, you see this through the dark and it is the ultimate goal, you must, however, travel through the dark to reach the light.

Simply put ‘Wasteland’ is two things, a triumph of the light over the dark and a fitting tribute to Piotr Grudziński (Riverside’s guitarist who died suddenly). A compelling and engrossing musical journey through darkness, grief and loss to emerge into the light. A spiritual catharsis that sees a new chapter in the life of Riverside and puts them back at the forefront where they truly belong.

Riverside – Vale Of Tears


https://burningshed.com/tag/Riverside
Glass Hammer – Chronomonaut

Albums like ‘Chronomonaut’ are the reason why I love music so much and it has become part of my life. It sees a band I love unafraid to take a relatively new direction, organically progressive if you like. While not completely straying from their roots, Glass Hammer have taken a path less trodden and delivered what is, without a doubt, their best album yet and a fantastic new direction of power, precision and downright soul.

Glass Hammer – Melancholy Holiday


http://glasshammer.com/official-store/
The Tangent – Proxy

‘Proxy’ is a joyous celebration of music, done in The Tangent’sinimitable style. It’s an album that truly bears repeated listens, I’m sure Andy has left little chestnuts and references in there for people to pick up on. What we’re hearing is a true progression of the band’s sound that, while keeping what has always made them who they are, now resonates even more clearly with the world we live in. Music to make you think and music to lift your soul, what more can you ask for?

The Tangent – A Case Of Misplaced Optimism


https://www.thetangent.org/
Oak – False Memory Archive

I have loved music for many years, it has been with me through the highs and the lows  and my life would not be complete without it. My life is now also complete with this incredible album from Oak. Albums like ‘False Memory Archive’ are the reason that music was created in the first place, they bring peace to your soul and joy and love to your heart and the world is a better place for them. I cannot give any higher praise than that.

Oak – We, the Drowned


https://oakinoslo.bandcamp.com/album/false-memory-archive

And so to what is my number one, favourite album of 2018. I don’t think it will come as any surprise to most of you that I have gone with this incredible release…

Southern Empire – Civilisation

Truly cementing themseleves as Progressive Rock’s Kings of Pomp and Circumstance, Southern Empire returned with their sophomore release. Four songs that are brim full of emotion, joy and pizzazz, all delivered with true Antipodean swagger, verve and joie de vivre.

‘Civilisation’ was one of the early contenders for album of the year for me, one first listen it was a tremendous release that hit all the right notes and finally saw joy and elation return to the creation of music. It’s as close to a must buy as anything else I’ve heard this year so far. Right, that’s it, I’m off for another listen…

The band cemented their place at the top of my list with an incredible live performance as this year’s HRH Prog in North Wales, proving that they are even better live than on record. They brought the tracks to life and added another dimension.

Southern Empire are very worthy winners of my album of the year award and are already working on album 3. I, for one, just cannot wait!

Southern Empire – Goliath’s Moon


https://www.gep.co.uk/store/southern-empire-c-1_5/southern-empire-civilisation-p-32.html

So that’s my choices, please keep an eye out for James’ selection which will be up shortly!

HRH Prog 7 at Hafan y Môr Holiday Park in Pwllheli – by James R Turner with input from Progradar

This was my first HRH Prog, and I gleefully loaded up my car with the requisite supplies (Bottled water, Bottled Beer) and entertainment for the journey (the new Sheridan Smith album – it’s rather brilliant btw, the new Robyn CD, the latest Gryphon album and Chas n Dave the EMI years) and set off on the long trek from Bristol to North Wales.

I drove through some wonderfully evocative countryside, (which I saw on the way home, as it got dark for the last two hours of my journey) not to mention the frankly terrifying visions of cars honing past me on blind bends and narrow roads. They have no fear those Welsh drivers.

On arrival I was met by Lord Progradar himself, already priming me for the wallet emptying that was coming by raving about Southern Empire. Having seen the stage times and the final rearranged running order, I was pleased to see that Southern Empire and The Strawbs no longer clashed.

It was pretty much drop the bags off, have a beer at the apartment, and then off to see the music, the first night kicking off on Stage 1.

The venue itself was an actual original holiday camp and it’s been over 20 years since I last stayed in a Haven and, I have to say the accommodation was excellent, and a short (if bracing) walk to the main venue. Both the stages are next door to each other, separated by a pleasant plaza with a Burger King, Chippy, Starbucks and an open air bar.

This made ducking between stages for the sets incredibly easy and meant even if there was a slight overlap, then you didn’t miss much of the bands’ set. Of course, there were several clashes so some bands I was unable to see and apologise if I missed you out. Unfortunately, I couldn’t be everywhere at once.

Joined by fellow prog scribe Leo Trimming and other friendly faces, the relaxed atmosphere (and probably the beer) made for a relaxed and friendly ambience. Of course, there was David and Nicola Robinson and Andy Faulkner offering to relieve us of the burden of heavy cash in our wallets in exchange for shiny discs of happiness (hell, it’s a prog festival – you will go home laden with CD’s. It’s as inevitable as death so don’t fight it).

It was a pretty packed schedule which we were launched into, I won’t say gently as they were anything but, by Maschine who ticked the event off on Thursday night on Stage 1.

My biggest gripe with the festival was that the areas in front of both the stages were seated, which really took away some of the ambience and energy of the audience. Whilst there was plenty of dancing and movement going on further back in the venue, it must have been disconcerting for the bands in full rock mode to look down to a sea of faces all sat down like they were at the theatre.

The audiences were very enthusiastic, and it was a good crowd, but as a punter I do like to stand as close to the stage as I can get for at least a couple of songs, and this vital aspect of a live gig was sadly denied to me in stage 1.

A highly acclaimed act to start the festival, Maschine are full of energy and presence. Formed by Luke Machin (who must be one of the hottest young guitar players on the scene currently) and Dan Mash (Damanek) on Bass.

This young band have really grown into their sound, with the second album ‘Naturalis’ really building on the sound of their debut ‘Rubidium’. This band environment allows Luke the space to stretch himself on stage, however the occasional shredding in the middle of what was a fantastically complex song is one that jars a little bit.

There is no denying that the band is chock full of talent, Elliott Fuller more than holds his own with Luke on guitar, Marie-Eve De Gaultier on keyboards and vocals, centre stage as if she’s keeping the boys under control, and James Stewart anchors the sound with his drumming.

Bringing the material from their two albums to life on stage, Maschine set the bar high for all the other bands that followed and with their energy and power opened HRH in style.

This festival is nothing if not eclectic and Stage 1 did gain the nickname the retro stage, due to the number of classic bands performing there, and there was none more classic than the current incarnation of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.

Fronted by one of the most distinctive front-men in rock and roll, the band did not disappoint. Arthur, in his full on God of Hell Fire face paint, and celebrating 50 years since the band’s debut album. To commemorate this fact, they played the first half of the record before launching into some newer material.

Arthur, as ever, is the consummate showman and the bands blend of blues and psych was performed by the latest incarnation, including a fantastic female guitar and keyboard pairing. These younger musicians, overseen by musical director Jeavon Beaumont, really put some spark into the music.

It even takes you back to old school psych festivals when, during some of the longer spacier moments, the band building a real groove, a female dancer comes on. The only thing that looks a tad uncomfortable is Arthur (about my Dad’s age) dancing and gyrating around the younger female guitarists, looking like a creepy Uncle in a nightclub.

Other than that, his voice still has all the power that it ever had and with their psych lightshow and deep groove (and a taut band), they put on a great show.

(Picture by Gareth Cole)

Headline act for the night, and band of the night for me was The Martin Barre Band, putting on a barnstorming performance, mixing new material and classic Tull tracks, the band put on brilliant performance. Vocalist Dan Crisp bringing the early style of Ian Anderson to mind, without this being a tribute act style.

Progradar I have to echo Jame’s thoughts on The Martin Barre band, it was a powerful and consummate performance. The tracks from latest release ‘Roads Less Travelled’ were blended perfectly with the classic Tull material and others. Martin’s guitar playing was incredible and Dan Crisp’s vocals perfectly matched.

(Picture by Gareth Cole)

For me, the highlights were the title track from the new album and (This Is) My Driving Song, both fiery, blues infused and powerful tracks. There was an electric energy running throughout the set and it made for a great end to the first day.

Heading back to the apartment for beer and a wind down after a long journey, this was a perfect opening to this three day bender Festival.

Day 2 started at the civilised time of 13:20 over in Stage 1, so there was plenty of time for me to go for a nice walk along the cliff tops, admire the Northern Wales coastline scenery and meander along the beach, before rendezvousing with Martin, who had been for a run.

A full English (or should that be Welsh?) in Porthmadog with Leo, set us up nicely for an afternoon and evening of entertainment. As locations go, a Prog festival in picturesque North Wales is certainly one I would recommend if they ever come back here again, as they are moving to London for next year’s festival.

On Friday I spent a lot of my time over in Stage 1 but before that the first full set of Friday was kicked off by I Am The Manic Whale in Stage 2.

I know Martin is going to go into their set in more detail, but I had spent the whole morning defending my position as a Doctor Who but not a Whovian, and then what did I Am The Manic Whale play? A song about Doctor Who complete with a fully progged out version of the iconic theme tune which brought a smile to my face.

Their set was a great way to start the Friday with and I will be looking forward to seeing them again.

Progradar The first band on a Friday lunchtime have a real task to energise the audience but I Am The Manic Whale soon had a fairly sizeable crowd rocking along to their high tempo, feel good style of progressive rock. With a set list comprising tracks from both of their releases, ‘Everything Beautiful In Time’ and ‘Gathering The Waters’, this unassuming band garnered many new fans with their excellent performance.

Over in Stage 1, Haze, currently celebrating their 40th year in existence put a great show on.

Led by the McMahon brothers, Chris (on bass/keys/vocals) and Paul on guitar and vocals, it was a romp through old and new material covering the bands existence. It’s been 20 years since I saw them and, since then, they released their album ‘The Last Battle’ back in 2013which mixed their sound up. Joined by Paul’s son Danny on drums and Ceri Ashton on vocals and flutes, they put on a fantastic show. Chris has lost none of his energy and stage presence and Paul’s vocals and guitar work was as great as I remember it from the ‘World Turtle’ days.

Danny on the drums adds some real power to the band, and it’s great to see the band carrying on as a family affair. They put on a fantastic set and were one of the bands I’d wanted to reacquaint myself with this weekend, and I am glad I did.

Following Haze were Tir na nOg, one of the legendary Irish folk duos, comprising Sonny Condell and Leo O’Kelly who, after a long hiatus, are now back out there playing a mixture of classic tracks and more contemporary material. Considering they are just an acoustic duo, they managed to hold the audiences attention and, while there were occasional drifts into folk singer cliché, they utilised looping and percussive beats on other tracks to put on a fantastic set that kept the audience entertained.

Progradar Following I Am The Manic Whale on Stage 2 were The Amber Herd, a band I’d never heard of before but one who produced a rather flawless set of folk rock/prog with intelligence and humour. As James has already stated, it’s difficult to catch every band at a festival like this but I’m glad I caught this trio as they were on of my surprise highlights of day 2.

Over on Stage 2 I was able to catch some of Mother Black Caps’ set, they had their ‘team’ out in force the night before passing out fliers and drumming up support, and while I didn’t manage to stay very long, I found I enjoyed their blend of rock and would have liked to have seen a bit more. Unfortunately, with festivals like this, you do find there are clashes.

Back over to the Stage 1 arena I was in time to catch the whole set from Birmingham instrumental trio Axiom, who were last minute replacements, hot footing it down to North Wales from the Midlands, complete with their drummers’ dogs.

This instrumental power trio of Zaid Crowe on guitar, Josh Ainsworth on drums and Stuart Drinkwater on bass were a revelation and one of the star acts of the Friday. Pulling together an impressive musical arsenal, they blend riffs with beats and they sit very nicely in the same area as bands like The Fierce and the Dead and Zombie Picnic.

Clever, progressive instrumental rock that is very easy to get into and enjoy, they also proved they have a sense of humour and don’t take themselves too seriously by playing a track that included some of their favourite riffs, mixing Michael Jackson’s Beat It with some Thin Lizzy and then the Death Star March tune from Star Wars got a great reception, it was fantastic to see a new exciting band like these guys really bringing it to life on Stage 1. I rather suspect that we will be hearing a lot more from this talented trio in the future.

A quick nip back over to Stage 2 enjoy the rest of Final Conflict’s set, a band who I’ve not seen, like Haze in about 20 years, and it was good to see that they are as strong as ever, with their own brand of Floydian-esque rock they know how to put on a show, and the audience seemed attentive.

Following them was a band who were new to me, an act called GU-RU, another musical trio who, with Lee Spreadbury on keys and vocals, Malcolm D’Sa on drums and Naomi Perera on flute and vocals, created quite a unique sound.

The mixture of the drums, the flute and the keys created a fantastically eclectic musical mix going from old school prog to real psych sounds and heading into full on dance music, while Perera’s flute soared throughout. Spreadbury is a bona fide old school prog keyboard player, full of charm and stage presence and plenty of musical chops.

In fact, GU-RU had magnificent stage presence and a sense of how to entertain the audience, and I managed to catch nearly all their set. They were really entertaining with a unique and different sound to some of the other guitar heavy bands. That really captured my attention as I love artists who will mix things up and go down a different road to everyone else.

GU-RU are one of those bands and they really played a fantastic set.

(Editor – We have this strange image because, despite James saying Wishbone Ash are one of his favourite bands, he didn’t manage to provide a picture!)

It was back over to Stage 1 for the founder member of one of my favourite bands. I was chatting to someone about the mammoth Wishbone Ash box that came out earlier in the year, it really is a thing of beauty. I know it was expensive, but I have loved Wishbone Ash for over 20 years and it was a perfect opportunity to get everything all in one place for me, and that’s why I was really looking forward to Martin Turner’s set.

I have seen Martin Turner’s band before, and the Andy Powell version of Wishbone Ash and while I like the fact that these bands are still out there and playing the music, Martin’s band just edges it for me. The reason why is that he plays a lot of the deeper cuts and back catalogue stuff that Andy Powell doesn’t, throwing in a blinding version of Front Page News for instance, Persephone also got an airing as did the title track to the latest studio album, Written in the Stars.

Obviously sets like this are truncated so the band, which is currently touring the Wishbone Ash debut album in its entirety, cut that back and played a few numbers from there and rounded the set off with a blinding trio from ‘Argus’, Warrior, Throw Down the Sword and Blowin’ Free.

Martin was on top form with his between song banter and his bass work is asnifty as ever, the twin guitar work of Danny Wilson and Misha Nikolic replicates the sound of the original band but, as both men are incredibly talented guitarists, they aren’t merely copying. They put their own stamp on the sound and are clearly having fun playing together, while drummer Tim Brown anchors the sound.

This is clearly Martin Turner’s musical vision and he takes both the audience and the band with him as he plays the music he created. It’s no nostalgia fest either as he and his talented band make their own mark on these songs and breathe new life into them.

Headliners on Stage 1 on Friday were Neo-Prog legends Pendragon, celebrating their first 40 years with the tour of the same name.

Nick Barrett’s distinctive guitar and vocal work is, as ever, front and centre, while the core line up of Peter Gee on bass, Clive Nolan on keys and Jan-Vincent Valazco on drums were augmented by Verity White and Zoe Devenish, who help to flesh out the already mighty sound of Pendragon.

These guys have been touring and performing for a very long time, and Nick and Clive are both masters of their respective instruments. Though I have seen Pendragon live more times than I care to remember, this is the first time I’ve seen them with the additional female vocals, and this new dimension to the bands sound really makes a difference.

The auditorium was packed, and it was heartening to see several younger punters here (and by that, I mean people younger than me – at 41, according to Martin I brought the average age down!)

Performing a set covering all the classic Pendragon eras, after all 40 years is a hell of a lot of music to cover, Nick and the gang managed to mix the set up and include tracks like Green and Pleasant Land (with its slightly dubious lyrical content, I am not sure how tongue in cheek it is with some of the sentiments expressed) among others, which kept the crowd entertained.

Having enjoyed another full day of music and discovering new bands to go with my appreciation of some of the more vintage acts, HRH put on a good mix.

Progradar -I had, early evening, shot off to meet up with Sean Timms, Danny Lopresto and Brody Green of Southern Empire:

It was an impromptu interview which, unfortunately, I didn’t record (the official interview will be aired soon) but we talked about all things Empyrean and the music in general over (quite) a few beers. I did manage to get back in time to catch part of a wonderful set from Luna Rossa, their ethereal sound and waif like grace ever ceases to calm my heart rate and Anne-Marie Helder was on top form this night. 

Saturday, we had a lovely trip out to Criccieth Castle with those TPA boys Leo Trimming and David Glaves (there is no competition between the prog review websites, we’re a friendly bunch of guys), just up the coast from Pwllheli, before the music started. The view was stunning and, as the castle is part of the ring of castles in North Wales, it would be rude to not visit whilst we were up there. We then found a pleasant café where we enjoyed our full Welsh breakfast to set us up for the days progging.

Martin was busy doing interviewing things (Ed: it’s called ‘work’ James), so I spent plenty of time at the bar, drinking with Gareth Cole flitting between the two different arenas to see as many sets as I could.

I spoke to Al Winter, frontman for This Winter Machine, this time last year when their debut album, ‘The Man Who Never Was’, had just been released and was getting great reviews. Since then, the band has recorded their second album, and been making waves with their well-received live shows.

This was the first time I had seen them and, having really enjoyed their debut, I was looking forward to their set.

They did not disappoint, Al was on fine form, his vocals really superb, and he worked that stage (& the audience) like he owned it, the new material from the forthcoming album fitted in perfectly with the songs from ‘The Man Who Never Was’, a perfect evolution of the bands sound and approach, and when they finished their hour long set (4 or 5 songs I think, but hey this is Prog) they got a standing ovation (the first opening band, I Am The Manic Whale, also got one on Friday).

The band made a fare few new fans and friends, and I am sure that they sold plenty of CD’s (Al knowing how to push his product by reminding the audience exactly where the merch was). Sometimes opening a festival can be a thankless task, it’s not known as the graveyard slot for nothing, but, like I Am The Manic Whale  before them, This Winter Machine took full opportunity of this to get the day started in style. It followed the tone of the weekend, while the bigger names were on Stage 1, some of the more eclectic and exciting acts were on Stage 2.

There is a delicious irony in me typing that as bar Southern Empire and Gandalf’s Fist, I spent pretty much all Saturday in Stage 1 (& part of it enjoying the company of Gareth Cole, Chris Bembridge & Richard Thresh – splendid chaps, all of them).

I saw some of Goldray’s set, the new band from former Reef guitarist Kenwyn House, with vocals from Leah Rasmussen. This weekend certainly had an interesting mix of classic rock sounds and psych sounds and Goldray were certainly out there.

From their glittery stage presence, to the light show, and the hypnotic musical sound they are at the forefront of the psych revival and about as far from Reefs sound as is possible to get. Leah has a magnetic stage presence, and plenty of star quality whilst the guitar work of Kenwyn was sublime. A complete glittery contrast to the next band on Stage 1, Jump.

Now out of all the bands that play for the CRS and that I have seen, I reckon I have seen Jump nigh on 30 times and they have never played the same set twice.

Fronted by Celtic bard John Dexter Jones, still looking as lithe and nimble as when I first saw him, he is the reminder of the fact that the protest song is still as relevant as it ever was and why musicians must talk about politics and life.

I read a lot of guff online about people saying that musicians shouldn’t talk about politics in their music and they should keep their art separate. Why? Is always my stock answer, they are making their art and it is not up to us to dictate what anyone should sing about. I remember the Jump song Tower of Babel, inspired by someone telling John he shouldn’t swear so much. Politics is everywhere, it dictates house prices, it permeates out every being, everything that happens to us and society is dictated to by politics, so musicians should reflect that in what they do if they are being true to themselves and their art.

He is a passionate, articulate and intelligent frontman who comes from proud Welsh stock and his history is as important as our future. This was evident in this truly impassioned and powerful set, featuring as it did, several songs that still resonate and sadly, despite being written a while ago, are still as relevant as they ever were.

The scathing Moscow Circus (taken from my favourite Jump album ‘Matthew’) and the new poem to music The Station Parade segueing into The Sniper from ‘The Beachcomber’ album, were two personally poignant insights about the First World War in the 100th year since it finished and telling of the folly of war and the story of one of John’s Great Uncles.

However, the highlight and most powerful song of their set, nay the weekend, was their new number Breaking Point, the title taken from ‘that’ EU referendum poster. It is Johns most brutal and impassioned takedown of this whole Brexit clusterfuck and rise of the right, I doubt there was anyone in there who wasn’t moved and understood the message behind the song.

Jump as a band are peerless live and they just get so much better with age, like a fine wine, with the twin guitar sounds of Steve Hayes and Ronnie Rundle trading licks and rolling riffs from one side to the other, whilst Mo on keys adds a lot of texture to the sounds. Andy Barker on drums keeps the beat going while newest member, Mark Pittam on bass, fits in perfectly with the band ethos.

JDJ made a humorous comment from a previous review about him hectoring and haranguing an audience, and you know what, for the quality of the performance and the songs I would happily be hectored and harangued for another few hours thank you very much.

I saw very little of Stage 2 during this period, which upsets me slightly as I had the misfortune to see some of the band that followed Jumps set.

Davy O’List’s The Attack, now Davy has an impressive prog pedigree, and an interesting back story, however I watched about 10 minutes of The Attack, of which at least two were the band stood in silence on the stage after finishing one song and none of them quite knowing what was happening next. At one point it looked like the band were all playing different songs, very little audience interaction and not much entertainment.

Sorry chaps, it wasn’t for me and I think a bit more rehearsal could have gone into this!

Progradar: I got back from interviewing duties just in time to catch German progressive metallers Deafening Opera on Stage 2 and I’m glad I did, their blend of powerful prog metal along with great melodies went down a real storm with the growing crowd. These young musicians were not only technically excellent but played with a lot of verve and a lot of soul. The 80 minute set was a great success and set everybody up for the next act…

I have been a big fan of Aussie melodic proggers Southern Empire for a while. Their first, self-titled, album crept under the radar a bit but the sophomore release of ‘Civilisation’ has seen them rapidly come to a lot of people’s attention.

With the charismatic Danny Lopresto on vocals and guitar, Cam Blokland on lead guitar, Brody Green on drums, Jez Martin on bass and Sean Timms as erstwhile bandleader and keyboardist, the band delivered a flawless set of dynamic, powerful and downright soulful music. Saxophonist James Capatch added a layer of impressive sophistication and Southern Empire proceeded to literally blow the audience away with their incredible storytelling and joyous music.

Opening with Forest Fire from the debut album and then following up with two lengthy tracks, Cries For The Lonely and Crossroads, from ‘Civilisation’, these marvelous entertainers from Adelaide had everybody lost in the moment and in the palm of their hands. Cam and Danny’s guitar interplay was brilliant and added a real fun feel to what was the utter highlight of the weekend for me.

 A live performance that was one of the best I have ever seen and one which I later called a musical epiphany, if you ever get the chance to see these guys live then do not miss it for the world!

Back to James for his take on Southern Empire

Making their HRH debut meanwhile over on Stage 2 was Southern Empire, formed by Aussie keyboard player Sean Timms, recently recovering from a heart attack, the timings were adjusted so they didn’t clash with The Strawbsand boy was I glad about that.Wwith livewire frontman and guitarist Danny Lopresto in fine form, and the formidable musical attack by the rest of the guys, Southern Empire were the band of the weekend for me.

Every festival I have ever been to always has the ‘why the fuck haven’t I heard this before?’ moment, and for me this moment was watching Southern Empire.

They filled the Stage 2 arena, put on an hour and 15 minutes of blinding music and left having won the hearts and minds of the arena. Those people saying ‘You must see Southern Empire’ were right, and much as I loathe to admit it (as it’ll give him a big head) Lord Progradar himself was bang on the money by saying these guys would be band of the weekend.

To think, if they hadn’t adjusted the timings due to pressure from fans wanting to see both Southern Empire and The Strawbs, I’d have missed this show, and I would have been completely gutted.

(Yes, I did leave having bought both Southern Empire albums, and they made excellent companions on the 4 and half hour journey home).

Progradar: Next up on Stage 2 were the wonderful ‘progressive piano trio’ Exploring Birdsong. I’d interviewed this young trio earlier and they came across as very wise heads on young shoulders and their set proved this to be very true. Drummer Matt Harrison, bassist Jonny Knight and pianist/vocalist Lynsey Ward delivered music that was a powerful combination of pop sensibilities and progressive compositions, all topped off by Lynsey’s soulful vocals.

Their recently released track, The Dowpour, is a cut glass piece of songwriting that belies their relatively tender years and was delivered superbly to the rapt audience. These three have a bright future ahead of them if this performance is anything to go by.

Back to my spiritual home for the day, Stage 1, for a set celebrating 50 years of The Strawbs. David Cousins had been unwell recently and so to see him on stage, surrounded by mainstays Dave Lambert on guitar, Chas Cronk on bass, Tony Fernandez on drums and, relative new boy, Dave Bainbridge on keys, they really went to town and played an explosive set.

Having jumped across many genres and styles, The Strawbs complex and intelligent music weaves between folk, rock and softer sounds and , for HRH, they pulled out all the big guns and gave us an eclectic electric set.

Mixing material from new album ‘The Ferryman’s Curse’ (tracks like The Nails from the Hands of Christ fitted the setlist like it had always been there) with an astonishing version of Ghosts, an emotive and powerful New World and a truncated quartet from their ‘Hero and Heroine’ set (Autumn, Hero and Heroine, Out in the Cold and Lay a Little Light on Me), they rounded off a powerfully strong set with the ‘Bursting at the Seams’ favourites The River and Down By The Sea.

This was an intense show of power by The Strawbs and shows how much energy and power the band have, it also shows that, with the newer material and the addition of Dave Bainbridge on keys, even after 50 years, Dave Cousins and the band are relevant, important and still have so much more to say musically.

I am glad the concert was rejigged so these guys and Southern Empire didn’t clash, as both their sets were important parts of this festival jigsaw and I am so glad I got to see an all-electric full band The Strawbs set in their anniversary year.

Following on from The Strawbs, and in one of the contradictory and different pairings that HRH seems to relish was another classic band celebrating their 50th anniversary. The original psychedelic warlords and musical anarchists Hawkwind.

Astonishingly, despite having loved this band since I discovered ‘Warrior On The Edge Of Time’ back at Uni in 1995. This is the first time I have ever seen Hawkwind live and, again, like The Strawbs, Jump, Gandalf’s Fist and Martin Turner, was one of my ‘must see’ bands of the weekend.

My favourite Hawkwind album is Warrior and so it was with great delight that they opened the set with Assault and Battery and The Golden Void, Dave Brock on fine form with guitar and vocals, while the line-up, currently down to a four piece of long serving drummer Richard Chadwick whose been with the band for 20 years (and who my chiropractor used to rent a room from, randomly!), Niall Hone on bass and vocals and newest member Magnus Martin, were, in suitably psychedelic fashion,just mesmerising.

The set included an incredibly extended version of the classic Damnation Alley where the riffs and extended improvisations contained more ideas than some bands have on an album, an arresting and brain melting Sonic Attack and a metronomical version of Born To Go.

We did duck out before the end due to the closing band on Stage 2 getting ready to start, but Hawkwind demonstrated why they are the original, and best, psych band still treading the board, and it’s full testament to the vision and skill of Dave Brock to keep this band on the road, playing these amazing tracks to an audience who clearly idolised everything they did.

(Picture by Gareth Cole)

One of the bands I have wanted to see for aeons, ever since I reviewed the album ‘A Forest of Fey’ back in 2013 for the DPRP, was Gandalf’s Fist, their drummer Stefan Hepe is a fellow naughty pachyderm. The way the band has expanded organically is brilliant, and then they blew everyone else out of the water in 2016 with their triple disc epic ‘The Clockwork Fable’.

Founder members multi-instrumentalist Dean Marsh and lyricist and vocalist Luke Severn have created a band around them with Stefan on drums, Ben Bell (Patchwork Cacophony – whose albums you need in your life) on keys, Christopher Ewen on bass and Keri Farish on vocals, this 6 piece absolutely owned the stage,and they were the perfect band to end the festival.

Making a brave choice to kick off with the unreleased track Leader of Men, from the opening bar they got the whole of the second stage on side. After all, the Fisters have previous having already fisted an HRH to within an inch of its life.

Pulling together a set list covering all bases (and, of course, the merch desk had all their CD’s including ‘The Road to Darkness’ reissue, ‘A Day In The Life Of A Universal Wanderer’, ‘Forest of Fey’ and ‘Clockwork Fable’, which I definitely didn’t buy the lot of to play on my journey home – here’s a tip for free, if you write for a prog website and know beyond doubt that your beloved better half won’t read this review, when smuggling CD’s into the house and hiding how much you spent, the phrase ‘review copies’ is one that you can get a lot of mileage from!)

Of course, the buggers pulled out the epic Eve’s Song from ‘Clockwork Fable’, which brought a tear to my eye, either that or I was sobbing at how much I’d spent but, either way, the powerfully emotive vocals of Keri Farish really brought this to life live and, of course, the band were on fire throughout.

The witty intro to Emerald Eyes (careful with that plagiarism Eugene) hinted at where the inspiration for this song came from and the between song banter between Luke and Dean was hilarious.

Songs from ‘Forest of the Fey’ (do Gandalf’s Fist deliberately try to provoke proggers with these titles?!?) mixed with the wonderful pieces from ‘A Clockwork Fable’ (a bloody marvellous live rendition of The Capture, for instance) show how much passion and energy the band put into their music. Another new song, The Warden, formed an integral part of the set and I cannot wait to hear the album that becomes part of.

From being a studio project to a fully fledged live band is not the easiest journey for some artists but Dean and Luke have chosen the perfect travelling companions. Stefan and Chris on drums and bass provide the perfect anchor points to allow keyboard wizard (in a top hat instead of a cape) Ben to sprinkle his magic all over the songs (seriously, you need to buy his Patchwork Cacophony albums) and Keri is the perfect blend of star vocalist and frontwoman, adding some real heart and soul to her musical performance and looking like this band have been together for ever.

From a competition to find the maddest prog name, to being real contenders for one of the most innovative and exciting prog bands out there, Gandalf’s Fist have had a tremendous few years, this set confirming what we all knew.

They are the future of prog and it was brilliant to see them play to a room full of appreciative fans, who stayed up well past their bedtime, looking at the at the age of them. We were well and truly Fisted, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

(Picture by Gareth Cole)

ProgradarI can echo James’ sentiments completely here, Gandalf’s Fist really did deliver a performance worthy of the final headliners on Stage 2. The impressive musicianship was matched by the peerless songs. To be fair, they are a band you either get or you don’t but I’m a big fan of their steam punk fantasy lyrics and ideas and, in Keri Farish, they have a vocalist who can capture an audience and hold them in her spell.

Dean’s sometimes crushing riffs give a visceral quality to the fantastical music and the rest of the band are all superb musicians imbuing the whole set with style and verve. Being the final act there was almost party feel to the performance with the audience thoroughly enjoying every track and giving the band well deserved standing ovation at the end. A wonderful way to close out the weekend.

I am a great believer in the healing power of music, and music, brings us together and unites us under one common cause, if only other things in life were so easy.

The HRH Prog festival crams a lot into the three days on site and I am very sorry to the bands that I couldn’t get to see due to clashes but, in events like this, you’re never going to see everyone, and I am glad I saw the sets I did. While I was most looking forward to seeing Gandalf’s Fist, who did not disappoint in any way shape or form, Southern Empire with their empirical and dominating set, just edged it for me as band of the festival.

The next HRH Prog is down in that there London, whether it will retain the family feel of this one I am not sure but, if the line up is anywhere near as strong as this, then any attendees won’t be disappointed.

People talk about the diminishing returns and lack of punters for small local prog gigs, I do wonder if this model isn’t the future, it might cost a little more, and take out more of your time, but I loved the friendliness, the convenience, and the way of seeing a combination of bands I loved and new bands that I now love, all within a very small dash between two stages.

Hats off to all the folks involved in pulling this together, and a massive thanks for letting me tag along and be a small part of something much, much bigger.

Progradar: HRH Prog 2018 was a huge success for me, excellent bands spread across two excellent stages with all the support network (food, beer, water etc.) very close to hand. The location had a hell of lot to do with the brilliant atmosphere and time will tell if the Shepherds Bush Empire venue will be as accommodating next year.

The highlights were Martin Barre, I Am The Manic Whale, This Winter Machine and Gandalf’s Fist but the star band of the whole weekend were the incredible and magnificent Southern Empire.

Keep your eyes peeled for forthcoming interviews from HRH Prog 2018 with Southern Empire, Exploring Birdsong and Gandalf’s Fist.