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.

Review – I AM The Manic Whale – Gathering The Waters – by Gary Morley

A Review in 3 acts

Act 1 – the setting of the scene

Here In deepest Berkshire, not much seems to happen, or is not in the public domain until after the fact.

George Michael lived down the road from us, we didn’t know until after his sad departure. All his good deeds then became public knowledge. His success enabled him to fund people and causes as he saw fit, quietly and without the media spotlight glare.

A true Rock star attitude.

Ian Paice lived around here and, in a previous life, I got to know him whilst he purchased video games for his kids. Another unassuming Rock N Roll Legend living his life in full view here.

Jimmy Page passed me and my kids in a shop, I wished him a good afternoon and we went on our way. “Who was That Dad?” asked the eldest. “That, daughter dear is a god. A rock star. “He’s not, he’s just an old man!”. Ah. The perception of youth!

He’s renowned for searching out bargains at the local record fair, again, quiet, unassuming, living his life amongst us mere mortals.

We now have new gods amongst us. Prog Gods! Local boys make good!

After the great Prog explosion of the 80’s and 90’s that gave us 12th Night, Pure Reason Revolution and then Arena, this little corner of the shires has now again performed above its weight, we are now proud to claim The Room, *Frost (well John M anyway) and now I Am The Manic Whale as our home town heroes, even though in keeping with the invisibility cloaks gifted to musicians around here, the members can walk around, getting on with their non-musical lives.

Which is not to say this is an underwhelming album. Far from it. There are hooks galore, guitars are riffed on, keyboards pounded, drums thumped, and the final mix has had the magic of Rob Aubrey sprinkled on it.

After the sheer unthrottled joy of hearing their debut (I think it was one of my first pieces of scribble translated by the Wallet emptier!) I waited for the rest of the Universe to catch on.

And waited.

Then I waited a bit more for the 2nd output. I pledged to fund it, as I had the first. And it’s now arrived, resplendent in excellent art that deserves a vinyl release just to show off the art! Mr. Plane Groovy, one for your shopping list, not only for the cover but also the tunes locked inside.

Act 2 – the tunes

The album opens with big bouncy guitar riffs and keyboards – They’ve gone all Deep Purple on me. The vocals kick in and the 2-part harmony lead is back to IATMW territory. Vocals are clean, and the lyric is enunciated clearly, the subject however is a first for me.

This tale of The Man With Many Faces (no, not a politically satirical barb) unfurls like his “fourteen-foot scarf” would. The opening verses paint him as an avenging devil, to be hidden from and avoided at all costs. Musically, this is deep into the furrow ploughed by It Bites, that wonderful mix of Pop and Prog they exemplified, the harmony vocals add to the layers of this sonic package.

The song unfurls with some nice guitar and keyboard touches, and the story takes a darker turn as we learn more of this fearsome enemy, who “If you strike him down with all your hate, He comes right back up looking great”.

As some antipodean disgraced paint pusher once remarked “can you tell who it is yet?” Live, I can see a gleeful audience pogoing away to the middle eight, it’s very Calling All The Heroes. Not many prog bands make your feet tap and your body want to move, but his track does.

Is that enough for those that need to know to ask that most dreaded question – “Is it Pr…”

ENOUGH?!

Sorry. It’s music, I like it. End of classification and rant. Back to the plot and the twist. The narrator, hiding from this One-man extinction plan, is a member of that race of mobile pepper pots that terrified a generation, of kids hiding behind the sofa.Yup. The time traveler as seen through the eyes of those he opposes.

The ordinary low-level megalomaniac, going about their task of exterminating all life that infest the universe, warning it’s offspring to fear that scarf wielding face changer. Dalek Prog – a whole new genre is formed in this one track. The guitar solo at the climax pulls us out from that particular reality and we arrive back on Planet Earth for the 2nd track, The Milgram Experiment.

Prog songs based on historical events and people have proved popular over the years. Genesis gave us Driving The Last Spike about Brunel and the Railways, Big Big Train gave us songs about forgers, Big Big Trains (😊) , even Todd Rundgren threw in the epic Hiroshima, one of the slew of anti-nuclear war songs that the paranoid cold war years spawned .

Scientists as a subject matter are rarer creatures. Cold Play gave us a generic subject, Hawkwind immortalized Einstein as “a rather handsome fellow that no one ever called Al”.

The subject here is less photogenic than Uncle Albert, but his thinking had an equally profound effect on people. Stanley Milgram carried out psychological tests in the early ‘60’s, he was “interested in researching how far people would go in obeying an instruction if it involved harming another person.” (thanks Wikipedia!)

I had read about this years ago; the track takes us through the testing and the dilemma it exposes in each of those involved. There are some great harmony vocals here, not quite the polished perfection of Moon Safari, but heading in that direction. The multi-tracked guitar solo evokes early Queen, as do those layers of vocals.

Two tracks in, a great opening salvo where we get inside the head of the scourges of a particular universe and their fear and then get to contemplate the effects of blindly obeying orders like good sheeple . No love songs, no dragons, steam punks or dystopian nightmares yet.

Track 3 is equally distant from those staples. The Lifeboatmen is another epic Historical piece, this time with a more nautical theme, more in keeping with the band’s name! Opening with a haunting ambient intro, what sounds like an amalgamation of Yes (Jon Anderson era and peak codpiece era Jethro Tull) paint us a vivid picture of the eponymous heroes.

We are pulled out on the rip tide of some lovely keyboard and flute, rolling with the waves as the coastal life takes center stage. The song changes tempo with the advent of the storm warning – we are off out into the choppy waves, out to assist a ship in distress. The evocation of the storm and waves crashing around the lifeboat is well constructed and the sea shanty style vocals paint a picture of the bravery of those volunteers as they go about their mission.

If you enjoyed the tale of Winkie the super hero pigeon told by David Longdon and BBT, then this track will be just the thing for you. Swirling rhythms, tasty guitar and keys all combine to stunning effect, with the change in tempo adding emphasis to the amazing feat told in the song- 40 men and a dog saved off the coast of Cromar in 1941. We then get a lovely closing guitar piece, the instrumentation and lyricism of which warms the cockles of many an old Camel fan. Flute and keyboards play us out, the coda serving to poignantly return the volunteers to their normal lives, superheroes in plain sight.

Next up is a proper Prog epic – Strandbeest. A proper Prog track, it’s in 2 parts, an instrumental celebrating the strange beast illustrated on the cover and throughout the digipack. Created by a Dutch artist, Theo Jansen, the strandbeest is part sculpture, part animal, part robot. Desolate in their beauty, they roam the beach powered by the elements.

The track tells their story, it has Yes style multiple voices, creating a vivid mental image of the beast as it moves, the band stretch out and get almost funky in places. Yes playing alongside Frank Zappa was my original scribble – The climatic guitar solo takes a shine from Mr. Gilmour, cutting through the mix and driving on, building up to a grand finale. Live, I can imagine this is the guitarist’s big piece, head back, shapes thrown as he solos away, the drums and chorus joining for a fabulous ending that makes you want to go back and play it all again.

Across the first 4 tracks, The Whale have captivated me with some great instrumentation, interesting lyrics and intelligent subjects. Considering this is only their second album, I am amazed at the sheer musical joy captured here. The interplay between the instruments in I’ll Interlude You In A Minute  is as good as that from bands with decades of experience who are road tested and slick professionals

Stand Up is a different beast, another epic multi part track, staring with a semi-acoustic, almost jazzy piece, it’s more “traditional “70’s style in structure, a bit Supertramp or Yes in places. Lyrically though, this is very contemporary. Under the layers of multi- tracked vocals and acoustic guitars lies much anger and resentment about the state of the world we find ourselves living in.

It’s not about left or right, black or white, in or out as someone should say. It’s about being involved.Written by John Murphy, these 4 acts are a modern protest song. The call to arms lyric is suggesting it’s time that we “Stand Up”, think for ourselves, not blindly swallow the agenda we are fed.

“Rain”, act 2 questions the approach of the media, stirring up division and resentment for whatever reason. “Your Holy War”, act 3, is a stinging rebuke of fundamentalism, the fallacy of “ lives paid in service due to a god that we never knew” Act 4 offers a ray of hope, a coming together a rebranding of the hippy ideals so that If we do work at it, “We can build a world for everyone”.

Naïve? Possibly, but it’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.

The last track takes this theme and expands on it. One (Hopeful song) is a fitting album finale, the themes from the previous tracks are woven into a song of hope.

Act 3 – The Conclusion

This track shows just how much The Whale have assimilated the last 50 years of music, they’ve managed to take the glorious almost classical vocal layering that made Yes so ethereal, add in some fine instrumental techniques, some great guitar riffs and keyboard flourishes and write songs, proper songs that lift the spirit, make you think and tap your feet, all at the same time.

If you liked It Bites, have explored the wonders of the Unitopia / United Progressive Fraternity collaborations and have a desire to listen with both ears, then you could do far worse than allow this whale to captivate you with its song. The musicianship, production and sheer breadth of subject matter make this a “proper” old school Progressive Rock album.

We could discourse about the state of the music industry today, bemoan the fact that major labels are all run by Reality TV obsessed ‘Celebrity as product’, faceless corporate drones who care for nothing but the bottom line of a balance sheet, OR we could encourage those listeners to live a little, look beyond HMV and Amazon, persuade them that the choppy waters of the ocean of talent out there is worth dipping a toe or two in. Spread the word, Good music is out there, it’s just obstructed by that mountain of albums of bad karaoke put out by the cynical for the gullible.

(All band photos by CCCOB Photography)

Released 30th October 2017

Buy ‘Gathering The Waters’ from bandcamp

Progradar – 2016 – Best of the First Six Months

David

(Yours truly and Prog Guru™ himself)

Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the first official Progradar Reviewers and Friends ‘Best Of…’ feature.

I asked those who wished to contribute to cogitate over what great music they had heard, released 1st January to 30th June, in the first half of 2016 and come up with a list of their definitive five favourites.

Not an easy task, let me tell you but, here are the selections of nine (including me) erstwhile wordsmiths and friends, including a few words as to why these particular releases made the cut.

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Emma Roebuck (Progradar reviewer)

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Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence

This is Robin Armstrong on some amazing form.  I loved ‘Capacitor’ and I thought ‘Man Left in Space’ was a hard one to beat. I was clearly wrong and happy about it too. Robin is at his best when looking at the human condition when viewed through a less than regular lens. The mythology of Sisyphus and alien abduction combine to make such a lens.  I will treasure seeing his one and only live performance so far at Celebr8.3 fondly. The album is dark and melancholy which is the way I like my music to be honest.

This film might change your life and Relativity being high points in an album that is a mountain range of achievement.

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Preacher – Aftermath

Their second album, and independently released like the Cosmograf album (and another 2 in my, selection if I remember rightly.) Preacher craft both songs and albums exceedingly well. ‘Signals’, the previous album, shows signs (poor, but unintentional, pun) of a band with tons to offer. They draw their roots from 70s Floyd and the melodic side of the genre.  It could be said that this is the album that Floyd should have released instead of ‘The Endless River’, I could easily agree but this is not that Floyd this is a band that use melody, harmony and song in a way that could go beyond the genre.

Stand out Tracks

War/ War reprise and Vinyl show how we look to emotions and actions and make things or deeds of them as people.

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Drifting Sun – Safe Asylum

I was too young to be really aware of the genuine impact of the classic period of Prog rock. I caught the periphery in my early teens but felt no ownership of Yes, Genesis, VDGG, Floyd, Gentle Giant, etc only a serious attraction to the music as a 14 year old in 1975. In the early 80s, having ridden the horror that was punk, I remember seeing Marillion, IQ and Pallas in small pubs and clubs in 82 and it was a pure emotional and intellectual epiphany. It felt like I was hit in the heart and the brain with a piece of 2 by 4. I found home and ownership of music.  I liked ‘Trip the Light Fantastic’ immensely and when I heard this album I felt all those emotions again. I was in the Sheffield Limit club again hearing something of very high quality and I connected immediately to this music. It is Neo Prog of a very high standard.  They sound like themselves with echoes of the last 40 years resounding through the music.

Standout Tracks Intruder and DesolationRetribution.

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Jump – Over The Top

I have been a fan of Jump for the best part of 21 years. It is the Classic rock society that I owe big style, not just for these but many others, in times of musical desolation.  I found my first sample of these by old school recognition and recommendation by word of mouth. Fast forward to many Jump gigs later, the new album ‘Over the Top’ comes out and it was ‘yes, get in!’. Some of the current live set had been used to fine tune some of the songs over the last 18 months or so and it shows. John Dexter Jones is a storyteller par excellence and the band are an excellent vehicle for those stories. The words are heartfelt and the music comes from the same place. If they lived in medieval times they would be the bards of old. The use of the past to illustrate the way of the world we live in now is the stock in trade here.

Stand out tracks, I want to say all of them but if I was to choose The Beach and the Wreck of the St Marie are those choices.

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Kiama – Sign of IV

Just when you think you have Rob Reed figured out, Sanctuary, Magenta and so on, he does something out of the blue and blows the socks of you. Take good old rock sensibilities from the 60s and 70s, put them in the hands of some very talented individuals and they become a band which sounds like they have been a unit for years. I recently saw them support Frost* and wow, just wow.

This is a hybrid, musically drawn from the past in a very real sense, and is a homage to how they used to work but it does not feel like a tribute band in anyway.  It results in a multifaceted album of light and shade with some fantastic songs and heartfelt lyrics. It is some of Luke Machin’s best work outside of Maschine & Rubidium.  Rob Reed has a blast playing with sound and tone to create things like ‘Muzzled’, which is a tribute to the Floyd Album ‘Animals’, using the tones from the period to reflect the music and the time it came out. Dylans voice is amazing, we need more Kiama …

Stand Out Tracks  Muzzled and Slip away.

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Leo Trimming – (Progradar and TPA reviewer)

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Red Bazar – Tales From The Bookcase

This was my TPA’s review’s conclusion early in the year for this surprise package, and I’ve had no reason to change it since…

This is an excellent collaboration: Red Bazar have helped Peter Jones express more of his serious, darker side and also allowed him to display more vocal dexterity. In return Red Bazar have gained a talented and very fine rock vocalist who has added great lyrical skill and vocal feeling  to their own fine emotional musical palette…

This may be a bit of a dark horse, but Red Bazar may just have released one of the Prog albums of the year.

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Matthew Parmenter – All Our Yesterdays

A favourite on two levels – it’s a great album of subtle artistry and fine music, and on another level the artist & his music  touched me personally. My Progradar review concluded:

Matthew Parmenter has stepped aside from the magnificent, gothic group dynamic of Discipline to create a solo work of art suffused with dramatic shades and emotional lyricism, conveying tragedy and hope. This is an album that is likely to captivate and beguile with subtlety and delicate emotion. It certainly gave me unexpected comfort – Inside.’

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Nine Stones Close – Leaves

A darkly trippy and psychedelic album. Part dream, part nightmare – this is an album for which repeated listens gradually unpeal the layers, like all the best progressive releases. My Progradar review observed:

Nine Stones Close create rich musical landscapes suffused with a sense of the dramatic and psychedelic… They do not stick to their old formula and want to progress. My advice is stick with these guys because you are never quite sure in which direction their songs or this albums may turn, but it sure is an imaginative and fascinating ride!’

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Big Big Train – Folklore

A much anticipated release does not disappoint as the album describes modern folklore, ancient legend, elegies for lost love and epic stories of heroism and loss … plus bees (!) in a rich tapestry of folk tinged progressive rock. Lyrically intelligent and insightful, conveyed with integrity and emotion, and played with consummate skill and passion. Impossible to ignore – we all sort of knew it would be great. Of course it’s great!

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Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence

Simply stunning. Robin Armstrong has imagined a rich narrative of alien incursion (or paranoid breakdown?!) with sonic brilliance. The imaginative story is unnerving, whilst the music is captivating on a human level but cinematic in scope – ranging from crunching Purple riffs, through atmospheric acoustic passages to sweeping Floydian soundscapes. Undoubtedly, major contender for Album of the Year already from one of the best Progressive Rock artists of this generation.

Gary

Gary Morley – (Progradar reviewer)

HAWKWIND The Machine Stops

Hawkwind – The Machine Stops

Everything that Hawkwind evoke distilled into one disc. Great musicianship, tunes and tons of atmosphere make this the top of the pops for me. It’s been a long time since a Hawkwind album had such a buzz about it. Biggest regret – that I missed the live shows. Biggest hope – a proper live blu-ray & CD set is coming.

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Preacher – Aftermath

Prog at it’s best for me needs a driver. Preacher use guitars. Proper guitars like your dad waffles on about when he talks about Pink Floyd, Steve Hillage, Jimmy Page and that time he watched Rory Gallagher play for 3 hours at the Hexagon Theatre and your mum was drinking pints and ended up paralytic, singing along to “Wayward Child” sat on his boss’s shoulders…

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I Am The Manic Whale – Everything Beautiful In Time

Local boy’s debut embraces everything that is good about music. It has great tunes, off the wall lyrics and subjects that place it head and shoulders above most of what passes for modern music from the under 30’s. I’m looking forward to their next offering, be it a live gig in Reading or more music.

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Gandalf’s Fist – The Clockwork Fable

‘The Clockwork Fable’ is a Steam punk opera, like a space opera or a soap opera but without the bad romance and dodgy backdrops.

I loved the variety of musical genres used to tell a totally bonkers tale of clockwork suns and steam powered boys looking for missing cogs in a giant machine all played out in a cavernous underground city. There are rock tracks, some great drumming, some “epic” prog , some plaintive melodies and a host of guest vocalists and musicians, all of which add to the mix without overegging the lily.

The first time you listen you get sucked into the world presented here. It’s a Post apocalyptic, dark dystopian world but there are flashes of humour and the absurdity does not detract from the sheer brilliance of the effort here.

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Steven Wilson – 4 1/2

“left over’s” from ‘Hand .Cannot .Erase’ these track might have been, but as a snapshot of Mr Chuckletrousers ( © Angus Prune I Think) and his Zeus like stature in the modern Prog pantheon  this is sublime in its perfection. Hints of Zappa referencing impossible “stun guitar”, epic soundscape that demonstrate his skill as an arranger and bleak yet beautiful lyrics are all wrapped in a package that sticks 2 fingers up at the download and go generation. This is a quality production in every detail, lovingly constructed and presented for your pleasure.

Shawn Dudley

Shawn Dudley – (Progradar reviewer)

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Messenger – Threnodies

It took several spins for this album to truly work its magic on me, but once hooked it just won’t let me go.  A beautifully organic record, informed and powered by vintage sounds but not a slave to them.  The tastefully arranged guitar work on this album is a particular highlight.  Favorite tracks:  Balearic Blue, Celestial Spheres. 

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Haken – Affinity

Haken leaves the 1970s sounds of ‘The Mountain’ behind, makes a brief stop in the 1980s for the song 1985 and then ventures forward into the future on Affinity.  An endlessly inventive collection of intricately designed and passionately performed pieces it’s one of the most thrillingly forward-looking albums of 2016.  It’s time to drop the “Prog Metal” genre tag, these guys have transcended it.  Favorite tracks:  The Architect, Red Giant

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Purson – Desire’s Magic Theatre

Purson’s follow-up to ‘The Circle And The Blue Door’ is essentially a solo album from Rosalie Cunningham who wrote, arranged, produced and performed the majority of D.M.T. herself.   A conceptual psychedelic journey influenced by her Father’s record collection and her own experimentation with mind-expanding substances.  Another case of an artist using the canvas of vintage instrumentation and production techniques to create very personal and unique modern music.   Favorite tracks:  The Sky Parade, The Bitter Suite.

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Big Big Train Folklore

Another beautiful collection of immaculately arranged and produced “pastoral prog” from this master collective of musicians.  I recommend going for the extended track-list available on the LP and High-Res download editions, I believe an even stronger collection than the shorter CD version.  Favorite tracks:  Salisbury Giant, London Plane

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Knifeworld – Bottled Out OF Eden

A wonderfully quirky concoction of pop sensibility, progressive experimentation and the harmonic sophistication of jazz all mixed together into a thoroughly accessible brew.  And it’s fun!  Favorite tracks:  I Am Lost, I Must Set Fire To Your Portrait.

Roger

Roger Trenwith – (TPA reviewer and Astounded by Sound blog)

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Bent Knee – Say So

An unparalleled triumph of invention, melody, and strangeitude, it will take some beating for album of the year.

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David Bowie – Blackstar

Hardly seems right relegating this poignant artistic statement and full stop on a career of a true visionary to No.2, but from a purely musical point of view, them’s the breaks.

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Knifeworld – Bottled Out OF Eden

A chronicle of loss leavened by hope, Knifeworld get better with each release. Criminally underrated.

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Body English – Stories of Earth

Is there a sub-genre called “prog-pop”? If not, this is it. A truly joyous record shining a light in this dark Year of Stupid.

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King Crimson – Live In Toronto – Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Toronto, Canada, 20th November 2015

Whatever I put here means leaving out at least half a dozen albums equally as good, so this came out on top after a complicated mathematical randomisation process involving dice, incantations, dead frogs, toads, and copious amounts of single malt. The mighty Crim remake, remodel like no-one else. The version of Epitaph will make you shiver, unless you have no soul. Superb!

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Kevin Thompson (LHS) – (Progradar reviewer)

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Big Big Train – Folklore

Does this really need a reason?, best of the Band’s excellent output so far and an album that will always be on my desert island disc list. As near to perfect as it gets…

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Long Distance Calling – Trips

There are so many bands in this area of music it’s hard to stand out, but, on this release, Long Distance Calling have…..

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Gandalf’s Fist – The Clockwork Fable

A tremendous 3 disc concept package of such quality. Never been better value for money and shames the bigger bands!!

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Iamthemorning – Lighthouse

A delicately beautiful album from this Russian duo added further poignancy with the heartfelt vocals from Mariusz Duda on the title track.

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Downriver Dead Men Go – Tides

Another band who came recommended and I’d not heard before buying. Slow, dark and emotional, this Dutch band surpassed my expectations.

David

David Elliott – (Prog Guru™, TEP, Bad Elephant)

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Lazuli – Nos Âmes Saoules

There is nothing else quite like them, and they keep on going from strength to strength….

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Bent Knee – Say So

My first exposure to this amazing American band…genuine innovators, and hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck exciting!!

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The Dowling Poole – One, Hyde Park

Unashamedly unoriginal, but huge fun, and immaculately crafted. Big smiley music.

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Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden

Banging tunes, a great groove, and more bassoon!!

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Frost* – Falling Satellites

A great return to the arena from the masters of modern progressive. Progressive rock with pop sensibilities – what’s not to like?

John Simms

John Simms – (Progradar reviewer, Rev Sky Pilot blog)

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Big Big train – Folklore

Consistently turning out excellent pastoral English progressive music, BBT have hit the motherlode again with this suite of songs celebrating the British folkloric tradition. From the sublime beauty of ‘Transit’ to the quirky tale of ‘Winkie’ the Pigeon, this is music of the highest calibre.

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Anderson/Stolt – Invention of Knowledge

This, for me, is simply the best music anyone connected with Yes has produced since ‘Awaken’. It draws on the bestaspects of Yes and Flower Kings and produces something sublime and beautiful. It was a very close call between my Top 2.

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Southern Empire – Southern Empire

One of the up sides to Unitopia folding a few years ago is that we now have both UPF and Southern Empire to carry on the legacy. This is a fine collection of melodic progressive rock music, exhibiting high levels of virtuosity and songmanship.

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Knifeworld – Bottled Out of Eden

Another band with a unique style and approach to music making. This is a wonderful follow-up to ‘The Unravelling’ and Kavus and his band of minstrels continue to delight.

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Mothertongue – Unsongs

The best music is that which stands out from the crowd, and Mothertongue certainly do that. Ecclectic, bizarre, unexpected and bonkers, this is a wonderful collection of (un)songs.

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And finally my thoughts, this selection of five albums was incredibly difficult to pick but I’m pretty certain that, at this moment in time, it is my definitive top five!!!

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Mothertongue – Unsongs

With its incisive, intelligent lyrics and first-class musicianship, Unsongs is unlike anything you will have heard in recent years. The music will lead you on a roller-coaster journey of acid jazz inventiveness that’s a big heap of noisy and light and also includes a lot of brass because everyone likes brass, right? A musical breath of fresh air that you will return to again and again, it’s just brilliant!

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Big Big Train – Folklore

The acknowledged masters of pastoral progressive rock and intelligent and incisive storytelling return with a fresh collection of tales gleaned from our heritage and history. With their penchant for heartfelt lyrics and beautiful music it is an involving and mesmerising journey that everyone should take at least once in their life.

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Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence

Thought provoking, questioning and inventive, ‘The Unreasonable Silence’ has all that I ask for in my music. A well constructed and intelligent concept brought to reality by a gifted musician with incomparable support from some incredible guests. It makes you really think about what you have heard and, above all, is a peerless, outstanding and incomparable listening experience that you will not forget any time soon.

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Iamthemorning – Lighthouse

‘Lighthouse’ is an amazing musical journey from the first note to the last. It is bewitching and beguiling and removes you from your everyday life to a place of wonder. Darkly captivating, it is not all sweetness and light but is a musical legacy that iamthemorning can build on and the ‘Lighthouse’ can light the way. These two exceptional artists have now moved into the major leagues and it is well deserved, album of the year? why not!

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Tilt – Hinterland

A superb album by a cast of very accomplished musicians. Brilliant vocals, burning guitar solos, a thunderous rhythm section and songwriting of the highest quality combine to deliver one kick ass release that I keep returning to again and again. By the way, three of these guys are better known as Fish’s backing band but, oh my god, have they risen well above that soubriquet now….

So, there you have it, a small selection of our own, very subjective, opinions on what has been the best music of a highly impressive first six months of 2016. You may agree, you may not but, one thing that everything agrees on is that the music just keeps getting better, and long may it continue!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review – I Am The Manic Whale – Everything Beautiful In Time – by Gary Morley

cover

The school of Prog has a new swot or 4.

This collective of cetaceans are young & hungry and have absorbed the last 40 years of music , digested it and produced this nugget of ambergris.

Like that semi mythical product, this is rare and smells a bit in places, but that’s part of the charm.

As you listen to the opening shot across the bow, Open Your Eyes, the years roll away. I think back to first hearing It Bites floating across the ether, then there’s a blast of Moon Safari vocal harmony, some Queen influenced guitar harmonics, all are mere constituents, base ingredients that the perfumer uses to weave a complex and pleasing fragrances that mature as they are exposed to warmth and skin.

I’m not suggesting that this CD be listened to naked, but the warmth and sheer joy it contains would have saved Baron F a fortune in electricity bills.

It starts with the most “Prog” intro – Piano, treated guitar and a drum beat underneath it, a time change sneaks in before the first words. The voice is young, kicks with a mighty tune, chorus and a thundering gallop through verse, chorus, instrumental flourishes falling by the wayside as it speeds up , before leaping up and into the night.

When ( rather than if) they decide to dip their collective appendages into the water of live performances, this is the show opener, a statement of intent topped off with a guitar solo and piano counterpoint that many bands twice their collective age would sell relatives for.

It’s not breaking new ground, has a warm familiar feel, but that’s a positive , a hook to hang the rest of the album on. It’s Prog Jim, but enthused with harmony, a tune with a great melody and a sense of a great journey just starting.

In short, a perfect debut album opener.

Pages next, an epic story that starts with Monks studiously hand writing the words , we then get the industrialisation of printing, the typesetter as revolutionary, the advent of mechanical printing, words freed up to spread by typing , all under pinned by the loftier concept of information freedom and intellectual emancipation ringing through the ages. The story flows as the years go by, then a gentle pause illustrated by an acoustic foray into BBT /Jethro Tull land, with a gentle melody that then repeats with electric amplification, underlining the journey that we have been taken on.

The piano here is gentle and refined; acting as a bridge to modern ideas of machines writing the word, the “big idea” that information being transmitted freely could change the world for the better.

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As if to then reinforce that idea, the next track relates a thoroughly modern situation, addressing cyber bullying and the effect of words on children as they gro.

I find the viewpoint disturbing, as it’s neither the protagonist nor the victim, but a (not so innocent ) bystander telling the story.

Simple , effective and with  instrumentation that just reeks of class, the track builds to a climatic shoot out between guitar and keyboard that deserves to be played loud .

As you can probably infer, I like this CD.

The Cetacean collective are based in my home town, and I found them via Facebook, the snippets posted there hooked my interest and I was a small part of the crowd funding for the physical CD.

A thing of beauty it is too, illustrated with haunting photographs of a deserted swimming pool, the subject of the final epic on the CD, Derelict, an ode to the forgotten glory of a neglected municipal pool.

Before that, there are 3 more classy tracks, Circle(Show Love) which pays homage to Jon Anderson’s tenure with “That Band” in terms of musical concept and lyrical theme with more great keyboard and guitar for the air instrumentalists out there , this time the Queen vibe is running under the harmony guitars as they build to the thunderous conclusion with extra keyboards and drums taking us home on our starship.

Listening again as I type this, the achievements of this band in bringing 10 years of ideas to us are many.

If you like music that has melody, choruses and space for the musicians to demonstrate their harmonic intention, then this is for you.

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As I mentioned earlier, there are countless memory triggers and hooks in here, echoes of previous musical pioneers flash by, a hint Of ELP there, a bit of Yes there, a big chunk of Queen , a smatter of 10cc , a nod to the Flower Kings , something of the choral beauty of Moon Safari all add to the mix.

Clock of the Long Now is a prime example. a song about a clock , not one that’s ticking away the days or counting down to zero, but this one is a proper “Prog” clock – counting out time in centuries rather than minutes. The chorus here is a real ear worm, you too will sing along to “10 thousand years”, invoking your internal Gabriel, Collins, Lee and Anderson whilst the music crashes around you on your trip through time. The track triggers a memory of that other great Canadian rock trio, Triumph, with the harmonies and vocals on their “Thunder Seven” album’s centrepiece – Time Canon /Killing time.

Next up, a lovely piece to a son or daughter- The Mess. All finger picking and acoustic steel strings with a sentimental piece about how our children grow up too fast.

It’s at odds to the epics bookending it, but it is not out of place, it’s a very human piece about simple pleasures fitting between time and space and the big questions that we all tend to leave out of our daily lives.

This was supposed to be a short sharp shock of a review. But listening to the CD as I type, I realise that I can wax lyrically for as long as it plays and still not describe the warm , sunny morning in the warmth feeling that it generates every time.

If you want to hear a band proudly displaying their influences whilst performing melodic and memorable tunes, expertly recorded by Mr Rob Aubrey (that name might be familiar to some of you, passengers on a Big Big Train where he rides the mixing desk) then go and invest in a little slice of the future that is being written here in Reading.

My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am The Manic Whale are well worth your valuable time and a little bit of your money.

Excitingly, the whole band has now met, rehearsed and are contemplating live shows.

I for one will be there, supporting a local band, not because they’re local but because they are good. Very good indeed.

Released 6th December 2015

Buy ‘Everything Beautiful In Time’ from bandcamp

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=20sIURP-X6w