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!!

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 – This Winter Machine – The Man Who Never Was – by Kevin Thompson

So, the opportunity to review an album from a new band. Not just a new band but one from Leeds, where I grew up. We’re a proud bunch us Yorkshire folk and we like to think whatever we do is quality. One look at their website shows they’re not a young bunch so I would expect them to carry some hefty experience in with their music.

They say their influences are from the 70’s and 80’s pioneers, should I worry? You see I was and still am a big fan of the music and bands of the Neo-Prog era and wary of this current trend for new bands emerging and trying to imitate 70’s/80’s sounds. A lot of it leaves me cold. Progressive music should be just that, not regressive. So Gentlemen you now have your work cut out to convince me, as fellow Yorkshiremen I expect great things.

 So lads and lasses daft enough to read this, let me introduce to you This Winter Machine:

Mark Numan – Keyboards and Backing vocals

Marcus – Drums

Jevo – Guitars

Pete – Bass

Al – Vocals

A piano intro floats above a noisy crowd introducing us to The Man Who Never Was, and a lone mournful guitar with Marillion like keys drift in as the crowd disperse and the bass, drums and vocals complete the contemplative sound. Broken into four parts, ‘(i) Asleep’ shows a changed man reflecting on the mistakes of the person he was, before ‘(ii) Dreaming’ of the mistakes which have brought him down to his current state. At his lowest ebb he stands in the ‘(iii) Snow’ on the brink, when realisation dawns and he knows what he needs to do to try and shed the past. Now ‘(iv) Awake’, he sees where he went wrong, but ignoring the voices in his head, carries on.

You get caught in the endless merry go round that is life and not always on The Wheel you would like to ride. It can be a cold vicious circle quite bleak, leaving a chill in your soul from the introductory  mournful guitar. The lyrics betraying the confusion and desperation of choices and temptation leading you down the wrong path in a driving riff and insistent rhythm, to search for something you may never find.

After the cold winter wind of the last two tracks, this starts sweetly with a guitar chord Lullaby and the sound of a happy young child playing only to be crushed by a doom laden synth sound and crying guitar as the pace picks up in this pleasant instrumental.

I’m sat writing this on a cold, damp rainy day but that is not the feeling I get from this album. Despite the despairing lyrics the cover of the album is more indicative of the mood, across a chilly snow laden scene but with an air of calm.

The loss in a relationship, holding on for a reconciliation that will never materialize After Tomorrow Comes in the wistful yearning of the melody and heartfelt words. Sometimes no matter how hard you want something it won’t happen.

Fifth and final track Fractured shows the excellent quality of the musicians as all are given chances to shine, with Marcus’ flailing drums especially to the fore and the pumping bass from Pete pulsating throughout. Al sings of fractured lives and yet we still go on ‘confused and undecided’ as the gang pick up the pace with the bubbling keys from Mark and a delicious final guitar solo from Jevo sees us out.

Only five tracks on this and leaves me wanting more. Yes they are derivative in places with comparisons from Marillion to IQ, Pendragon and every other band of this ilk, but it works. Their recent support of Magnum shows their worth.

 All the band members are on their game and despite the emotional heft of the lyrics I found it most enjoyable, particularly the guitar solos. Though I hate to praise any member of a band more than the others, Jevo plays the sort of guitar I could listen to all day, echoing the likes of Steve Rothery, Mike Holmes and Nick Barrett and holding his own quite capably.

 If a band is to wave the flag for a modern evolution of a Neo-Prog revival and raise the standard for the white rose of the independent state of Yorkshire and our beloved country, then let’s hand the banner to This Winter Machine and let them run with it. I for one would like to see what impressions they can leave in the deep snows of winter and carry them forward to a bright future. It could end up bright and we may need shades.

The album is available now, brighten up your winter and grab a copy, I intend to.

Released 16th January 2017

Buy ‘The Man Who Never Was’ from Progressive Gears