15 April 2022

Review – HRH Prog 11 02 Academy, Sheffield 2nd and 3rd April 2022

What Is Prog ??

Up there with “what is the meaning of life ?” (no, it’s NOT 42 btw !!) and “is there extraterrestrial life ?” as one of the greatest unanswered questions of all time… Have you ever been in conversation with someone and the topic of MUSIC rears its head ?? I dread someone asking me what type of music I like because I just KNOW that I’m gonna have to try and describe and explain it…..basically, the road to nowhere !! HRH Prog brings together a vast number of fans from all over the country (and probably abroad) all with one common goal – to check out some astounding music from some of the many bands and performers in the World Of Prog. You are in good company and for the bands, preaching to the converted – we’re an eager and hungry bunch !!

You are always guaranteed to see and hear bands and artists you may not have heard of before, up there with the more well known acts. This year’s event was nothing different…..

On April 2nd and 3rd we had the 11th (??) outing for the successful HRH Prog series, held in Sheffield at 02 Academy. With an endless onslaught, the eager crowd were showered with one band after another, eager to share their musical treats. Saturday kicked off with not one but THREE totally instrumental bands – Monkey Trial, Moon Goose and Psychic Lemon. I had seen Monkey Trial previously, a two piece band – keys, synths and Theremin and guitar/effects pedals. Bordering on Tangerine Dream at their more rocking and melodic, some great pulsating rhythms, soaring guitar and spacey synth made this an ideal set to start the ball rolling. On we went to Moon Goose. Not seen or heard of these guys previously ( the joys of a festival eh ??), but imagine Hawkwind without the vocals and you won’t be far off – solid rhythm work from bass and drums and psychedelic guitar. It wouldn’t be HRH Prog without some Hawkwind-inspired bands and later on we had Hawklords, the joy never ends !! Third on the roster we had a two-piece band AGAIN – Psychic Lemon, all guitar, feedback and drums. A few puffs on a certain cigarette may well have enhanced the mood somewhat and with The Fierce And The Dead up next with (SHOCK HORROR) – VOCALS !! I had previously always took TFATD as yet another instrumental band so it was nice to hear a few tracks stepping out of what some may have thought was the mood for the day. Ironic, as Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy played later and they are USUALLY totally instrumental with the incredibly gifted PAUL BIELATOWICZ taking on Keith Emerson’s synth and organ using electric guitar, but tonight we had vocals (even Carl sang !!), but more of that later….

I have to be honest, although I love instrumental music a great deal, I do feel it was a very unbalanced running order.;-) Psych and Prog are happy bed-fellows although I daresay there were a few shaking heads throughout the afternoon. I suspect the die-hards were more than happy when Nth Ascension took to the stage – for some, the first real Prog band of the day. An excellent set from these Blackpool-based Proggers and with four albums under their belt, plenty of material to choose from. I have to admit, I’d not come across these guys before, but was suitably impressed. Guitarist Martin Walker kicked out some superlative solos,. Prior to the big boys taking the stage later, this was one of the highlights of the day (for me at least), I even had Proggers I know from our very own Fusion Prog Festival coming up to  me asking me to book them – watch this space people !!

Up next we had The Space Lords, a three piece from Germany bringing (you guessed it) another set of predominantly instrumal music. Guitar, bass and drums with a psychedelic edge. More Psych than Prog (is there a pattern emerging here ??) Awesome musicianship, their set was like one long jam, I enjoyed it a great deal but again, is it Prog ?? Maybe it’s time for another hit of the ol’ bong.

Following on, we had Hawlords – yes there was singing this time, but yet again we had another nod to Hawkwind with the line-up featuring Mr Dibs one of many ex-Hawkwind members who have graced the stage with Hawklords. I have to be honest, I saw a good number of bods with Hawkwind T-Shirts on, maybe it’s just me who’s in the minority. Let’s face it, it wouldn’t be HRH Prog without an element of Hawkwind about the place and with four of this weekend’s bands also performing at HRH Psych, a bellowing example of how some bands fall under a number of genre umbrellas !! Currently on a UK tour, if Hawkwind are your bag you so need to check these guys out, but I daresay you already know that eh ??? Cosmic Rock at its finest.

With 9 acts from 12.30 until midnight, they certainly pack ’em in with no time to sneak out for a bite. With only hotdogs and chip butties on the menu in the venue, you had to make a harsh decision on when to bow out, but I think it’s safe to say that the place was RAMMED when the final two acts took to the stage – even the VIP area upstairs was, how shall I say, well populated !!!

Two Prog legends on stage one after the other – it was worth being there for them alone. Carl Palmer has been touring his ELP Legacy show for a while, with a guitarist and bass player on tow. The only surviving member of the legendary ELP, at the age of 72, this guy certainly puts on a good show and is more than happy to vacate the drummer’s stool between tracks to regale us with the odd story or five. I think this was the third of fourth time I’ve seen Carl and tonight stood out as one of the best as not being content with just drumming, he now sings too !! Admittedly it was Bennie The Bouncer from Brain Salad Surgery (according to Carl, Greg Lake refused to sing this live LOL), but an outstanding performance overall with their take on Toccata, Knife Edge, Hoedown and of course, the entire glory of TARKUS with Paul Bielatowicz (try saying that after a few beers LOL !!) taking on the vocals. They really crammed a lot into their 70 minute set, it was over far too quickly, but a standing ovation from the crowd (even though half the room was on their feet anyway) said it all really, amazing. Our final act of the day came from Mr Wakeman and entourage (The English Rock Ensemble). I have to be honest, it’s good to see Rick back surrounded by some incredible musicians – good ol’ Lee Pomeroy, Dave Colquhoun and on secondary keys – Adam Wakeman with lead vocals supplied by Hayley Sanderson (and what a set of pipes !!!). Of late, Rick has focused more on his solo piano tours, but as far as I’m concerned, he was back with a vengeance tonight with an arsenal of synths and keyboards that looked more like the bridge of the USS Enterprise !! Focusing on his earlier material, we had a fair chunk of Journey To The Centre Of The Earth and Myths and Legends Of King Arthur in the set list with a couple of numbers from his take on 1984 and Catherine Parr from Six Wives – absolutely outstanding. Finishing off with a sterling rendition of Starship Trooper, I think it’s very safe to say the there was a lot of weary, but very happy smiling faces as we left for the night. Also in his early 70s, tonight proved once and for all that Rick Wakeman is up there as one of the greatest Prog Keys players on the planet.

Sunday 3rd April – We kicked off with Malcolm Galloway and Mark Gatland with flute by Kathryn Thomas – aka Hats Off Gentlemen, It’s Adequate. Playing to a backing track, these guys ooze enthusiasm by the bucket load and certainly seem to be enjoying themselves. I know Malcolm and Mark and also know that they travel to gigs by train so their equipment is minimal making their setup and swap-out easy and hassle free. Thought-provoking lyrics based around modern day issues, a mindful way to start the day. Second act of the day and only their second ever live performance I gather, we had The Bloody Mallard – a guitar and drum two piece – yet another instrumental set. I have to be honest, despite having an arsenal of pedals to hand, it all started to meld into one for me, one long jam. Excellent musicians, but more Psych than Prog. I daresay the Hawkwind fans enjoyed it and interestingly enough, another band who are playing at HRH Psych (no surprises there !!)

Third act of the day, we have The Room (not to be confused with the new wave band of the same name that came out of Liverpool in the late 70s). These guys seem to be getting a decent following having played numerous festivals the past decade. One of the bands formed from the ashes of Grey Lady Down back in 2010, The Room put on an exuberant set with plenty of enthusiasm and energy and with new kid on the block Alistair Bell (first saw this guy fronting Oktopus) on guitar, they ripped through a 60 minute set with a vengeance. More Melodic than Prog, their songs have that sing-along edge that guarantees to get the house moving and grooving. Lots of hand clapping and audience rapport going on, they certainly gave it their all…to an eager crowd.

Next up was one the weekend’s highlights for many and certainly PROG from a performance POV !! Brandishing swords, antlers, angel wings and all manner of weird and wonderful dress we had Spriggan Mist, bringing a Pagan inspired folk-prog aspect to proceedings. This truly was an inspired set and an eye (and ear) opener in many ways, yet another 60 minute set that was over far too quickly. I think it’s safe to say, based on audience reaction, that we’ll be seeing more of these guys on the festival circuit over the Summer, fun and frivolous.

This Winter Machine were up next, fronted by Al Winter. This is a brand new incarnation of the band from the first two albums, but with no keys player at present, they played to a  backing track and over the course of their set, focused mainly on their third and latest album KITES. Some very fine musicianship throughout and ample vocals from Mr Winter himself accompanied with the twin guitar attack of Simon D’Vali and Dom Bennison and a solid rhythm section from Dave Close and Alan Wilson on Bass and drums respectively, this was a finely honed set that ticked all the boxes, the fanbase in the room were very happy with this performance, despite a few early tech niggles.

Karnataka were due to play but pulled out due to a Covid infection within the band so the two remaining acts were pulled forward and first up at 8.00pm we had the mighty Focus. I have seen these guys numerous times and never fail to impress. Despite a lengthy hiatus, over the past decade they have certainly made up for lost time with tours and festival appearances galore and also continue to knock out new albums. During the set we had “All Hens On Deck” from Focus X, the entirety of Eruption from Moving Waves, which lends itself to some incredible improvisation from these VERY accomplished musicians (Thijs Van Leer – 74 years of age and still knocking it out of the arena !!) with original Focus drummer Pierre Van Der Linden, Menno Gootjes and Udo Pannekeet on guitar (more than ably taking on the mighty role left by Jan Akkerman) and bass respectively. In fact, original bassist Bert Ruiter passed away earlier this year and during the set we had a brand new, untitled song dedicated to him, a touching thought. In addition, we had Sylvia (it wouldn’t be a Focus gig without it), House Of The King (Focus do Jethro Tull) and of course the mighty Hocus Pocus, which always ends up being WAYYYYY longer than the original album version and naturally, brings the entire room to their feet !! Yet another very worthy standing ovation which prompted a “naughty” encore via an abridged version of “Focus 3”.

I have to be honest, I’m not a lover of Wishbone Ash, but despite there being a number of fans in the room and with nearly a 3 hour drive home and work the next day, we left shortly after Focus’ set. Speaking to the hardy ones who stayed until the bitter end during the following week, I gather their set was excellent and certainly ticked all the boxes, a very worthy way to finish yet another HRH Prog (?) event. With HRH Prog 12 lined up for Leeds in September and the first event in Great Yarmouth postponed until November 2023 (and by heck, the line up for THAT is astounding !!), I think it’s safe to say that Prog is VERY much here to stay, long may it reign.

On the negative side, I thought sound throughout the weekend was maybe a bit on the bassy side, which at times, drowned out some of the other instruments. The food selection was adequate but limited and the men’s toilets on the ground floor required a ferry man by the evening, but the bands came thick and fast, the beer flowed well and overall, I think the weekend was a success.

Roll on Leeds in September – Prog On Dudes.

Steve Gould (The Lost Art)

All pictures courtesy of Mark Grocutt.