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ConcertsHRH Prog 4 @ Pwllheli, North Wales 03/18 & 03/19 2016

Posted on Tuesday, April 05 2016 @ 04:07:57 CDT by Dean Pedley
Progressive Rock Prog fans making the annual March pilgrimage to the Welsh coastline for this now well established festival were rewarded with the usual blend of the old and the new. From up and coming psychedelic new age heroes Purson to the considerably more grizzled features of Caravan and Ian Anderson there was something here that would appeal to pretty much everyone attending. And for those in need of a break from the music the event was twinned with a Sci-Fi get together that had all of the obligatory gadgetry, gaming and cosplay attractions alongside special guest appearances from the likes of Brian 'Gordon's Alive' Blessed.

The Fierce and The Dead were given the honour of kick-starting proceedings with an hour or so of their languid instrumental offerings. And even if the music came across as repetitive and self-indulgent before too long ("Where are the tunes???" was the cry from the back of the room) their good natured between song banter endeared them to at least a few of the faithful. Empty Yard Experiment had travelled all the way from Dubai for the opportunity to perform at the festival and they certainly won new friends with their post-rock Karnivool / Tool / Steven Wilson inspired musings complete with haunting ambient passages and powerful shifts in mood. As their set progressed the band were greeted with increasing nods of approval from those drawn in from the bar. Most definitely a band worth keeping an EYE on lookout for an interview here on SoT with frontman Bojan Preradovic coming soon. They were followed by what can only be described as a truly hideous attempt at prog cabaret from Schnauser which presumably those in the know found hilarious but the joke was sadly lost on most.

Greece's September Code upped the tempo and the riff count; also being the closest the festival came to prog metal territory all weekend. This was a decent enough set from a band heavy on Queensryche influenced atmospherics with song structures that take time to build the tension before erupting with none too subtle bursts of twin guitar fury. Abel Ganz have a long and chequered history that saw them emerge during the early 80's before disappearing in the 90's only to enjoy a second coming in the twenty-first century. Performing both intimate acoustic and full blown electric sets this was old-school classic prog with genuine tunes and memorable melodies ("Hurrah!"). The wonderful 'Obsolescence' from 2014's eponymous release provided one of the festivals highlights for all of its gloriously uplifting twenty-odd minutes. Messenger have seen plenty of plaudits come their way for 2014's Illusory Blues and what they lack in stage presence is more than compensated by inventive song structures encompassing not only prog-psychedelia but also including touches of earthy folk and Americana.

Ever wondered what it would have been like if Kraftwerk had been employed by the BBC? Then wonder no more as the answer is provided by the Radiophonic Workshop. Responsible for creating both the music and sound effects for shows such as Doctor Who, Blakes 7 and the Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy some of the original collaborators (or "shadowy pioneers" according to The Guardian) have, quite literally, taken the show on the road – vintage equipment and all. A fascinating glimpse into the past this charming and mischievous bunch of septuagenarians (aided and abetted by Prodigy side-man Kieron Pepper on drums) are finding themselves increasingly in demand for festival appearances and rightly so. The sight of sound engineer Dick Mills fiddling with his reel-to-reel tape machines and acting as the on-stage MC was truly marvellous.

Fronted by the electrifying Rosalie Cunningham, Purson have come a long way since their last appearance here two years ago; not least in winning plenty of plaudits from their recent North American trek with Ghost. A new record deal with Spinefarm will shortly see the release of album number two (Desire's Magic Theatre) and they delivered what for many was the set of the festival. The trippy psychedelia kicked off with the wonderfully catchy title track from the new album and they soon had the audience hanging onto every word and note. Purson are a band that really do look and sound the part and visually their stylish vintage appearance complements the music perfectly. 'Dead Dodo Down' and 'Electric Landlady' suggest Desire's Magic Theatre will be a strong contender for one of the albums of the year and this was a performance simply oozing in confidence. The Enid are regulars at HRH Prog and this year was tinged with sadness given Robert John Godfrey's imminent retirement from the stage. He leaves the band in more youthful hands and they are now very much led by Joe Payne who is ushering them into a new era with material largely conceived around showcasing his West-End theatrical vocal style. It was nevertheless surprising that Payne felt it necessary to make a sly dig at their 70's back catalogue given, by their own admission, the band are so reliant on online sales to ensure a viable future.

Caravan headlining a festival held at a caravan park sounds like a match made in heaven and Pye Hastings and Co duly rolled back the years all the way back to the land of grey and pink for an hour and a half of esoteric, chilled out prog largely drawn from their heyday of the late 60's and early 70's. A band that it is simply impossible to be offended by even if you are not their biggest fan this was a relaxed display from the veterans of the Canterbury scene and they rounded it all off with the wonderful 'Nine Feet Underground'. And so to the final act of the weekend– Ian Anderson in fully blown Plays The Best Of Jethro Tull guise. With no second vocalist to cover his fragile voice the set list was clearly designed to save his best for the obligatory 'Aqualung' and 'Locomotive Breath' finale and so there were several instrumentals ('Dharma for One', 'Bouree', 'Serenade to a Cuckoo') and gentle pieces more suited to his current range ('Weathercock', 'Jack in the Green'). The sight of Anderson standing one-legged front and centre wielding his flute is still something to behold and he also remains an engaging raconteur. And with Florian Ophale playing the songs in very much a "classic" vibe, Les Paul and all, this was as close to vintage Tull as you can get in 2016. A great way to end what was another successful festival that is set to further expand in 2017.

Review by Dean Pedley.
Thanks once again to Claire and all of the HRH team.

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