It’s no wonder the burgeoning HRH brand simply rocks on from strength to strength with the likes of the wonderful HRH Prog weekend at their base in North Wales. No wonder either that the event sells out months before. Success breeds success and you lucky punters can now expect a further HRH Prog weekend to grace the scene in November 2017 too!
There simply is nothing to fault here. A themed weekend of genre specific music, offering bands you simply would not see as a collection at a summer festival, with the added benefit of decent accommodation and facilities that nudge the ‘festival scene’ into a truly 21st century experience. Traditional summer festivals are wonderful of course, but these winter fixes of rock cabaret with the prospect of a comfy bed and no mud really are splendid. Musically the line-up centred on Prog but with more than enough diversity to satisfy most rock music palettes from Psychedelia through to Stoner Rock.
The HRH base at Haven Hafan y Mor Holiday Park on the edge of the Snowdonia National Park in North Wales is a great location with plenty of accommodation options, eateries, entertainment, and decent auditoria, and it attracts a great crowd as diverse as the music. Knowledgeable and passionate about their music but with a sense of fun and friendliness that made the entire weekend an absolute delight. It’s an old cliché that the crowd make the event but in many ways, at HRH events, the crowd are the event. This reviewer and chums had a marvellous time.
Well organised and slick, but with very much a human face, HRH are on to a winner here. In previous years HRH Prog had shared the event with the Sci-fi Weekend – 2017 was the year it came of age, and my, is it a big boy now. All the bands were universally excellent and well scheduled. 90 minute slots for the bigger bands were an added bonus. A special big up for the sound and AV guys. The main arena sound was absolutely on the button to these old ears at least, and the lighting and audio-visual backdrops were excellent. It was all extremely well done.
The line-up was a genuinely eclectic mix of rock with revered old stagers of the scene treading the boards with some seriously good young Prog talent. The bill was complemented with the addition of wonderful musicians from outside the Prog scene to add further spice to proceedings and avoided the failings of some themed genre specific weekends in being, frankly, all a bit samey. There was a right ol’ mixture on show – and it all meshed together perfectly.
FFA missed plenty. Saw plenty. It’s all opinion. These are our highlights…
Gutted to have missed the restructured The Enid, who our spies reliably informed us produced an excellent set. FFA kicked off festivities with Pendragon. A wonderful band to set the Prog tastebuds on overdrive. Soaring Hammandesque organ, swirling vocal harmonies, and the first of many excellent musical performances with an on-form Nick Barrett leading the line with aplomb. Gong were simply superb. Sans Mr Allen (Praise Be), this latest incarnation of the Gong family absolutely nail the culture, sound, and ethos of the Gong phenomena. There were even twin intertwining Gliss guitar solos for goodness sake! In a set ranging from Camembert Electrique era classics through to their latest album ‘Rejoice! I'm Dead!’, this was absolutely divine stuff. ‘… direct transmission brain to brain’ indeed – and it was only Thursday night!
Day Two opened with a dark broody set from the excellent Red Spektor. Now this was full-on moody Stoner Rock and an early indication of the variety of fine bands on offer and the excellent calibre of artist gracing the Second Stage all weekend. No fillers here. Next up were Maschine. Excellent thoughtful Prog stuff – still sounding a little raw in places but there is the foundation of a very fine band here. One to watch – so check them out. HRH stalwarts Dream Circuit completed a spiffing afternoon on stage two with yet another spot-on set. The depth and quality of the entire HRH line-up was there for all to see … and we’d not experienced the fabulous Pretty Things yet! Alongside compatriots The Rolling Stones, the Pretty Things are arguably the best British R&B band of any generation, and in guitarist Dick Taylor, possess one of the finest musicians on show over the whole weekend… all the more amazing given that this Elder Statesman Of Rock could give some of them at least 50 years! ‘S.F. Sorrow Is Born’, ‘Defecting Grey’, and an absolutely stonking ‘I See You’ were magnificent.
Blimey Charlie! Curved Air. It’s a very tough call, but probably one of the sets of the festival for this reviewer at least, who has not witnessed a band so tight and musically excellent for many a day. A band still on top of their game. Amongst excellent musicians, Robert Norton simply excelled on keyboards. A great great set. [Disclaimer: the fact that Sonja Kristina was the girl of my dreams as a spotty faced adolescent is completely irrelevant here.] After John Lees Barclay James Harvest velvety masterclass, the stage was set for the mighty Hawkwind. This was a Hawkwind set reminiscent of the In Search Of Space tour – enjoyably, rollickingly, shambolic and a full-on trip! With some neat back-protections, a well up for it crowd, and their unique driving psychedelic rock rhythms the band were flying on every level. A blistering ‘Shot Down In The Night’ took the absolute biscuit for outrageous rock & roll. One of life’s little mysteries to this reviewer is why Dave Brock does not receive National Treasure status. For creativity, longevity, and defining and developing a musical genre the man is a genius. Another triumphant HRH set to close Day Two.
Day three and Main Stage openers Verbal Delirium may well have returned giggling to Greece with one of THE sets of the whole weekend. Never heard of ‘em but absolutely splendid. These guys have it all. A wonderful portfolio of tunes, good looks, rock star stage presence, and in vocalist and keyboard player Jargon a brilliantly charismatic front man. Hard to define musically (always A. Good. Thing.), this outfit were certainly find of the festival. Suss ‘em out.
Karnataka were just fine and dandy and illustrated better than most the power of an excellent front woman in rock. Hayley Griffiths has a vocal range to die for. In the male dominated rock world how very refreshing to find a band daring to be different. Old stagers The Strawbs produced a wonderful set hung around the ‘Hero and Heroine’ album. Dave Cousins has a voice recognisable from space and the band were in fine form to deliver a wonderful ninety minutes. Yet another contender for set of the weekend had to be IQ. At an event overflowing with musical virtuosity, these guys excelled. Mike Holmes was The Man, whilst Peter Nicholls possesses that seemingly effortless stage presence that mere mortals simply dream of. He appears to live within his own lyrics … this was just as much theatre as it was rock & roll. ‘The Road of Bones’ song of the set for this ‘umble reviewer. Factor in some stunning audio visual malarkey and the performances were simply breath-taking. Excellent. Wishbone Ash. All I will say is this; Blowin’ Free is arguably the best pop-prog song ever written, and back-to-back with encore ‘Phoenix’ was pure Prog bliss. A great set and best audience reaction by a country mile. All warranted. Absolutely splendid.
Incorrectly billed as ‘The Enid’ and actually ‘a special goodnight performance by RJG’, Mr Godfrey rounded off proceedings with a number of short pieces apparently right of the top his head. Despite effectively withdrawing now from live performance with The Enid, this Father Of The House of Prog can still cut the mustard with some stunning improv. It was all rather an honour to witness.
The good folks at HRH assembled a worthy cast of players to produce a weekend to remember. Throw in a great crowd and civilised facilities and this was all rather special. As I said at the top – there was absolutely nothing to fault here.
Article and snaps by Barrie Dimond
Official HRH Photography by Simon Dunkerley (Hawkwind & Wishbone Ash)