HRH Prog XI – O2 Academy, Sheffield, Sunday 3rd April, 2022

And here we are again, after being blown away by Day 1 we now get to experience round 2, the second day of this marvellous indoor festival in Steel City. Today will see us blowin' free towards the end of the night but more on that later...

Set List: Silence Is A Statement/Century Rain/Lidice/Back Where I Started/The Confidence Trick/Cygnus/Nostalgia For Infinity/Stand Up.

Openers, Hats Off Gentlemen, It's Adequate are a three piece made up of Malcolm Galloway (Vocals/Guitar), Mark Gatland (Bass) & Kathryn Thomas (Flute) who use extra backing that comes from a computer. What comes immediately across is their very posh spoken voices and lovely, friendly politeness to the audience.

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A very tight 'n' together unit and go over really well with the early birds. In fact the place is very packed already which is fabulous to see. Musically they have a sort of Canterbury sound with the flute sound giving it that almost James Galway feel in a Pink Floyd atmospheric way with 'Lidice' being a perfect example.

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Later on there's the ambience of 'Nostalgia For Infinity' with its wateryness and closes on the heavier sounding 'Stand Up' with its cutting guitar riffs and Ian Andersen like flute-action and gutsy guitar solo too. A quirky and interesting start for Day 2.

Set List: Harmoglobin/Ceremoninious Synapsis (I) – Pint Of Stellar / Subject To Entrophy/Noble Rot/Ceremoninious Synapsis (I)

Like Hats' the second band are also another 3 piece with the difference being in that they are fully instrumental. The Bloody Mallard came up from London to play for us and have the combined talents of Tom Walding (Guitar), Raihan Ruben (Bass) & Jake Bradford-Sharp (Drums).

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I'd say there is more hard rhythm work than standard lead guitar playing that is fitted around the drum & bass that incorporates an enveloped kinda style that at times is almost minimalistic like the opening 'Harmoglobin' being a good example.

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These boys have a heavy, aggressive, Metal edge like 'Ceremoninious Synapsis' with some quieter proggier, abstract moments thrown in their too such a s in 'Noble Rot'. They both intrigue and wake up Sheffield in equal dosage with their powerful set.

Set List: The Golden Ones/Run/Full Circle/Screaming Through The Noise/Vanished/Broken/Bodies On The Road/The Hunter/It's Not My Home.

3rd band of the day, The Room have a really warm sound as well as a positive outlook and grab everyone immediately with their marvellous energetic opener 'The Golden Ones'. They proved that good things can come from bad moments since Lead Vocalist, Martin Wilson, who lost his son Josh to cancer but created a great song from this tragic part of his life.

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The rest of The Room is completed by Andy Rowe (Bass/Vocals), Steve Anderson (Guitar/Backing Vocals), Chris York (Drums/Vocals), Alastair Bell (Guitar) & Chris Teeder (Keyboards). It's pointed out that they have a French flag on stage draped over an amp since their original Guitarist, Eric Bouillette is too ill to perform for us since he has cancer. There are cheers from the crowd for him too – it really is a lovely thing for The Room to do and the audience to react to it as well.

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They have a very solid live mix with big drums, keyboards, powerful vocals, not to mention warm toned guitar and complimentary bass vibes and notes too. A group who put me in mind of later 1970's Genesis with a Marillion vibe and style to them as well with poppier quirky moments too in 'Broken' or 'Bodies On The Road' with its hard-hitting chorus section.

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There are elements of Prog Rock, Classical Music, Classic Rock and even some Orchestralness that all blended together perfectly, giving them their own uniqueness which made them stand out which was the result of each member coming from a particular musical background. Oh and as Mr. W pointed out, one of them was from Scunthorpe too.

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A really strong set that goes over amazing on this Sunday afternoon especially the powerful closer 'It's Not My Home' that concerns refugees – something that's rather big in the headlines at the moment.

Set List: Lair Of Isambard/The Portal/Spell Maker/Remember The Day/Ancestor/Isambard The Mechanical Dragon/Zombie Nation/Spriggan Dance/Scar Finale.

Spriggan Mist are a flambouyant and theatrical kinda band that bring us the musical unit of Fay Brotherhood (Lead Vocalist), Neil Wighton (Guitarist), Colin Garratt (Drummer/Band

Comedian), Baz Cilia (Bass/Vocals/Bouzouki plus Writer & Lyricist), Maxine Cilia (Guitar/Wind instruments/Vocals/Songwriter).

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There are elements of Folky that mixes in Prog together with a Viking meets Saxon 'n' Celtic melting pot with lyrical elements of Steampunk twist, with frontwoman Fay reminding me of Kate Bush with her shrill high, strong,cutting voice with a kind of stage presence that also puts me in mind of Siouxsie Sioux with a darker medieval Toyah stance as well!

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Another band that grab you straight away with their visual element – Fay especially who informs us immediately about a fictional dragon called 'The Lair Of Isambard' and later baffles us with 'Spell Maker'; the exquisite and majestic 'Remember The Day' or the quirky prog rocker 'Isambard The Mechanical Dragon'.

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To say they were memorable would be an understatement. A band that is intriguing right from the very beginning with Maxine playing a variety of instruments throughout their entire set which added a vast amount of musical variety and colour to their quirky songs and hubby, Baz on the bass-notes keeping it all smooth and together too.

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A cracking package all-round and enjoyable watch who I urge everyone to check out if they haven't done already. Hey we even get some amazing dancers thrown in too... what more could you ask for right?

Set List: Le Jour D'Avant/The Storm 1/The Storm 2/Pleasure & Purpose/This Heart's Alive/Whirlpool/The River 1/The River 2/Broken/Kites.

This Winter Machine are made up of Al Winter (Vocals), Dave Close (Bass), Dom Bennison (Guitar), Alan Wilson (Drums), Simon D'Vali (Guitar) & Pat Ganger Sanders (Keys). The band play modern sounding Prog that has a real precise clinical edge to it with a hard foundation.

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They are a sonic force with the odd sound effects thrown in and atmospheric backing with some very impressive guitar work on that SG Gibson from Simon. The songs have very rhythmic arrangements and intricate solo-work at times to top them off like in the unsettling almost eastern like cut, 'The Storm, Part 1'.

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Other highlights including the beauty of the piano-led instrumental opener, 'Le Jour D'Avant'; the epic long ballad 'This Heart's Alive'; the tranquility of 'The Storm 2' with its Genesis like keyboard tones or the lovely, vocally harmonised melodic power-ballad that is 'Broken' 

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The there is the  memorable closer that is 'Kites' with its bright melody and positive looking-forward lyrics.

A strong band with plenty of potential that are well worth checking out – as is their album, also called 'Kites'.

Set List: Focus I/Anonymous/House Of The King/Eruption/Drum Solo/?/Sylvia/Moving Waves/All Hens On Deck/Hocus Pocus.

 

Encore: Focus 3 (Shortened Version).

What can you say about Focus? The legendary Prog Rock status from Holland with a line-up of Thijs van Leer (Keyboards/Flute/Vocals) since 1969 original member, Pierre van der Linden (Drums/Percussion) (since 1971) and younger later members, Menno Gootjes (Guitar/Backing Vocals since 1997) & Udo Pannekeet (Bass since 2016).

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The older dare I say pedigree members are just as good as they were back in the day with the younger members easily matching. Menno is a mirror musically for Jakkerman hands down with those fingers all over the fretboard while Udo is an octopus like bassist too – okay, correct me, he has two arms but sounded like he had more to bring out all those notes.

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Thijs is using the same gear from the original years of the band – talk about playing it in a way and visually taking us back in a time machine to the heyday with that Hammond & Leslie Speaker. Hits galore ensue in the show like 'House Of The King' that was later used as the theme from my fave 90's show Saxondale and of course the 'Hocus Pocus' with its vocal gobbledygook at the end of main set which needs no introduction!

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Other great numbers include that prog meets jazzical masterpiece that is 'Anonymous'; the utterly gorgeous 'Sylvia' that again is perfect for a TV or Film or the later and newer track that is 'All Hens On Deck' with cracking pounding drum-work from Pierre with the bass-notes perfectly falling in the pocket as well. Each member shines spectacular here – not they don't everywhere else of course.

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We are even treated to an old number that was not a hit here in the UK or USA but a number one in Holland – if only I could remember it's name! Doh! Drop me message if you know... I would be much obliged.

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As a a special bonus for us on this show as an encore was a shortened version of 'Focus 3'. Mr. Van Leer is such a good entertainer who often gets up now again to the front with his flute in hand playing it like the Dutch equivalent of the Pied Piper, hypnotizing the entire audience with his precision playing.

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Not to mention wearing a cracking pair of boots too and even dedicated a song as a tribute to his good friend 'Bert Rutler' of the 'Jazz Pilgrims' who had recently passed away. This would take some topping or matching at the very least.  An utter joy to take in both musically and emotionally.

Set List: Bona Fide/Enigma/Eyes Wide Open/The King Will Come/Warrior/Throw Down The Sword/We Stand As One/Standing In The Rain/Phoenix.

 

Encore: Blowin' Free/Jail Bait.

Headliners, Wishbone Ash nail it too with anthemic, aristocratic awesomeness. Playing an array of material throughout their or should I say Andy Powell's career since 1969 because he is the only original member of the band left here of the original line-up. Mr. P is alongside Bob Skeat (Bass/Backing Vocals), Mark Abrahams (Guitar) & Mike Truscott (Drums/Percussion).

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Warming us up with the pounding, guitar-soloing splender of 'Bonafide' gets the set going from the start with other standouts including the bopping ' Eyes Wide Open' before taking us right back to the Argus days of 'The King Will Come' in all its commanding royal splender and rock us up later with 'Standing In The Rain' with some fabulous unison guitar playing to be found in 'Phoenix'.

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Of course, they had us all rocking out to the classic 'Blowin Free' plus encored with a great bit of blues that went by the name of 'Jail Bait'. This was quite simply pure Status Quo-like boogie at its best meets Ten Years After quality.

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A brilliant ending to a Progtastic weekend with the elder statesmen still showing how it should really be done with their thought pravailing cosmic, hard-hitting bravado and pure professionalism in the year of 2022 that marks the 50th Anniversary of the 'Argus' album which the band will be touring in a few months time over here in the UK!

Review & Photographs

 

By Glenn Milligan