Concert Reviews


Written by ant-rocks     May 13, 2022    
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Prog is alive and kicking, probably somewhere near you

Sheffield: Academy, 2nd-3rd April 2022.

Now everything is almost returning to normal after Covid, I find it takes a while to actually get used to that fact. Maybe the hardest part is actually getting off your backside and attending gigs, and that's regardless of whether you actually caught the dreaded disease or not. I wanted to go to this event, not least because the HRH organisers are so helpful and welcoming, and I enjoyed it the last time I came here in 2019, but also because my old mucker Rick Wakeman was headlining on the Saturday night. What made it slightly more challenging was the fact that after two years, I was finally added to the statistic of positive testees (I know how it sounds) just over a week before, but despite feeling slightly wiped out, I felt it needed to be reported for the people who actually want to know (That would be you, the reader).


Having said that it takes a while to get used to the idea. I have to admit that getting to a gig for the first band, who was on at 12.30pm, proved a little difficult, and we arrived there just as Monkeytrail were playing their last two chords. Apologies to them, but the two chords I heard sounded big, in terms of fat, analogue keyboard sounds, so they were probably worth seeing. So first band for us then was Moon Goose, who played five songs. I have to admit to not being a big fan of this style of music, it being very unvaried throughout. They got into a groove and just stayed there with very little variation from beginning to end, apart maybe for the drum beat, which was probably the best thing about it. There was a keyboard solo in there somewhere, which I could hardly hear in between everything else. In true Prog fashion though, they had come up with some really interesting song titles.
Set List:- The Light That Fried The Vicars Brains, Tweakshy, Sexbots, Lemon Curse, The Mysterious Coffins Of Arthur's Seat, Edible Druid, Trains.

Psychic Lemon comprised of just a guitarist and drummer, and were similar to the previous band in that the first number made no sense to me, and went on and on and on... and on. It was the same all the way through and, even though he moved his hand twice on the fretboard, I couldn't detect a change in chords. The second number utilised a backing track, which went on and on etc. The guitarist used a Looper to build up the sound but nothing changed, apart from just getting more messy. Again, not my thing.
Set List:- Seeds of Tranquility, You're No Good, Raspberry, Komodo.

Eventually, with The Fierce And The Dead we had a band that played numerous chords and lots of different notes. And there were vocals, except for 'The Voice' which was instrumental. The songs also got better and more interesting as they went on, ending with the particularly strong '666...6', the title of which I don't understand, but does that really matter? I believe there were two new songs in the list, the first titled 'Wonderful', with my notes saying it was instrumental (although I didn't write the note, and I don't think it was). The second new song was 'Golden Thread' or that may be 'Tread'. Whatever, they were both good. The most "Prog" song we were told, was 'Magnet In Your Face', which sort of flew in the face of its description, as it was only two minutes long. There was some heavy re-tuning of guitar and bass prior to 'Parts 7 & 8' while '666...6' had slight resemblances to Genesis, but bore no resemblance to 'Magog' whatsoever. All in all, a very good band, and one which I would be interested to check out in the future.
Set List:- Truck, 1991, Wonderful, Verbose, Magnet In Your Face, Golden Tread, Dancing Robots, Parts 7 & 8, 666...6

Another interesting and very musical band was Nth Ascension, and apologies to vocalist Michael Alan Taylor who when he walked on reminded me of a cross between Santa Claus and Barry Gibb. That thought was soon displaced when he started singing though, as very impressive he was, along with the rest of the band. Some of their music reminded me of Arena and possibly IQ in places, and they played seven songs in total with Mr Taylor also helping out on twelve-string acoustic guitar on the more instrumental parts of the music. Unfortunately the drummer had some technical problems during 'The Gathering' (I believe his bass drum pedal came loose), and there would be more over the weekend, but musically it couldn't be spotted. Again, another band that will be worth checking out in future.
Set List:- The Opening, Fire In The Sky, Fourth Kingdom, The Gathering, End Of Days, Forever, Kingdom Keys.

We kind of took a little step back with The Spacelords, in terms of the style of music performed. With only three musicians, namely guitar, bass and drums, there was at least some variation in what they played, but it wasn't Rush. The guitarist favoured a Fender Telecaster (with the occasional use of a Strat), so maybe there was a bit of a Syd Barrett vibe going on here, which would probably explain the name and the overall feel of "Spaceyness" of the music, thanks to the overall saturation of delay and modulation effects used. I wasn't there, but I imagine early Pink Floyd gigs were something like this.
Set List:- Synapse, Spaceship Breakdown, Plasma Thrusterendorphine, Nag Kanya.

The Hawklords appeared at the last HRH Prog I attended, back in 2019, but there was a difference here in that founder Nik Turner did not turn out with the band for this performance. Again, it's a style of Prog that I can take or leave, but I remember it being more entertaining last time, possibly due to the fact that Turner added the colour of his saxophone playing to the mix. Maybe he was there last time, but I can't remember Peter Capaldi's brother messing about with intriguing electronic boxes which produced all kinds of strange, airy sounds. What was intriguing about this was the fact that, even though there was no music playing and the noises he produced had no rhythm as such, he could still be seen moving as though there was. He did wear headphones all the time, so who knows. The guitarist would break into what sounded like verse in various parts of the set, ending up with what could have been a poem titled 'Obscura SR-71. One track, it could have been 'Master Of The Universe' (but I'm not sure) reminded me of 'Silver Machine' right at the start, but it wasn't.
Set List:- Speed of Sound, Devil In Your Head, Turn You On, We Are One Robot, The Joker. Master Of The Universe, One Way Trip, Obscura SR-71.

There was a technical issue as soon as Carl Palmer's ELP Legacy came on stage. The microphone that would have swung in for Palmer's chat between numbers wasn't working, which meant that if he wanted to speak between songs, which he did because he announced each one (with a bit of song history, which I really liked), he had to climb from behind his drum kit, which wasn't easy, to the side of the platform to be able to do that. He was accompanied by guitarist Paul Bielatowicz and bass/stick player Simon Fitzpatrick, which when you think about it is quite remarkable, considering the complexity of ELP and Keith Emerson's music being played without a keyboard in sight. It was impressive to say the least. Classics such as 'Karn Evil 9', 'Hoedown', 'Lucky Man' and 'Fanfare For The Common Man' were played, with one song, 'Benny The Bouncer', being sung by Palmer, after telling us it was a song that Greg Lake refused to sing live. Naturally, there was the inevitable drum solo, and I have to admit to not being a big fan of such things, as they tend to follow a jazz style where there is no clear rhythm to catch on to, but you have to be impressed at the energy that goes into one, even though these people are not as young as they used to be. It did of course feature the famous twin gongs, and part of it was played using just his sticks, which was quite impressive, and the adjustment of teeth part way through. (Had to be there)
Set List:- Karn Evil 9: 1st Impression, Pt II, Toccata And Fugue In D Minor, BWV 565, Knife-Edge, Hoedown, Benny The Bouncer, Lucky Man, Tarkus, Fanfare For The Common Man, Nutrocker

The main question running through my mind prior to Rick Wakeman appearing was whether Uncle Rick would be playing solo, or whether he would have his band with him and, if so, who would be in it. I was happy then to see microphones, drums and other keyboards set up before what would obviously be a band came on stage. I was even happier when I saw the excellent Lee Pomeroy (who plays with such bands as Jeff Lynne's ELO, Take That and the house band at the Queen's jubilee concerts) walk on stage with his bass, and also Rick's son Adam to the strains of part of 'Journey To The Centre Of The Earth'. There was also a young female vocalist, Hayley Sanderson, which didn't surprise me, as she had appeared between Ashley Holt and Alfie Boe for the final (complete) performance of 'Journey...' at the Royal Festival Hall in 2019. Dave Colquhoun on guitar was also there, while Adam Falkner was the drummer for this evening. This then was the new English Rock Ensemble. Kicking straight off with 'Journey To The Centre Of The Earth' (not all of it), we had many Wakeman classics such as 'Julia', 'Catherine Parr' (with a particularly nice guitar break), 'Merlin The Magician' and 'Guinevere' to name a few. Before playing the 'Arthur' songs, he said they were going to do a final section, but it would be three hours long, which many people seemed to approve of, and prior to the encore he asked, "Shall we play a Yes song?", and when the response was affirmative he quipped, "I don't know why, they don't play any of mine". Brilliant!
Set List:- Journey To The Centre Of The Earth, Julia, Robot Man, Catherine Parr, Merlin The Magician, Arthur, Guinevere, Sir Lancelot And The Black Knight, The Last Battle, Starship Trooper.

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There appeared to be more at the venue today, at this time, than there were yesterday, as most of the seats had gone, and yesterday was sold out. Again, we missed the first band Hats Off Gentlemen (who didn't have 'That's Adequate' on the poster), which was a shame really as I have now been to numerous things of this ilk (Stone Free at the O2 London comes to mind), where they have been on the bill in exactly the same slot, and I haven't managed to see them yet. (Perhaps it's not all my fault and they should improve to get put higher up the bill). Still, apologies to them also, and I will catch you at some point guys.

I do find it amazing how rapid strumming of the guitar with very few chord changes and over saturation of effects and wah wah can come out under the guise of Prog, or Rock for that matter, but that's what The Bloody Mallard gave us. Their taped intro must have taken up around a fifth of their set time of forty or so minutes, and they played six songs over the remainder. The guitar sound/notes didn't seem to change throughout (reminders of yesterday), and I think it may have been out of tune at one point. I know he spent some time retuning the guitar between songs. There were a few tempo changes in what I think was 'Noble Riot', but that was about it. Mind you, it was the first time they had played as a three piece, and in the last number the bass player really put some effort in.
Set List:- Harmoglobin, Ceremonious Synapsis (I), Pint Of Stellar, Subject To Entropy, Noble Riot, Ceremonious Synapsis (II).

My instincts told me that The Room were probably going to be much better when I saw four microphones set up at stage front. And I was right. A six-man band with lots of chords, discernible guitar leads and melodic, powerful vocals. Quite excellent, and vocalist Martin Wilson explained that the French flag draped across the guitar amp on the right was there as a tribute to their guitarist who was ill with cancer. The stand in, Alistair Bell, who they said still spoke a foreign language as he was from Scotland, was very good, especially as we were told that this was only his second "rehearsal". He looked a bit nervous, standing side on to the audience, and only turning to face them briefly on two occasions, but he shouldn't have been. They did eight songs, describing 'Broken' as a three minute "Pop" song, and there was a bit of Chuckle Brothers "To me, to you" with 'Broken Bodies In The Road'. 'Screaming Through The Noise' was a brave song to perform, as it was explained that it was written when Martin lost his son to cancer a couple of years previous. He did OK. Another very good band and well worth seeing if you like sensible music.
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.

Before seeing Spriggan Mist, the name Canterbury came into my head as I saw a lady, dressed in black, setting up her instruments prior to starting. A witch! I thought. But how did I know she was a witch? Well she sings, plays flute, recorder, saxophone, clarinet and guitar, and to do all that as well as she does has to involve witchery. Bassist/vocalist was a big guy who looks like an executioner, and I have to be careful here, as he is married to her. The main singer Fay Brotherhood must have killed a deer before she came in, and was now wearing its antlers on her head. Her voice was a bit like a gravelly Kate Bush, and on occasion a little too shrill, with a lot of vibrato. I suddenly noticed that a lady holding swords was dancing at the rear of the stage, and after coming forward a little, I noticed another one, as they proceeded to balance said swords on their heads while slowly (wisely) dancing around. I am not sure how sharp those swords were, but we were told that the lady I saw first actually had a pot on her leg, as she had broken it not long before, gardening. They re-appeared later on during 'Isambard The Mechanical Dragon' (which is the title of the up-coming album), each waving a pair of wings.
They were a little "Canterbury" in places, but heavier than that, and were certainly entertaining, and I would probably appreciate it more after getting used to the vocals.
Set List:- Lair Of Isambard, The Portal, Spell Maker, Remember The Day, Ancester, Isambard The Mechanical Dragon, Zombie Nation, Spriggan Dance, Scar Finalle

Unfortunately, the drummer suffered technical issues at the start of This Winter Machine's set, and another one may have appeared later, as something sounded out of tune during the last song 'Broken Kites'. They weren't too bad, but a couple of other problems were that the backing/harmony (not sure) vocals sounded a bit errant and the lead vocals were a little muffled, so not clear enough to make out all the words. This could have been a mixing problem rather than a vocal one, but it would be worth them working on this. They utilised backing tapes with the sound of running water in 'The Storm Pt I', and also keyboard sections throughout.
Set List:- Le Jour d'Avant, Storm (Pt I), The Storm (Pt II), Pleasure & Purpose, This Heart's Alive, Whirlpool, The River, Broken Kites.

Karnataka were not on the bill, due to illness. Covid snuck in to the reason somewhere.

I was quite looking forward to Focus, as it was a band I had never seen before. Thijs van Leer got a loud cheer when he first appeared to set up his "Focus" emblazoned Hammond Organ, and stayed there until the rest of the band joined him. It was good to see another old hand on the decks, but there was another one. While Thijs is the only original member of Focus in this current set up, drummer Pierre van der Linden actually joined Focus in 1971, but left in 1973. After re-joining and leaving a further twice, he finally stayed with the band after 2004, and their combined age is 150 years. The band was brilliant, van Leer injecting fun and enthusiasm into proceedings, playing keyboard, flute and singing, which also included scat vocals, for which he got the audience to join him. Van der Linden did a drum solo that shouldn't be allowed at that age (as possibly Carl Palmer yesterday, but he is a bit younger), while Udo Pannekeet was solid on his six string bass and Menno Gootjes played some really smooth lead guitar, actually showing some class by playing along to Pink Floyd on the PA while sound checking his Les Paul as opposed to earlier guitarists who just hit theirs tunelessly. They played all the favourites plus a track that they were still working on as a tribute to ex-bass player Bert Ruiter who had passed away the previous week aged 75. At the end, van Leer came to the front and in answer to calls for more said although it was not allowed, they would play a short version of 'Focus III'. It was an excellent set and I was pleased to have seen them at last.
Set List:- Focus I / Anonymus, House Of The King, Eruption, Sylvia, Moving Waves, All Hens On Deck, Hocus Pocus, Focus III (Short Version).

It's quite a few years since I last saw Wishbone Ash, and many, many years since I first saw them at the City Hall in Sheffield, a night which if I recall correctly ended with me coming round in the hospital, and following that, going to Wembley Arena to see them and having to miss all of the encore to catch the last train back home. I saw all the show last time, as I hoped to this. Starting with an instrumental, the band steamed through a greatest hits set enthusiastically received by all in attendance, and I noticed that same as last night, the place had certainly filled out. Andy Powell unsurprisingly dedicated 'We Stand As One' to all the people of Ukraine, reminding us all that we should be very grateful to be in a better position at this time. The mood brightened up again and they ended the main set with 'Phoenix', but it was obvious that they would return as probably their best-known song had not been played. That soon changed as 'Blowin' Free' was the encore. As it was getting quite late, I was expecting that to be the only number, but they then decided to play 'Jail Bait' and nobody was going to leave early.
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, Blowin' Free, Jail Bait

So that was it for another year of HRH Prog at Sheffield. It has to be mentioned that, while the genre is sometimes derided, and Rock music in general is bereft of major media coverage, the attendance for both nights in Sheffield cannot be ignored. Prog is alive and kicking, probably somewhere near you. You just have to look for it.

Review by Andy B. & Lou C.

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