HRH Prog returned to Pwhelli for its 4th installment, alongside the 7th SciFi Weekender and for the second year in succession the weather remained remarkably good for mid March. There are distinct advantages to having a festival in a holiday park; decent accommodation, proper food in a restaurant, somewhere to sit! Now I’m not suggesting that the prog crowd is old but chairs were very much appreciated by a large portion of the crowd.


Hammerhead follow the traditional Thursday night prog quiz and it’s a bit of a strange opening as they are far more classic rock than prog. The singer does lots of classic rock posturing and it’s all a little dated but it’s competently played without ever being exciting. The last song is a bit of a behemoth, not sure about the spoken voice over but musically it’s easily the best track.

Oktopus follow and technically they are very good but it feels like they try too hard to be complicated at the expense of a good tune or catchy riff. Those moments where the tune does come through really shine but it's all too brief. The vocals are weak and it feels like they struggle to keep up with the music. There is a comparison to Rush to be made and I expect they would be happy with that but perhaps a singer would take them up to the next level?

Third Quadrant first broke onto the scene in the early 80s but have enjoyed something of a resurgence in the last few years. The occasion briefly threatens to get the better of them and it’s nervy at the start but they soon get into their stride and the sound is great. They create lush soundscapes and combine big chord changes with inventive song structures that are well received by the crowd. They are the first band of the weekend that really embrace classic prog and they do it exceedingly well. The only disappointment being that vocalist and keyboard player Chris Dunn’s infamous wizard hat fails to make an appearance.

Arthur Brown rounds off Thursday night with a great energetic show that leaves most questioning just how he manages to inject so much energy at the age of 73. To compliment his cosmically painted face he goes through numerous costume changes, the highlight of which is a full length multi-coloured l.e.d coat. His band are superb and whilst it’s a little unfair to pick out individual members for special praise, it has to be said that guitarist Nina Gromniak has a highly impressive, subtle and underrated style that really gels the whole thing together. Further evidence of just how good the band are comes when Arthur lifts the top keyboard from the stand of Matt Guest and walks off around the stage whilst Guest continues to play and nails it. It’s a great set of groove infused psyche rock and of course they have to return for the encore of Fire. The crowd love it and it’s the perfect end to the opening day.


Matt Stevens has been described as a one man guitar orchestra for his solo work but today he is here with the band The Fierce and the Dead, opening up Friday. They deliver a series of raw and in your face instrumentals that are full of great energy and performed with a rawness and edge that few other bands manage to capture this weekend. It’s good stuff but it is a tad samey and verging on out of tune at times; this is in part what gives them their edge. There is plenty of entertaining on stage banter and overall it’s a good, fun set. They have some good ideas, quite inventive structures and it’s always driven. Anyone flagging from the previous nights excesses is abruptly brought back on track.

Greek band September Code couldn’t have timed this performance any better ahead of the release of their new album III. They have quite a mainstream sound that pulls in elements of upbeat classic rock, which is heavy in places but overall is easy on the ear but not overly engaging. They continually threaten to take off to another level but it never really feels like it peaks. It’s a little frustrating but they go down well and there is definite promise there; worth keeping an eye on.

Edgar Broughton with a band behind him is a funky, psychedelic affair and would be well suited for this weekend. Unfortunately what we get is Edgar Broughton sitting down on his own with an acoustic guitar. Nothing wrong with that in itself but it’s a really melancholy and low key solo performance. The lyrics are very heavy and rather depressing and although he is healthily received it does bring down the mood somewhat and sends many to the bar to drown their sorrows.

Purson on the other hand are a happy accident of the highest quality. They are only here because Curved Air pulled out at short notice but they certainly don’t waste the opportunity. Purson are an excellent 5 piece, psyche rock band with great vocals and overall stage presence. Solid guitar work and complimentary keyboards are the cornerstones of a really tight and engrossing performance. Singer and guitarist Rosalie demands attention and gets plenty of it but the whole band impress in their own right. Good vocal melodies soar above the tunes and they really stand out as one of the bands of the weekend and are subsequently well received. Music aside they are easily the most stylish band of the weekend, sporting a fine array of 60s/70s loons and frills. Marvellous.

Caravan belie their years with a superb performance that transports you right back to the heyday of the Canterbury scene. When a band has played together for as long as they have you’d expect them to be tight but one noticeable slip aside, it’s as if the members have a sixth sense between them. Some of the later era tracks are noticeably weaker but the classic 70s material is brilliantly delivered and they are clearly enjoying themselves. If there is one fact that is indisputable this weekend it’s that Caravan’s drummer Mark Walker is the happiest drummer in the world! It’s infectious and most of the crowd end up grinning. The highlights are perhaps predictable but they are so good that it’s hard to complain. Nine Feet Underground and the encore of Golf Girl round off a triumphant set.

There is no doubt that Soft Machine are an acquired taste and that’s evidenced by the fact that half the crowd have left by the end of their set. They really are fantastic musicians but their self indulgent jazz rock isn't easy on the ear. Their standing as an influential band deserves respect and those that have stayed really get into it and they earn their applause. A little too niche perhaps and maybe they would’ve been better suited to an earlier slot but then that’s part of the beauty of progressive music, it covers a broad spectrum of styles. Having had Daevid Allen of Gong amongst their number back in the 60s, there are moments where you can see a clear link to Gong, particularly in the saxophone work of Theo Travis. So Friday morphs into Saturday and so far, so good!


Empty Yard Experiment have travelled from Dubai in order to be the first band on stage on Saturday and get a good crowd despite the relatively early hour. They turn in a set of heavy rock/metal with elongated instrumental sections that is quite dark and menacing. There are interesting song structures in there and certainly enough to hold the interest. The faster songs are great but some of the slower ones a bit rambling. Not a bad start to the day however.

Schnauser follow with their own brand of indie pop psyche. It’s jazzy, snappy and lightweight, quirky and interesting in places but rather like background elevator music in others. Where Soft Machine were tight, schnauzer are a bit sloppy and it comes over as a bit messy at times. Maybe the monitors on stage are giving them a bad mix but the harmonies are a bit out of tune and the bass and keys are generating quite a lot of background hum that doesn't help their cause. You can tell what they are trying to do but it's not working today. Shades of the Cardiacs come through but it never attains that level. They do get better musically as the set goes on but the vocals remain irritatingly high pitched and struggling to stay in tune.

Messenger deliver a set of mellow prog for the main and it all flows very well with some really good vocal harmonies. Nice minor chord key changes keep things interesting and when they shift up a gear they are reminiscent of the lighter side of 70s Sabbath. Frustratingly they never quite reach the peak that they threaten to but they do have some catchy tunes and it’s all very well delivered. Of all the bands this weekend, Messenger are the one that we come away thinking we need to invest some time in. Well worth checking out.

Twinscapes feature Colin Edwin, bassist with Porcupine Tree. Featuring two bass guitars and drums, augmented with samples and electronica it’s very experimental with an ambient feel overall. It’s a bit of a comedown for an afternoon slot and whilst interesting in parts is largely forgettable. In the right mood and the right time and place the effect would be enhanced significantly but a teatime slot on this stage does them little favours.

The Enid are practically the house band at HRH Prog, this being their 4th year in a row. This show in particular is quite a poignant one as for many of the audience it marks the last time that they are likely to see founder member Robert John Godfrey on stage as he prepares to step down from live shows in April. The quality of the sound is superb, it’s big and full and you can hear every little dynamic; they are a finely honed outfit and it really shines through. Yet again it’s a thoroughly engaging and polished performance but dare I say it, they are almost too well refined. That he is undoubtedly a star performer is without question but front man Joe Payne has his stage persona so well crafted and is so confident now that it feels like it’s lost a little of it’s natural fluidity and become very deliberate. Perhaps this comes from having seen them numerous times in the last few years but the exuberance and excitement of Joe’s early performances gave them an edge that is missing now. That said it’s a near flawless performance that can have done pre-sales of their forthcoming Dust album no harm at all.

It’s a simple fact that Focus have written some of the greatest riffs of all time so it’s almost guaranteed that a festival set is going to be all killer and they really don’t disappoint. Thijs Van Leer belies his advancing years with a superb performance on flute and keyboards, at one stage even managing to play both at the same time! They are highly entertaining throughout and the musicianship is fantastic; guitarist Menno Gootjes turns in a spellbinding performance and it’s quite refreshing to hear a raw guitar sound that remains high in the mix all the way through. Needless to say, they play pretty much all the classics you would want to hear and get the crowd really fired up. Unsurprisingly they end with the brilliant Hocus Pocus.

Many of the punters have earmarked Ian Anderson’s set as the highlight of their weekend before he has even played! Such is the draw and legacy of the Jethro Tull main man. Although he has done a stripped down acoustic show in recent years, tonight is a full band show, which it needed to be after the energy of Focus. Starting with the Tull classic Living In The Past is a sign of things to come and musically it’s an excellent set that allows each member of the band a little showcase for their talent. Anderson’s flute work and his on stage persona have changed little over the years and his trademark little hop onto one leg is evident from the start.

The downside unfortunately is that Anderson's vocals sound very strained and he seems to struggle to hit the notes throughout and when coupled with the fact that he has to hop up to the microphone constantly, it means that all you hear is the top of each phrase. As a result it’s quite hard to pick out the words and detracts from the overall performance. He goes down extremely well with the crowd however and whilst we hear lots of comments about his voice, we also hear many comments about how great a set it was and the die hard fans come away from the stage sporting huge grins.

It’s left to Finland’s Von Hertzen Brothers to round of proceedings and although the crowd thins a little, there is still a very respectable number in front of the stage. Having missed their set at the first HRH Prog we were looking forward to seeing what VHB had to offer. They are quite a departure from the rest of the line up tonight, with much more emphasis on guitars and rigid song structures in the early part of the set. They come over as more classic rock than progressive but gradually some longer sections creep in and the more the set progresses the more it engages. They certainly keep the energy levels high, which no doubt prevents many of the crowd from flagging and it’s hard to fault the performance. They do seem to divide the crowd a little however. Those that like VHB really like them, whilst many towards the back of the room seem fairly ambivalent. Overall though it’s a high energy and enthusiastic set that suited the hour of the day and was a fitting end to a great weekend of music.

HRH Prog goes from strength to strength and the best thing about it is that there really is a great sense of community amongst the punters. We met many people this year that we first met last year and it was like greeting old friends, who over the course of the weekend have become just that! The conversation and the beer flowed in equal measure and a great time was had by all. The venue and facilities were everything they needed to be and the added attraction of the Sci Weekender made for the usual array of colourful and wacky costumes and provided something to do earlier in the day before the bands started. Plans for next year include making it a stand alone event over more stages, which hopefully will open up more slots and give some younger and less well known bands the chance to take the stage alongside the more established bands, as they did at the first HRH Prog in Rotherham.