It's down to Multistory to kick things off on stage two and considering it's only 12.30pm they get a decent crowd in. Despite forming in the 80s, Multistory had been off the scene for quite some time until they reformed a few years back. They play fairly lightweight, melodic prog in that classic style, not dissimilar to Magnum (who they toured with back in the day). Front man and guitarist Paul Ford clearly still has plenty of enthusiasm for his craft and leads the band through a mixed set of old and new tracks. Whilst they don't quite light the blue touch paper, it's great to see a band enjoying themselves, whilst delivering a musically tight set and it's just what was needed to ease everyone back into a full day of bands.
The main stage opens with a screening of the 10 Years of Hell film that charts the story of HRH. This proves to be an interesting and entertaining story that really captures what HRH is all about and especially the community feel that is paramount to its continued success. Well worth checking out if you've attended any of the festivals under the HRH banner.
Word reaches site that Touchstone have been involved in an accident and are unable to perform. Whilst this proves to be a big disappointment for many, it does provide an unexpected opportunity for Hats Off Gentlemen It's Adequate to grace the main stage. They sometimes perform as a full band but today it's the duo of guitarist and singer Malcolm Galloway and bassist Mark Gatland. They come across as a curious blend of prog, electronica, indie guitars and dad dancing! It doesn't wholly reflect how they sound on record and whilst the performance is certainly energetic, this format doesn't really give them the opportunity to showcase all they can do. For a short notice set though, they put their all into it so hats off to you gentlemen.
The Tirith continue the trend of reformed prog bands, having originally got together in 1971. This is one event where the age of band members is of no importance and the sound they produce belies their years. There is something quite joyous and uplifting about The Tirith; they are great musicians and the lead guitar of Tim Cox is particularly impressive. The song structures are simple but effective and certainly engaging. It's a shame in some ways that they didn't get a later slot, as due to the hour of the day a lot of people drift in and out of the venue. Those that stay however are richly rewarded and with a new album Tales from the Tower released a couple of years back, it's good to see that The Tirith are not content with past glories.
The Far Meadow are just about the blueprint for complex, female fronted, classic prog. All the ingredients are in place, big proggy keyboards, plenty of guitar arpeggios and plenty of gesticulation from singer Marguerita Alexandrou. Whilst hard to put your finger on, there's something missing from their performance. They never quite hit that magic formula that would take them to the next level. Marguerita seems to struggle a little on the rare occasion that her voice explores the upper registry and whilst they play well, amongst a strong bill of prog bands, they don't stand out.
It's a welcome return for Magenta on the main stage and it's hard to know where to start! We could probably use the last review we did of them and insert it here and it would be just as valid now as then. They are so very good at what they do that it is almost a guarantee that their set will be polished and perfectly delivered. We could watch guitarist Chris Fry play all day; always smiling, always effortless and engaging and he plays lead breaks to die for. The interplay between him and singer Christina Booth is natural and endearing, as is Christina's interaction with the crowd. The big plus for Magenta is that they know exactly what to do with a tune to make it work, from interesting riffs to breakouts and breakdowns, they have the whole package covered. The crowd love it and we can't fault them yet again; another triumphant performance.
Stage two sees a return to the festival for The Fierce and the Dead. These guys are like a breath of fresh air this weekend; they don't conform to the classic trappings of prog, instead delivering a set that whilst wholly instrumental, is never dull. Matt Stephens Napalm Death shirt hints at their more 'punk' approach to proceedings and it's a raw, at times intense sound that they produce. The Fierce and the Dead have found the perfect formula that never gets too complicated, so it always remains accessible and interesting. The on stage banter is highly entertaining and the band just nail the performance. Great stuff.
Ah Focus, responsible for at least two of the greatest riffs ever! The ever present Thijs van Leer brings his stage show back to HRH Prog, where they are greeted like old friends. Tonight they play one of the best sets we have ever seen at HRH Prog; they are just incredible from start to finish. The music is as expected but the performance of the band is quite outstanding, especially guitarist Menno Gootjes, who effortlessly blows our mind for an hour and a half. Naturally they play the classics like Hocus Pocus and Sylvia and most of the crowd can't help but grin at the sonic majesty that is before them. There's nothing more to say, definite contender for set of the weekend. Superb.
Kepler Ten have the misfortune of clashing with Focus but stage two has had a decent crowd for every band all weekend and so it continues. They make a big sound for a three piece and have some glorious musical moments where everything just comes together. They lean towards the metal side of prog rock but retain enough of that classic feel to appeal to a wider audience. The verses are a little formulaic and less interesting but the music is driven and extremely well delivered. In a smaller venue with a tightly packed crowd their effect would be magnified but there's more than enough on display here to warrant them worthy of further investigation.
The main stage plays host to what for many is the highlight of the weekend, Carl Palmer's ELP Legacy. As the last surviving member of ELP, Carl Palmer pays tribute to his former band mates by playing a host of classic ELP tracks. It's a very interesting set up, with no keyboards, instead the keyboard parts are shared between guitar and chapman stick and whilst this is a very versatile instrument (and played extremely well!), it's not quite the same. Palmer himself is just brilliant; a great drummer who has lost none of his flair and passion and his obligatory drum solo is rapturously received. He steps from behind the kit to introduce each track and it's an entertaining run through ELPs legacy. A few lucky punters are fortunate enough to bump into him later on as he wanders through the festival site and that kind of accessibility is a sure vote winner. The performance itself was very technical and well delivered but perhaps highlighted just what big characters Emerson and Lake were and without them there is always going to be a key ingredient missing.
Magnum close the main stage and not surprisingly draw a big crowd. They have often divided opinion, being more classic rock than prog per se. Their most successful period came in the mid 80s following the prog influenced On A Storyteller's Night however and there is plenty of that material in evidence tonight. Singer Bob Catley is as mobile as ever, moving from one side of the stage to the other and leaning in towards the crowd. They are musically tight and consummate professionals so the performance is pretty faultless. They've always been pretty safe in terms of the music though and the set never really excites. It manages to appeal to the devotees at the same time as confirming the doubts of the nay sayers. It's solid though and they justify their lofty billing.
Over on stage two it is drummer Jake Bradford-Sharp's last gig with Ghost Community and they give him a rousing send off with a solid performance of classic prog rock. Vocalist John Paul is a distinctive front man and leads the band through a solid set that sees the crowd grow steadily throughout. They are an interesting band with plenty of dynamics, unafraid to explore different structures and delivery. They do themselves plenty of favours tonight and receive a suitably impressive reaction when they finish.
Cairo follow and display a good mix of well crafted songs, which might be expected as they feature Touchstone founder Rob Cottingham. Singer Lisa Driscoll has a really nice voice, a touch ethereal at times and always honest, which is quite refreshing in prog circles. Not dissimilar to bands like Magenta in terms of the songs, there is something eminently likeable about them, which is accentuated by the fact that they all smile quite a lot on stage. Despite only hearing it for the first time tonight, the fact that we find Say running around our head the next day indicates that they are doing something right! If there's a downside, it's that Lisa doesn't seem to know what to do with herself when she's not singing. If she worked the crowd a bit more it would certainly add to the overall effect but that said, an enjoyable set that lifted a lot of tired proggers.
It's late by the time final act Alan Reed close stage two but for those that have stayed up, it was worth the wait. A member of Pallas for 25 years before something of an acrimonious split, Alan Reed has gone on to forge his own path and has done so very well indeed. His band is full of characters and whilst the band bears Alan's name, the performance is very much that of a united band. They explore the full breadth of musical possibilities from quiet twelve string acoustic moments, to full on hard rock and it's all done with swagger and a smile. Very effective time signature changes coupled with some great lead guitar breaks draws the crowd in. Reed's vocals aren't the strongest but they suit the music he certainly throws his all into it. It's 1am before they finish and understandably the crowd has thinned a little but this was a great way to end the weekend.
So that's it for another year and another excellent weekend full of variety. The crowds have been great, never the merest hint of any trouble and the community vibe that is such a part of the whole HRH scene was evident throughout. That's just part of the reason why people keep coming back to HRH Prog, coupled with a good mix of new and old bands and the fact that you can retire to a comfortable apartment at the end of the day instead of a tent scores huge bonus points! See you next year.