HRH Prog VIII Preview – Wild Musical Abandon at a Legendary Venue
Prog rock: bombastic, dramatic, fizzing with wild ideas and strange and magical new directions at the drop of a hat – can, in all its majesty, be a little difficult to explain a deep passion for. Be ye not afeared, prog fans: you can now point to HRH Prog’s expansion into the legendary 02 Shepherds Bush Empire for their eighth year, a remarkable achievement and a fitting stage to showcase both the history of the genre and to celebrate its rising stars. Not only is the venue physically larger but two quality HRH hotels will be within easy walking distance of the venue, adding extra ease to the trip and guaranteeing comfort after a long day of wild musical abandon.
**STOP PRESS – O2 Academy Sheffield now on sale same bands same weekend!**
Expanding the festival gives scope to celebrate the storied history of prog and allows for a showcase of newer, forward-thinking bands, both rising and established. Two of the main pillars of prog are presented; its original values of wild boundary-expansion, and a history of those who made its familiar fun quirks and tropes so immediately identifiable.
And approaching a decade, the festival is boasting an especially good selection of bands. Starting with the old guard, the stalwart French-British outfit Gong, one of the finest bands of the art scene, are given an appropriate stage to showcase their gigantic back catalogue of wild stories, myths and tales wreathed in strange quirks from the furthest reaches of the imagination. Seasoned performers and superb musicians, this is an ideal chance to see the masters at work.
Similarly the Canterbury scene is well-represented in Caravan and The Soft Machine. Caravan’s delightful melodies will do well to charm all listeners, representing wild inventiveness on the softer side. Caravan’s tales are some of the most beloved and easily-recognisable in the whole genre, a cornerstone for the entire Canterbury sound. Elsewhere The Soft Machine’s venerable jazz fusion is perfect for anyone seeking something lighter, dextrous and fluid; the solid foundations are interwoven with Theo Travis’ masterful sax lines, and on a dramatic and bombastic line-up their presence is a reminder that prog can be delicate and beautiful.
Towards the heavier end of things, Uriah Heep and The Pineapple Thief are driving, powerful examples of complex, high-octane rock. The classic Heepsters are masters of the heavy-organ form, conveying a thunderous bombast, blasting out hard high-energy bangers. Having written some iconic heavy tracks, they’re a key link between prog’s flowery leanings and the heavier end of the spectrum; wild flirtations with heavy metal before it forged its harder edge. The band are truly still at the top of their game, having released Living the Dream in 2018, a testament to their incredible staying power. The Pineapple Thief recall bands such as Porcupine Tree’s heavy textures and complex passages and retain some of their metal leanings. Deft, beautifully-balanced and concise, they divide their time between calm-but-tense noodling and audacious outbursts, but when the dam bursts the effect is scalpel-precise. They are masters of the modern form, offering a vision for the future of the genre that embraces modern sounds and techniques whilst clearly influenced by so many of the greats.
Speaking of heavy-hitters, what celebration of prog would be complete without at least a passing nod to all-time greats Hawkwind? Fortunately the Hawklords are back in full force, thundering away at blissfully familiar psych tunes. A wonderful trip to the very furthest regions of space, Hawklords are off-kilter storytellers, unpredictable and tripped-out and ecstatic. Other Hawkwind alumni Krankschaft are set to appear, weaving their own blend of wild psychedelic poetry with guitar-and synth-heavy freak-out psych magic. And if all that is too serious, there’s always Captain Starfighter and the Lockheeds, writing fun songs that are perhaps a little more tongue-in-cheek than usual in the beloved Hawkwind tradition. Their vibe is a little more self-aware, a joyous and engaging take on their influences. Playful, charming and engaging, all three acts have their own distinct flavour, flying a flag for a distinctly eccentric wing of British prog.
Newer bands flying the prog flag include Pearl Handled Revolver, modern practitioners of the heavy blues organ. Recalling some of Jon Lord’s wizardry, they also dip into Nick Cave territory, producing some devilishly foreboding pieces. Steeped in thinly-veiled threats and oozing lugubrious power, they’re a truly wild display of musical virtuosity and sonic variety, a fresh take on a gloomy classic. 4th Labyrinth‘s bluesy shuffle is surely familiar to all, a driving guitar-led rock’n’roll outfit – classic listening for anyone and an excellent introduction to a full day where so much history is on display. With a foot firmly in the past, 4th Labyrinth are true to their roots and true to the spirit of the genre in such wild celebration.
There are plenty of new bands exploring some new directions textures and sounds, a tribute to the experimentation that made the genre great. The leftfield Pre-Med have a wobbly electronic edge to their riffy prog vibe, in keeping with classic science fiction sound effects whist sounding clean, clear and crisp. The introduction of electronic elements sets them apart, making them sharper, more dynamic and effortlessly mysterious. Anyone looking for something truly off-the-wall will be in excellent company here – proof that prog’s future is indeed bright. Iceland’s finest, Vintage Caravan, have a warm, rich rock sound will excite anyone with a taste for harder stuff mixed with long syrupy choruses. They have a particularly modern edge to their sound, balanced and warm whilst leaving room for exploration. These guys are especially ideal for any stoner doom fans who’ve been tempted by the range of heavy sounds on display.
It’s tempting to suggest that events like this are museum trips through the ages, but there’s plenty to satisfy those of us with a heavier disposition, those yearning for the softest of melodies or the most complex of arrangements. For newcomers it’s unlikely that you’ll find something that won’t captivate, titillate or amuse. And for those who have indeed come to celebrate the wild history of prog, congratulations – if there was ever a venue to do it in, it’s this one.
HRH Prog VIII is being held at The O2 Shepherds Bush Empire and Sheffield’s O2 Academy on 26th and 27th October 2019 – tickets from www.hrhprog.com