In March I was lucky enough to tie up with the guys at Echoes and Dust at HRH Prog festival in North Wales. It was my first editorial assignment for the site. Featured below is my review of the Saturday afternoon. The full weekend review can be found here.
HRH Prog 2016: website
Photos: Charlie Gardner
A ninety minute postponement on Saturday’s early-afternoon acoustic sessions provides the perfect opportunity to nosy around the adjoining Sci-Fi Weekender. Eight-foot Space Marines and prowling Dredd squads may seem like enough to ward off even the most leather-clad progger, but as a Richter-bashing stand-off between a throat-singing Focus fan and bloodthirsty Uruk-hai demonstrates, they’re parties that bleed well together.
With the Owner’s Lounge doors eventually open for business, we find refuge among the polished harmonies of a stripped-back Messenger. The Londoners’ pastoral jaunts are well-rehearsed, well-executed and well-received in this intimate setting, and for a band soon to release their second album they demonstrate impressive versatility ahead of their fuzzier main stage set.
Ducking back into the central arena, Emirati post-metal outfit Empty Yard Experiment are christening the day with a menacing arsenal of hypertrophic mantras, hailing largely from their 2014 album Kallisti. Snarling opener ‘Greenflash’ balances bruising toms and grunting distortion to snake its way into a charged magnetic groove, whereas the engrossing ‘The Blue Eyes of a Dog’ lilts far closer to EYE’s expansive post-rock beginnings. Having gained an insight into the band’s visual output in our interview with frontman Bojan Preradovic and keyboardist Gorgin Asadi, HRH Prog’s AV shortcomings leave us ever so slightly disappointed not to have had the opportunity to experience Empty Yard Experiment’s live show in full flame. Still, Preradovic’s forlorn gravitas proves a captivating focal point for the band’s cinematic display, and by the time ‘Entropy’ reaches its writhing climax the room has filled out and is asking for more.
Fortunately, the opportunity arises next door, where EYE are ushered off to play their part in the festival’s unplugged programme. Second helpings are reserved only for those willing to stump up the VIP premium, and when combined with the day’s poor scheduling, both Messenger and EYE’s sets are criminally under-attended. To best exhibit the talent at their disposal, HRH must consider waiving the acoustic lounge’s bolt-on entry fee in years to come.
A clash with hotly-tipped Bristolian musos Schnauser brings us back to the main stage. Victims of some uncharacteristically poor mixing from HRH’s sound crew, the psych-pop outfit’s Sergeant Pepper harmonies never quite get the treatment they need to really hit the mark. This is a shame, because Schnauser’s tongue-in-cheek exploration of matters ranging from PPI to Walkers binges are genuinely very funny. It’s Adrian Mole-meets-Soft Machine: wry, eccentric, culturally crass and with plenty enough going on to keep it interesting. Unfortunately today, obstructive audio interference from the bass and keys prevents the band’s incisive humour and technical virtuoso from shining through, and many onlookers don’t quite know what to make of it. Determined to get the last laugh – and perhaps a little fed up with the sound team – Schnauser trade wit for slapstick: when frontman Alan Strawbridge dons a latex Granny mask and begins launching himself from stage apparatus, furrowed brows quickly make way for aching sides.
Scratching our heads, we head out for the first brew of the day. Entering the Mash & Barrel, we encounter a dressing-gowned Jedi council, who’ve convened to clop spoons over a few Hobgoblins. Enthusiastic but not entirely rhythmic, they’ve clearly drawn inspiration from Geoffrey Richardson’s prodigious dalliances the night before, though their newfound party-piece is a force probably best left to the confines of the caravan. Unless you’re in Caravan, that is. Still, it provides yet another entertaining example of the fantastic and unique interplay this dual-code congregation has to offer.
Messenger’s appearance at HRH Prog comes ahead of their sophomore release Threnodies, available now via InsideOut. Opening with ‘Midnight’ from 2014’s Illusory Blues, the band waste no time in continuing from where their acoustic set ended, interweaving fingerpicked guitars with chalky vocals before launching into a spunky three-axe crescendo, with Dan Knight ditching the keys to get in on the action. Hunched in a close-fitting horseshoe formation, they jam out ‘Midnight’ to some 13 minutes before slipping into a sweeping ‘Solimnoquist.’ It’s not until Messenger’s third song that the audience gets the opportunity to hear the new material up front, guitarist Barnaby Maddick donning the mike to deliver a Gilmour-esque rendition of leading single ‘Balearic Blue.’
The band are a tight set-up: mellow on the ear but highly focused to watch. Never missing a note, their commanding stage presence only falters between songs, and when frontman Khaled Lowe asks the audience to give themselves a round of applause after a hard-sell on the merch, more than one pair of Doc Martens will have shuffled uncomfortably. Nevertheless, Messenger show real promise in their performance, and their T-shirt sales will have suffered no setbacks as a result of this polished display.
With the sun setting on the Llyn Peninsula, Twinscapes make their way to the stage. A project between Naked Truth’s Lorenzo Feliciati and Porcupine Tree’s Colin Edwin, the bass-wielding duo incorporates fretless and fretted basses, E-bows and a stash of samples to produce a varied docket of sounds and textures. There’s hints of Jaco Pastorius’ moodier solo material here: atmospheric, proficient, slightly eerie, and featuring – as one punter put it – “interludes you could open a crypt to.” Though many will have been acquainted with the band’s former projects, Twinscapes enter the main space as relative unknowns. At ease onstage, they take the time to contextualise the band’s conception, and provide a few interesting insights into the driving forces behind their material. On the basis of this performance, Twinscapes’eponymous debut, released on RareNoise Records in 2014, certainly warrants a listen.