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Eight Things We Learned From Hard Rock Hell: The Prog Perspective

Prog rears its heard at this year's Hard Rock Hell Festival

HRH 2014 – the prog side...

  • After spending what seems like a lifetime driving down roads that wouldn’t feel out of place in Sleepy Hollow, arriving at a Haven Holiday Camp complete with waterpark and duck pond doesn’t necessarily inspire you with confidence that you’re about to take part in one of the best festivals this country has to offer. However, once you’ve got past the go karts, adverts to “have your picture taken with a man in a bear costume for only £5.99!!” and the ‘Bonga Wonga Play Area’, you soon realise that the sheer calibre of bands is enough to make any music fan more than happy. While Hard Rock Hell is geared towards the more rock audience, increasingly more prog bands sneak their way onto the bill each year. The ever-lengthening tentacles of prog wrapped their way around the watching audiences this year – surprising, delighting and confusing, and ultimately retreating with many more converts firmly hooked.
  • Queensryche have been making so many headlines lately with the lawsuit with Geoff Tate, but the crowd seemed more eager to see the band than simply curious.  A late start to their set meant that the crowd took slightly longer to warm up to them as they may have ordinarily done, but by the end of Walking In The Shadows the crowd were getting into the swing of the set. I don’t want to dwell on the relative merits of Todd La Torre compared to Geoff Tate, but Todd’s voice more than stood up to the challenge. It wasn’t a set that would set the world on fire, but a solid performance that more than did the job.
  • Jolly were probably the proggiest of the bands playing over the weekend, immeasurable as that statement may be. They encompassed as many hints of genres as they could throughout their set, and each musical style they used wove a rich tapestry that created the kind of atmosphere in stage 2 that most bands over the weekend found it hard to come even close to. Soaring vocal harmonies that gave way to heavy, tearing melodies, catchy toe-tappers and longer, more involved prog numbers and even the occasional bluesy hints all gave nods to influences from all over the spectrum.
  • Bigelf provided an absolute masterclass in how prog should be. Careering wildly from the sublimely ridiculous, over the top theatrics that Freddie Mercury himself would’ve been proud of to dark, broodingly grimy numbers, Bigelf were my absolute highlight of the weekend. They mixed unbelievable technical skill (playing two Hammond organs at once is no easy feat) but also a true stage show. Hypersleep, from their latest album, was a true high point of the set. Complex yet catchy, Bigelf turned a slightly bewildered group of people into a packed out stage, furiously applauding after every song.
  • Surprise of the weekend? Bend Sinister. A Canadian self-proclaimed “progressive rock pop” band, who were the first band I’ve ever seen who we could quite happily use the phrase ‘heavy metal keyboards’ to describe. They mixed singing and shouting with beautifully discordant yet harmonising tones, jarring keyboards and lightning fast riffs any rock band would be proud of to create a whirlwind of sound, noise and experience. While it feels slightly treacherous to describe any band with an average song length of less than four minutes as a prog band, Bend Sinister’s sheer exuberance, coupled with some truly brilliant songs and a rather wonderful raccoon hat sported by their guitarist definitely earn them a place among the top prog acts of the weekend.
  • How do you describe Blue Oyster Cult? Their set is incredibly difficult to write about without gushing. They were utterly mesmerising to watch. The crowd was the biggest it had been all weekend, and we were left more and more enthralled with each song BOC played. The skill they showed was just what you’d expect from such a seasoned band, but I wasn’t expecting to see them enjoying themselves so much. They finished their set with_ Godzilla_ and the expected (Don’t Fear) The Reaper. There wasn’t a person in the place who didn’t raise their hands and voices to cheer after that oh-so-iconic guitar solo – truly a spectacular show from consummate professionals.
  • Most surreal moment of the weekend? Waking up to the sound of seagulls screeching and fighting (undoubtedly about which lineup of Queensryche they prefer), and praying for something, anything to happen that would get rid of them and let me snatch a few more precious hours of sleep. Then hearing a door opening, and a voice shout “Right. I’m sorry. But will you lot just SHUT THE F*** UP, I’m trying to sleep.” The door slams, the man retreats back into the welcoming warmth of his chalet, and? Blissful silence. Forget trying to scare seagulls or chase them away flailing your arms about and looking like, well, let’s face it, rather an idiot - it would appear that they respond best to reason and logic. Who knew?
  • Most heart-warming moment of the weekend? Watching Blue Oyster Cult not wanting to leave the stage at the end of their set was the perfect end to a perfect set. They were the living embodiment that no matter how long a band has been around, when a band feeds off the energy of a crowd to the extent that BOC did, magic still happens onstage. Everything about the weekend promised that HRH Prog in March is going to be an absolute must-attend. And maybe there we’ll get our picture taken with a bear for the bargain price of £5.99…

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