HRH Prog X

Saturday 4th & Sunday 5th September 2021

O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

Hard Rock Hell (HRH) Prog X is a Progressive Rock festival featuring fourteen bands spread over two days. The same lineup alternated between Shepherds Bush Empire and the O2 Academy in Sheffield. The HRH festival promoters began organising HRH events back in 2007. Fourteen years on and HRH are the undisputed European leaders in Residential festivals, bringing together a mash up of many genres.

On day one, the lineup included Semper Vera, Tiger Moth Tales, Franck Carducci, The Skys, Colosseum, Ozric Tentacles Electronic & Friends and Mostly Autumn. On day two, the lineup featured Axiom, Deviant Amp, Bram Stoker, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Atomic Rooster, Threshold and The Enid. As the event had to be re-scheduled a couple of times due to the Covid pandemic, the lineup was slightly altered as some bands couldn’t make the new dates. Most notably absent were Rick Wakeman who was originally scheduled to headline day one, and Dave Brock & Friends who were due to headline day two. Despite these changes the lineup was still interesting enough for me to attend both days. Unfortunately, due to other commitments, I didn't manage to see all the bands on the bill. However, I did manage to arrive at the venue in time to catch the fifth band on day one, the resurrected Jazz-Rock legends Colosseum.

Colosseum were formed in 1968 by drummer Jon Hiseman, tenor sax player Dick Heckstall-Smith, keyboardist Dave Greenslade and bassist Tony Reeves. The band's initial lineup was completed by James Litherland on guitar and lead vocals. They recorded two studio albums in 1969, 'Those Who Are About to Die Salute You' and 'Valentyne Suite'. Litherland quit the band just before the 1970 US only release of the 'The Grass Is Greener' album. Dave "Clem" Clempson (Bakerloo) replaced James Litherland, with Louis Cennamo (Renaissance) briefly replacing Tony Reeves on bass, before being replaced by Mark Clarke within a month. Hiseman then recruited powerhouse vocalist Chris Farlowe to enable Clempson to concentrate on guitar. This lineup recorded the 1970 album 'Daughter of Time'. After the release of their live double album 'Colosseum Live' in 1971 the band broke up.

Hiseman, Greenslade, Heckstall-Smith, Clempson, Farlowe and Clarke reunited Colosseum in 1994, twenty-three years after the band split. The first reunion concert was on 24th June 1994 at the Freiburg Zelt Musik Festival, then, a few months later on 28th October, they played the E-Werk in Cologne, which was recorded for a TV Special and later released in 1995 as a CD and video. It was then re-released on DVD in 2004 as 'Colosseum LiveS : The Complete Reunion Concert Cologne 1994'. A new studio album 'Bread and Circuses' was released in 1997, with a further studio album 'Tomorrow's Blues' being released in 2003. Devastatingly Dick Heckstall-Smith died of liver failure in December 2004. Hiseman's wife, saxophonist Barbara Thompson, stepped in and then joined the band full-time. Sadly by 2011 Thompson's Parkinson's disease started to affect her ability to perform and so it was decided that the band would come to an end after the 2014/15 tour to promote their final studio album 'Time On Our Side', which was released in late 2014. The very last gig was at the Shepherds Bush Empire, London on the 28th February 2015. In 2017, Hiseman formed a new band called JCM featuring Clem Clemson and Mark Clarke. They recorded one album 'Heroes' released in April 2018 and started a tour to promote it. Unfortunately, after a few dates Hiseman became seriously ill and they had to stop. Shockingly Jon Hiseman died of a brain hemorrhage after surgery to remove a brain tumour in June 2018.

In 2020, Farlowe, Clempson and Clarke made the decision to reunite as Colosseum and hit the road. Joining them on this new journey are Kim Nishikawara on saxaphone, Nick Steed on keyboards and Malcolm Mortimore (Gentle Giant) on drums. They kicked off their storming sixty minute set in style with the majestic 1969 sixteen minute epic ‘Valentyne Suite’, ‘January's Search’, ‘February's Valentine’ and ‘The Grass Is Always Greener’, before Farlowe joined them for ‘No Pleasin'’ from ‘Bread & Circuses’ (1997). Farlowe gave it his all on ‘Theme for an Imaginary Western’ (Jack Bruce cover) from ‘Daughter of Time’ (1970), before having much fun with improvisation on ‘Stormy Monday Blues’ (T-Bone Walker cover). The mammoth ‘Lost Angeles’ from ‘Colosseum Live’ (1971) completed the set. The new lineup have just recently started gigging and have much to prove, but they did themselves proud here and pulled off a very commendable performance. I believe new material is written and recorded for a proposed new album.

Next up were Psychedelic sound explorers and festival veterans Ozric Tentacles Electronic & Friends. Guitarist, writer, producer and electronic wizard Ed Wynne being the only constant member throughout the bands existence. These days Ozric Tentacles is basically just Ed Wynne (guitar/synthesizers) and his son Silas Neptune (synthesizers), but at this special gig they were joined by Paul Hankin (a member of the band from 1985-1991 and 2013-2015) on percussion, Saskia Maxwell (Silas Neptune's partner and musical collaborator) on flute, and original keyboard player Joie Hinton (1983-1994) on all sorts of sound effects, knob twirling and electronic gadgetry!

This British Psychedelic Rock instrumental band was formed in 1983 by Ed and his bassist brother Roly Wynne - who tragically died in 1999, along with drummer Nick "Tig" Van Gelder and keyboardist Hinton. Throughout their thirty-eight year career there have been approximately thirty musicians that have passed through the bands ranks at one time or another. Initially formed to jam at free festivals, they have subsequently gone on to release twenty studio albums and eleven live albums to date. The first six albums were originally only available on cassette direct from the band, including ‘Erpsongs’ (1985), ‘Tantric Obstacles’ (1985), ‘Live Ethereal Cereal’ (1986), ‘There Is Nothing’ (1986), ‘Sliding Gliding Worlds’ (1988) and ‘The Bits Between the Bits’ (1989). Subsequently, all six were released in 1993 as a CD box-set called 'Vitamin Enhanced', which was re-mastered in 2014 and then again in 2021! Their first proper CD release was ‘Pungent Effulgent’ (1989) on Dovetail Records, followed by the double album ‘Erpland’ (1990). In 1991 they managed to achieve the top spot in the UK Indie Chart with their single ‘Sploosh!’ from the album ‘Strangeitude’. In 1993 their ‘Jurassic Shift’ album reached the Top 20 of the UK Albums Chart and No. 1 in the UK Indie Chart. After that unexpected burst of commercial success dynamics changed within the band and members would start to leave. Despite the many lineup changes over the years they continue to be prolific, releasing a steady flow of quality albums to this day, including ‘Arborescence’ (1994), ‘Become the Other’ (1995), ‘Curious Corn’ (1997), ‘Waterfall Cities’ (1999), ‘The Hidden Step’ (2000), ‘Spirals in Hyperspace’ (2004), ‘The Floor's Too Far Away’ (2006), ‘The Yumyum Tree’ (2009), ‘Paper Monkeys’ (2011), ‘Technicians of the Sacred’ (2015) and ‘Space for the Earth’ (2020).

Their seventy minute hypnotically mind blowing set consisted of many weird and wonderful Psychedelic soundscapes, including 'Kick Muck', ‘Eternal Wheel’, ‘The Throbbe’, ‘San Pedro’, ‘Dance of the Loonie’, ‘Jelly Lips’, plus a fair smattering of tracks from their beautiful new studio album ‘Space for the Earth’. Wonderfully uplifting and meditative stuff!

Last band of the day were York’s very own Mostly Autumn. They formed in 1995 and have built their reputation through constant touring, having never signing to a major label. Their music is heavily influenced by 1970s Progressive Rock and can be described as a fusion of Genesis, Pink Floyd, Renaissance and Jethro Tull, with a smattering of Celtic themes for good measure! The band's founding line-up consisted of band-leader Bryan Josh (vocals and guitars), Heidi Widdop (vocals), Iain Jennings (keyboards), Liam Davison (guitars), Alun Hughes (bass and occasional keyboards), Bob Faulds (violin), Kev Gibbons (whistles) and Chris Walton (drums). Vocalist/guitarist/writer Heather Findlay replaced Widdop before the recording of their debut album ‘For All We Shared...’ released in 1998. Findlay fronted the band for twelve years and made eight studio albums and eleven live albums with them before leaving in 2010.

Olivia Sparnenn who joined on backing vocals in 2004 became the bands lead vocalist after Findlay left and continues to front the band today. She appears as lead vocalist on six studio albums and five live albums to date. The current lineup consists of Bryan Josh – vocals, guitars, keyboards (1995-present), Iain Jennings - keyboards, backing vocals (1995-2006, 2007-present), Angela Gordon - flutes, keyboards, recorders, whistles, percussion, backing vocals (1999-2007, 2015-present), Andy Smith - bass (2000-present), Olivia Sparnenn - vocals, percussion (2004-present), Chris Johnson – rhythm and acoustic guitars, keyboards, vocals (2006-2007, 2014-present) and Henry Rogers - drums (2018-present). Their soaring set featured ‘Tomorrow Dies’, ‘The Last Climb’, ‘Evergreen’, ‘Simple Ways’, ‘Nowhere to Hide (Close My Eyes)’, ‘Changing Lives’, ‘Into the Stars’, ‘Mother Nature’, ‘Heroes Never Die’ and ‘Forever and Beyond’. Six of the songs were from the first four studio albums, three from the 2017 album 'Sight Of Day' and one from the 2019 album 'White Rainbow'. A very enjoyable set from a sensational live band! Their new studio album 'Graveyard Star' will be released on 24th September.

On Day two I arrived at the venue in time to catch the third band of the day, Bram Stoker. They were formed in Bournemouth in 1969 by Hammond organist Anthony Bronsdon, guitarist Peter Ballam, drummer Rob Haines and bass guitarist John Bavin. Their music has been described as "Progressive-Classical-Rock-Gothic-Psychedelic Rock". During their first run from 1969 - 1972 they only made one studio album, ‘Heavy Rock Spectacular’ which was released in 1972. Two of the original lineup reformed in 2004, and with the addition of two new recruits they went on to release a further four studio albums. The current lineup features original member Tony Bronsdon on keyboards and vocals, Neil Richardson on lead guitar, Josephine Marks on bass guitar and vocals and Warren Marks on drums. Their tenebrous, but lucid set consisted of old tunes interspersed with new, including ‘Climbing the Gyroscope’, ‘Gotta Get Outta Here’, ‘Otranto’, ‘Like Autumn Now’, ‘Fast Decay’, ‘Ballad of the Bogeyman’, ‘Extensive Corrosion/Ants’, ‘Joust’, ‘Cut Down the Corn’ and ‘Terminate’. Despite the horror related band name and dark Gothic music, the band members all look rather friendly and normal!

The Crazy World of Arthur Brown were up next for their blistering sixty minute set dubbed 'A Human Perspective', an exhilarating multi-layered interactive blend of music, visuals and costume! At the ripe old age of 79, Brown is still full of exuberant creative energy and continues to perform with unbridled passion and zeal! Arthur Brown is the God of Hellfire! Or so he claims at the beginning of his 1968 hit song 'Fire'! The Crazy World were formed in 1967 by Brown, keyboard wizard Vincent Crane and drummer Drachen Theaker. Their first single 'Devils Grip' was released in 1967 with their eponymously titled debut album ‘The Crazy World of Arthur Brown’ following in June 1968, subsequently going on to reach number two in the UK charts. The single ‘Fire’ reached number one in the UK charts in August 1968. Brown's most famous trick when performing 'Fire' was to adorn a flaming helmet, basically a metal colander strapped to the top of his head, containing rags soaked in methylated spirit and set alight! According to reports from the time, this stunt would go wrong regularly and Arthur would get badly burned! Arthur’s use of stage make-up and face paint was a major influence on bands such as Kiss and Alice Cooper, and his wide vocal range, powerful operatic voice and high pitched screams were a huge influence on Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden and Ian Gillan from Deep Purple.

In 1968 Theaker was fired due to his erratic timekeeping and bitter attitude towards the band, and he was replaced by drummer Carl Palmer, later of Atomic Rooster and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Both Crane and Palmer left in June 1969 to form Atomic Rooster. In late 1969 Brown assembled a new bunch of musicians and recorded the ‘Strangelands’ album. Deemed too weird and un-commercial by the record company, it was initially shelved, eventually seeing the light of day in 1988. In 1970 Brown went on to form ‘Kingdom Come’ with guitarist Andy Dalby, releasing three albums ‘Galactic Zoo Dossier’ (1971), ‘Kingdom Come’ (1972) and ‘Journey’ (1973). Brown released several solo albums over the latter half of the 70s, including 'Dance' (1975), 'Chisholm in My Bosom' (1977) and 'Faster Than the Speed of Light' with Vincent Crane (1980), he also made several guest appearances, including on Robert Calvert's 1974 album 'Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters'. In 1975, Brown appeared in the Who's rock opera movie Tommy as "The Priest". Later that year he contributed vocals to the song 'The Tell-Tale Heart' on the Poe-based concept album 'Tales of Mystery and Imagination' by the Alan Parsons Project. In 1979 and 1980, he collaborated with German electronic musician Klaus Schulze.

After an extended break away from the music business, Brown began to resurrect his musical career around 1996, making several guest appearances on other artistes albums including Bruce Dickinson's 'The Chemical Wedding' album, Kula Shaker's 'Mystical Machine Gun' single and The Pretty Things 1998 Abbey Road live performance of their 'S.F. Sorrow' album. He would go onto reprise his role of Narrator with the Pretty Things live at the Royal Festival Hall, London in 2001. Throughout 2001 and 2002, Brown made several guest appearances with Hawkwind, subsequently touring with them as a guest vocalist. He also provided vocals on two of the tracks on Hawkwind's 2005 album 'Take Me to Your Leader'. Further solo and 'Crazy World' albums appeared including 'Tantric Lover' (2000), 'Vampire Suite' (2003), 'The Voice of Love' (2007), 'The Magic Hat' (2012), 'Zim Zam Zim' (2013) and 'Gypsy Voodoo' (2019). In June 2019, Brown joined Carl Palmer's ELP Legacy as guest vocalist on "The Royal Affair Tour".

The current Crazy World lineup features Arthur Brown on vocals, Sam Walker on drums, Jim Mortimore (son of drummer Malcom Mortimer) on bass/keyboards and Dan Smith on guitar/keyboards. With precision timing the band delved straight into their wild and crazy set including ‘Prelude – Nightmare’, ‘Fire Poem’, ‘Fire’, ‘Come and Buy’, ‘Time’, ‘Confusion’, ‘Sunrise’ (Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come), ‘Voice of Love’, ‘Touched by All’ and ‘Time Captives’ (Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come). Brown's outlandish costume changes, strange headgear, garish face paint, astounding vocals and energetic gyrations totally mesmerised the senses! A triumphant performance. Not bad for a man of 79 years!

After a thirty-minute break it was time for Atomic Rooster to hit the stage. They were originally formed in 1969 by members of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, organist Vincent Crane - only constant member throughout the band’s tenure, and drummer Carl Palmer – who left after the first album to form Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Atomic Rooster released seven studio albums between 1970 - 1983, including ‘Atomic Roooster’ (1970), ‘Death Walks Behind You’ (1970), ‘In Hearing of Atomic Rooster’ (1971), ‘Made in England’ (1972), ‘Nice 'n' Greasy’ (1973), ‘Atomic Rooster’ (1980) and ‘Headline News’ (1983). The band name was resurrected in 2016 and the current lineup features Pete French - vocals (1971, 2016-present), Steve Bolton - guitar (1971-1972, 2016-present), Adrian Gautrey - keyboards (2017-present), Shug Millidge - bass guitar (2016-present) and Bo Walsh - drums (2016-present). Their vibrant set consisted of tracks from the first three studio albums, including ‘Sleeping for Years’, ‘Save Me’, ‘I Can't Take No More’, ‘Black Snake’, ‘VUG’, ‘Break the Ice’, ‘Tomorrow Night’, ‘Decision/Indecision’, ‘Death Walks Behind You’, ‘A Spoonful of Bromide Helps the Pulse Rate Go Down’, ‘Devil's Answer’, ‘The Price’, ‘Head in the Sky’ and ‘Breakthrough’. A super tight and spirited set that went down well with the attentive crowd.

After the Atomic Rooster set I headed outside to get some air and have a rest (wrist bands allowed you to come and go as you pleased), as a result I managed to miss all of Threshold’s set! Anyway, upon my return to the venue, I was suitably re-energised and ready to enjoy headliners, The Enid and their mammoth ninety minute set!

The Enid were founded in 1973 by keyboardist Robert John Godfrey, previously known for his work with Barclay James Harvest. With over thirty musicians having passed through the bands ranks at one time or another, they have managed to release twenty studio albums and eleven live albums in the last forty-eight years. The current lineup features Robert John Godfrey - keyboards, vocals (1973-99, 2007-16, 2018-present), Jason Ducker - guitars, bass, keyboards and vocals (2007-present), Nicholas Willes - bass, percussion, guitar (2009-14, 2019-present), Karl Thompson - drums, percussion, and vocals (2020-present). Their ostentatiously grandiose set included such delights as ‘The Last Judgement’, ‘Spring’, ‘Sheets of Blue’, ‘Humoresque’, ‘In the Region of the Winter Star’, ‘Dark Hydraulic’, ‘Malacandra’, ‘Shiva’, ‘The Dam Busters March’ (Eric Coates cover) and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ (Edward Elgar cover). A spectacularly resplendent set! Godfrey was on good mischievous form and had plenty of banter between songs. He talked a bit about wanting The Enid to continue long after he’s gone. Perhaps he is gearing up for retirement soon. Proceedings came to a triumphant close at the ungodly hour of 11.40 pm! Needless to say, as it is was a Sunday night, the last tube train home was long gone!

Steven C. Gilbert.