By Bona Pjarren

We arrive early Sunday afternoon for our second successive dose of the finest prog rock that this island has to offer, with a liberal dose of visiting contributors thrown in for good measure.

It’s straight in for an interview with This Winter Machine. Consequently, I did miss a fair chunk of Hats Off Gentlemen Its Adequate. The band are Malcolm Galloway (vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and producer), Mark Gatland (bass, backing vocals,keyboards and co-producer) and Kathryn Thomas (flute) From what I did see they are a thoroughly entertaining three piece with strong melodies that showed they could really mix it up style wise. What I did catch of their performance I really enjoyed. They are a band that can really mix it up style wise while retaining their own unique style. Funk mixed with folk and rock but all undoubtedly progressive. I will definitely have to try and catch seeing this band again live.

The Bloody Mallard are a Kent, London based heavy psych, prog and alternative rock three piece. Live thy rely on experimental melodies, rhythms and earthy tones. They are a pure instrumental band who entertain with pure musicianship. Their drummer and bassist in particular are exceptional. A really good band with great grooves that were thoroughly entertaining.

Next on stage are The Room who are a melodic rock band from the south east of the UK. The six band members bring together a broad range of musical influences which has helped to form The Room’s distinctive style. They were nominated in the Best New Band category at the 2016 Classic Rock Society awards. My first impression of the band is that they are very accessible with well composed songs that really connect with the audience. While on one song I did detect a bit of a Marillion feel they do not easily fall into any category. With memorable songs like ‘Full Circle’ and the beautiful ballad ‘Screaming Through The Noise’, they are a band that are well worth watching. They finished with ‘It’s Not My Home’, which they dedicated to what is happening in the Ukraine.

Spriggan Mist are a folk-rock band from Bracknell inspired by anything from their real life escapades to stories of ancient deities and beliefs. From what I had read about this band I was really looking forward to witnessing their stage performance. I have to say I was not disappointed; they are a very visual band combining stage costumes and two dancers. Spriggan Mist combine progressive rock with wonderful folk elements. Their songs are very catchy, and they provide an authentic party atmosphere. I loved their live version of ‘Isembard The Mechanical Dragon’ which was marvellously whacky and feels like a classic progressive rock track. Apparently, it is the title track from the new album. They also included ‘Zombie Nation’ and finished off with ‘Spriggan Dance’ which proved to be a big hit with the audience.

This Winter Machine are a melodic progressive rock band from the ÜK who have been going for over four years. They are influenced by everything from Rush to Marillion, neo prog to British new wave. Live, they are an ambitious band with a massive sound. I think there were some problems with the monitoring system as some of the more technical elements of their set were occasionally slightly out, which was a shame as the majority of the set was spot on. I couldn’t quite hear the introduction of the songs, as for some reason the spoken vocal was a bit muffled. Again, it would have been nice to have some frame of reference as their material is fairly new to me. Overall, they put in a very enjoyable set that obviously went over well with the audience.

There were however various highlights to This Winter Machine’s set which included two fantastic ballads entitled ‘Hearts Alive’ and ‘Broken’ which were impressive. They finished with a blistering version of ‘Kites’.

Unfortunately, Karnataka had to pull out of the line-up due to Covid, which was a real shame as I was particularly looking forward to seeing them. My thoughts are with them as are my hopes for a speedy recovery.

It’s time for Focus and I have no preconceptions for the band as it is my first time seeing them live. I had heard mixed reviews and I always prefer to make my own mind up. I am only pointing this out because what I have just witnessed is a master class in how to perform live. Focus were on it from beginning to end and bearing in mind they were the penultimate band they did have to do an encore. I honestly don’t think the crowd would have settled for anything less.

From many years of attending live gigs, very occasionally, you are privileged to witness a pure diamond. This weekend there have been two, so far, Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy and now Focus. There are times that bands get back together because of nostalgia, but then there are others that reform because they are still very relevant to the music scene in the 2020’s. Focus are one of those bands. They were thoroughly entertaining from beginning to end, with plenty of audience participation. From jazz scat to the introduction to ‘Sylvia’, the audience were constantly encouraged to get involved.

Thijs is a absolute hero when it comes to working a crowd, that’s being an incredible frontman from behind a Hammond organ, not to mention playing the flute and singing as well, he is definitely a man of many talents. Add to this the drumming talents of Pierre van der Linden, the faultless guitar playing of Menno Gootjes and the incredible talents of Udo Pannekeet and you have a heady mix. Highlights included ‘House of the King’, Focus’ first single, and, of course, ‘Hocus Pocus’ and you have the makings of a superb night of entertainment.

And so, it comes to the last band of the night, a real fan favourite in the guise of Wishbone Ash. Andy Powell is the only original member remaining in the line-up though he retains the services of Bob Skeat on bass, who has been active in the band since 1997. Mark Abrahams is the second guitarist, active since 2017, and finally we have Mike Truscott on drums, who is the most recent member having only just joined this year. Wishbone Ash have an extensive back catalogue of 26 albums which includes their latest release of ‘Coat of Arms’, released in 2020.

Wishbone Ash are one of those iconic British rock bands, their distinctive sound is down to their use of harmonised guitars really caught the imagination of many of their contemporaries. Indeed bands such as Iron Maiden, Van Halen, Thin Lizzy and Lynyrd Skynyrd have all cited them as an influence. And so, I am quite looking forward to seeing this final act.

Wishbone Ash do not disappoint, launching into various fan favourites from their extensive back catalogue starting with ‘Bona Fide’. The interplay between Andy and Mark’s guitar playing is breath taking and Bob also adds to the harmonies with his bass lines. This particularly comes to the fore with songs like ‘Warrior’, ‘Phoenix’ and ‘The King Will Come’, which were delivered flawlessly and with passion. ‘Phoenix’ was the last number of the set, but the crowd were not going to let them go without an encore. This was duly delivered with renditions of ‘Blowin Free’, had to be included, and ‘Jailbait’. It was a fantastic end to a fantastic and eventful weekend.

  • PHOTO CREDIT: Live photographs © Simon Dunkerley. Copyright remains with the photographer.
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