Just one week after Progfest in LA, the Classic Rock Society held its own UK Spring progressive rock festival with 2 nights at Herringthorpe Leisure Centre, Rotherham and 1 night at The Leadmill, Sheffield. Friday 30th May opened up with Rotherham's own Dawson Moody Project. Apart from their track on the CRS Unprogged CD, I hadn't heard anything else by the band and was wondering whether they could keep up the standard that that track had set. I needn't have worried however, since they played an excellent set to an appreciative audience. Martin Dawson on lead guitar is influenced by Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, but was nice to hear the keyboards played by Paul Balfour and Matthew Moody well up in the mix. All drum sounds were sequenced and all their tracks are all instrumental, but nevertheless their forthcoming album "Delusions of Grandeur" should be one to watch out for.
Next up were Walking on Ice, who just seem to get better and better each time I see them. With excellent vocals from Steve Mansfield and superb guitar solos from Rik Taylor, they really show their strength, particularly on the material from their forthcoming new album. Andy Faulkner, a CRS gig regular, really seemed to be enjoying himself on bass, pleased no doubt to be able to tread the boards instead of just watching.
Headlining on Friday night were Swedish band The Flower Kings, fresh from their recent appearance at the US progfest. They played a very similar set to the one they did at Progfest, opening up with the title track of their new album "Stardust We Are" and playing for over two hours much to the delight of chairman Martin Hudson, who must be one of their biggest fans. The band dressed in very colourful costumes present quite an image, but appear quite static on stage as they concentrate on reproducing the compexity and intricacy of their studio sound. Excellent musicians widely recognised as playing cutting edge prog.
Opening Saturday's strong line-up were US band Mastermind. Mastermind are a three piece band featuring the Berrends brothers, Bill on guitar and Rick on drums, and Phil Antolino on bass. Opening with the powerful "Child of Technology", they showed how big a sound a tight 3 piece combo can achieve and I'm sure this is where they get their comparisons with ELP. They ended their set with a very hard driven version of the William Tell Overture.
Grey Lady Down were up next and had a lot to show, what with new guitarist, Sphere's Steve Anderson's, first visit to the HLC and their new album "Fear" to promote. Opening as usual nowadays with "And Finally", probably one the strongest tracks from the new CD, they demonstrated how they are certainly one of the top UK prog bands around. Steve is a fine replacement for Julian Hunt and hopefully like many other musicians these days he can balance his work between the two bands. I found it pleasing to hear some different tracks off of Fear played live, particular "Paper Chains (Crime part 3)", which seemed to show off Mark Robotham's obvious drumming talent in a better light than the live versions of "Rollercoaster" and "Sliding" which I have previously found disappointing.
Jump followed with what has to be the best set we have seen from the band at Rotherham. Following Martin's recent From the Pulpit editorial piece in Wondrous Stories having a go at band members swearing on stage, John Dexter Jones had to have a reply and this he did by wearing a shirt that proudly proclaimed "F*** You". The temperature of the day and the lack of air-conditioning in the HLC meant that it was very hot on stage and with the more powerful than usual set from the band, J.D. eventually had to resort to removing his shirt much to the delight of the women in the audience (somehow I don't think it was just due to the offending shirt). A one hour set with many favourite Jump tracks, included "Blind Birds", "2 Up 2 Down", "Valediction" and "The Man who Worked".
Ian Salmon & Sue McCreith provided a short accoustic interlude before headliners Ritual came on stage to an expectant crowd, at least twice the number that saw them at the HLC last year. In actual fact this was Ritual's first live gig since last playing at Rotherham and they had used the time to write several new tracks for their next album. Patrik Lundstrom was in fine vocal form, fresh from his appearance with Blonde as the Swedish entry to the European Song Contest, and appeared to be really enjoying himself showing off his vocal range and getting the audience to mimic his intonations of a repeated chorus. The band had been concerned that their heavier sound might not go down well with a prog audience, but they needn't have worried, as the crowd lapped it up. New material included a revamped version of "Do You Want to See the Sun", "Coming Home" and "Slave to the Sound". Although playing a long set anyway, the band were forced to come back on by a demanding crowd to play two encores, a stunning "Solitary Man" and "Seasong for the Moominpappa".
Sunday night, the Leadmill was packed with over 400 people to see Fish, but first up was the return visit by Guillermo Cides, the stick player from Argentina. It is absolutely amazing the sounds Guillermo can get out of his instrument and I'm sure that like me, many of the Fish audience really appreciated his outstanding ability. When Fish came on, he seemed really menacing with his huge frame, short haircut and combat trousers, stomping about the stage. This image however really suited the new material from "Sunsets on Empire", which has a much harder edge than some of his earlier material, probably due to the involvement of Porcupine Tree's Steve Wilson as producer. Much of the new album was featured including "The Perception of Johnny Punter", "Goldfish and Clowns", "What Colour is God", "Jungle Ride", "Worm in a Bottle" and "Brother 52". Older material was also covered including "MR 1470", "Credo", "Internal Exile", "The Company", "Clichˇ" and an excerpt from Marillion's "Fugazi". Certainly a class act to end the CRS's first UK spring progfest.
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