HRH Prog: Saturday - Magna Science Adventure Centre, Rotherham
Walking up to the Magna Science Adventure Centre on the outskirts of Rotherham, this monumental structure is hugely impressive and rather awe-inspiring. Things are no different inside the old steel refinery, the relics of a past industrial age making a fascinating and unique backdrop for a prog rock festival. Although the theme of the weekend threatens to be the huge hall's massive reverb and bitingly cold draft – people pop outside to warm up and bands are wearing woollens on stage – the venue is a marvel and a hit in my books.
As we finally find our way in and begin to explore the maze of corridors, the stains of Credo filter out of the main hall. Their twenty minute epics, extended solos and the sea of middle-aged men clearly indicate what this weekend is all about. Credo themselves are the physical manifestations of so many of the prog clichés that it is almost comical, and fifteen minutes into the closing 'From The Cradle To The Grave' I beat a hasty retreat for some sustenance.
Irish lads Shattered Skies are the first of a sprinkling of bands that very much come from the metal end of the spectrum, and it is noticeable how much emptier the place is for them. Melodic yet intricate, their set is a pleasing listen, even if the flat atmosphere means it is a little uninspiring. Comedy moments such as missing drumsticks don't exactly help the flow of their set, but ultimately the band put on a decent show.
By contrast, space is something of a premium for The Reasoning as people pack out the arena for what I can only call an hour of landfill prog. Following the tried and tested structure of female vocalist and a bunch of aging rockers, they aren't bad per se, just mind-numbingly dull and utterly indistinguishable from the hordes of identikit bands that clutter up the entire modern prog scene.
TesseracT are onto vocalist number five already, but bloody hell can Ashe O'Hara sing! An a cappella rendition to line check may sound more X Factor than djent masters, but on both new material and old he adds a melodic dimension to the heavy technical fireworks going on behind him. Playing a fair chunk of the upcoming sophomore album first up, their set doesn't really come alive until they reach the more familiar territory of One, but once there they prove emphatically that this is a band who are in their element in a live setting.
I'm pretty certain tonight's set from The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown would make perfect sense if you were tripping on LSD. But alas I am sans hallucinogens, so am left completely bewildered by the spectacle of the aged flamenco dancers, golden goddesses and demonic keyboardists surrounding the eponymous star. Comprehensible or not though, this is a thoroughly entertaining show, and Mr Brown still quite definitely has it even after all these years. And of course that hat comes out and a riotous rendition of 'Fire' remains a real highlight of the entire weekend.
It is something of an impossible task to follow that, and even a bouncing It Bites feels a touch mundane by contrast. Pulling songs out from across their long career, new tracks go down as well as old, but the greatest cheer is reserved until the very end as their hit 'Calling All The Heroes' is rolled out, certainly one for the festival crowd topping off a very professional performance in a difficult setting.
It hasn't been pleasant watching the fall of Mostly Autumn into generic Floyd disciples, but I am willing to give them another chance to woo me again. Their performance only serves to highlight this degeneration, with latter day songs merely filling the gaps between the likes of 'The Last Bright Light' and classic closer 'Heroes Never Die', glorious slices of uplifting and beautiful folk rock.
Simply put, Hawkwind are incredible. Easily the best band of the weekend, the trippy space jams transport us to somewhere far, far away – and we have a total blast. The tone is set as they launch us into the cosmos with 'Master Of The Universe' (you know, the one from the Ford advert with the diver), each song shooting off at various tangents, exploring all the outer reaches of the unknown universe without ever sinking into boring self-indulgence.
And yet crushing disappointment is just around the corner. With the master tapes finally unearthed and a full reissue imminent, the plan was for the band to perform the entirety of Warrior On The Edge Of Time. 'Assault And Battery/The Golden Void' are finally wheeled out after an hour - here we go! But no, due to the size of the stage, Hawkwind have had to ditch the backdrops and dancers. I'm distraught, and those garish psychedelic swirls appear a little less vibrant as I finally traipse off to bed.