Progathon Reflections: Saturday
Phil Weller reflects on the band’s that made the first ever Manchester Rocks Progathon such a success, with photos of all the bands.
Words: Phil Weller | Photos: Anthony Firmin
So the Progathon has been and gone and the next instalment is already in the pipeline. A festival we put on to unite the city’s great breadth of progressive acts who we felt have never really created the same sense of community the likes of the local doom scene have, we saw 15 bands giving it their all. Every musician who stepped onto that stage seemed to be genuinely enthusiastic and honoured to be a part of this maiden event, which sounds to us like we are doing a good thing here.
The Human Condition opened proceedings with their doom-tinted hard rock sound. Frontman Nathan Harrison has a big voice founded in classic 70s rock with their long, sometimes sprawling songs the perfect way to get the ball rolling; the last thing this set needed was a load of jittery time signature changes and overbearing musicality.
Recommended for the Progathon by MR scribe and prog fiend Mike Ainscoe, as soon as I heard Black Market Serotonin I wanted them on the bill. The first recording I heard bore resemblances to The Pineapple Thief for me – this was bright, energetic, electronic lavished alt rock/prog. The truth of the matter is there is so much more to them than that, their sound referencing everything from Tool to Floyd and Genesis. It was a really engaging performance that seemed to impress upon a lot of people.
It’s no lie that, while I love music to be ambitious and, by definition, progressive, I am a sucker for all things doomy too. So having Under on the bill, a band who merge the two together with aplomb, was a delight. Picking from their weirdest compositions, they produced a set in the vein of Zappa and Primus. For me at least, it was really cool seeing this side of the band showed so vibrantly.
The River Versus are one of the most unique bands to grace the weekend in my opinion, and this set was by far the best I’ve seen from them, a true highlight. They’re just a bit bonkers really, and watching a couple dancing ecstatically all over the room together to their tinkling piano and pinging, jolty bass was both hilarious and humbling. As a promoter you always live in fear your shows will bomb or people won’t like your taste in bands. As I watched this, their drinks spilling all over the dance floor without any really care and the band unfurled their ridiculously fun Star Wars medley, I felt a massive pride in this band. Their instrumentation, their eccentricity; there just isn't another band like them.
Now, the purpose of this festival was to highlight the local scene’s depth and diversity, bringing all those artists together under Rebellion’s roof. But I also wanted to use the weekend to introduce said scene to some bands from outside the city limits who I knew they’d love. Kylver, another band to weld doom and prog together, were one such band. Getting the Hammond organ set up and organised was a massive pain in the arse, I'm not gonna lie, but as soon as that Leslie speaker fired into action and their droning, funeral doom, which weaved itself down winding musical paths came to fruition, bellowing across the venue, it all became worth it. Evocative and simply massive, they went down a storm.
Then, after battling with a virtually non-existent voice all day, it was my band, Prognosis’ time to shine. My croaky voice – compared to everything from Deirdre Barlow to Marge Simpson – was the source of many people’s amusement, but a genuine worry for me considering I was supposed to be singing. Miraculously, my voice made a fleeting appearance for our 30 minute set.
The set was intended to be something of a statement from us. When you’re the only band on the bill with ‘prog’ in your name you kind of have to make a point, and we’d been working tirelessly on finishing new, more progressive songs that really stretched us as songwriters. Unfortunately things didn’t quite pan out like that and, a week before our set we parted ways with our drummer, leaving Eysaw’s Gaz Manning with just two practices to get a set down. Yet, I did feel it was one of our better sets, with Gaz playing an absolute blinder and I felt the rest of us really branch out as performers, giving our all to entertain, just thankful to still be playing.
A band I discovered writing for The Sludgelord in March 2014, Telepathy are not just heavy. They sound like gravity itself, dragging you to the ground with an astonishing lack of mercy, their sludge drenched tones abominable and delectable all the same. It can be hard for instrumental bands to grab an audience the same way that a good front-person can, but that was never an issue for these guys. They performed with so much energy and passion, throwing themselves around the stage like rag dolls, the pressure and atmosphere in the room going through the roof during their set like you could feel jaws hit the floor.
Tasked with rounding the night off, in the end, there was no band more suited to it than Fantasist. The besuited maniacs were joyously light hearted and danceable, a breath of fresh air after several sets of pummelling metallic quality. Each member in this band is supremely talented and equally as quirky, with a great collective sense of humour. Using their set as a perfect excuse to give some of their more leftfield songs an airing before closing matters off with covers of Queen, Phil Collins, Rush and more, they turned the Progathon into a proper party. Whoever said prog was for boring nerds was clearly oh so wrong...