Progathon Reflections: Sunday
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.
Although things started a little later – an intentional move on my part – the thing that surprised me about the Sunday was the amount of people who were there from the off. It echoed people’s support and interest in the city’s progressive side, and as such Ascent had a sizable crowd to perform in front of. In hindsight, as they rolled out the riffs, dexterous musicality and soaring, elevated melodies at a rate of knots – most excellently from vocalist Arya Bobaie and axesmith Danny White – they deserved a much, much higher slot. It’s a slot they will get in future as they showed to everyone present that, not only do their songs have a towering ambition, but they executed their set with an unwavering panache. Arguably the most progressive and epic band on the entire bill, this was one hell of a way to start the day.
Still a relatively new band, every time I see Wolf Company live they've shifted up a gear. As the early evening began to dawn on Deansgate, they rifled through a set of jagged, genre-bending progressive metal and groovy hard rock in equal measure. Songs like Mr Voodoo Dog Man manage to sound like 70s prog rock pomp a la Rush and Genesis through to modern metal in the vein of Karnivool and beyond via jazzy byroads and an effects lathered lucidity. It’s just a shame they couldn't stick around to hang out with the other bands, because that networking/social environment was a big part of the festival too.
Ah Void, I love these guys. As ever, the boys delivered some spacey doom rock that was both gritty and dreamlike, with two glorious cover – a slower, meaner take on Lenny Kravitz’s Fly Away and Type O Negative’s Black No. 1 complete with a haunting organ – it was a set that didn’t take itself too seriously and was all the better for it. It was seriously good fun and further added to the broad range of bands that the day was providing. Lest we forget that progressive music is about defying expectations, about being original and unpredictable. So, in that respect, what is more prog than playing two songs that couldn’t be any less proggy if they tried?
On a day amass of gruff distortion; the free-wheeling, hippie power of Luna Marada which followed was a breath of fresh air. Most musicians today were wearing black and looking deadly serious, but these guys rocked up looking more colourful than Rainbow Road and Christ alive and they were a mad, engaging watch. Notorious around here for playing gigs slap bang in the city centre, they brought a taste of Woodstock, of funky basslines and sassy wah to the Progathon. They play with looseness, an improvisational freedom that you have to admire, a joy to behold.
Now I must confess that I missed the beginning of Awaker’s set. I’d buggered off to the takeaway. I was starving and the presence of something called ‘Mister Monstrosity’ on the menu had bewitched us. But when I got back to the venue, nicely packed and in the thrall of the quartet’s sonic bombast, I has taken aback. I knew what this band was capable of – indeed that’s why I booked the band and gave them such a lofty slot – but they seemed to have kicked up a notch since, savouring the chance to play a gig tailor made for their riff ravaged metal. Absolutely cracking to eat a burger to n’ all…
Burger demolished, co-headliners Collibus were simply staggering; delivering a set that screamed for this band to be massive. The atmosphere in the room changed when they took to stage, you felt all eyes become transfixed as their Richter Scale bothering bass rattled through the PA, front woman Gemma Fox’s enormous falsetto unravelling. I got a text from Cat Naylor of Up From Under, who had been helping throughout the day, saying you could hear them from Deansgate-Castlefield tram stop. That says everything really. A massive improvement on their MMC Weekender set just over a month prior, their was just a real classiness to them. New single The Last Time shows their intent to hit the ground running in 2016, with a follow up to 2014’s The False Awakening desperately needed to capitalise on all of the momentum garnished from that release.
It was a bittersweet feeling for me as the mighty Spires stepped onto stage, ushering the final throes, the final hurrah of what had been a brilliant weekend. Spending most of the set with NOIZ/MMC’s Eytan and fellow Prognosis guitarist Hickson in the sound booth controlling the lighting and exhausting the smoke machine, we witnessed a band who take clever, complex and intricate music and push it to its heaviest extremes. Rumbling double bass and demonically growled vocals marked a rapturous display, calculated and clinical. It was getting late and yet, despite Sunday public transport ending more prematurely than a virgin nerd banging a supermodel, people refused to leave until it was over properly; testament to people’s love for live music and the encapsulating act tasked with rounding the weekend off.
As those final notes wailed and faded into the past and people filed out into the chilly streets, I was left to reflect on the past two days. But I did so with a smile. Establishing the Progathon was never going to be easy, especially with the ambition of this being the start of a legacy, of a long running series of gigs, the whole thing could have fallen flat on its face. But it didn’t. I think the Manchester scene, considering the band’s that dwell here, needs an outlet for the musos the prog fiends to call their own – but an all inclusive one at that – and, for me at least, it appeared that the public responded in whole hearted agreement.
Roll on Progathon II.