ProgFarm 1998

Saturday November 7
De Harmsdobbe, Bakkeveen, Holland

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A selection of e-mail feedback from visitors and bandmembers on Progfarm ’98:

– Hierbij nog bedankt voor een oergezellige dag op de Progfarm, met voor mij als hoogtepunten Twin Age & Flamborough Head (fantastisch dat nieuwe nummer, ga zo door!).

– Rest mij jullie allemaal nogmaals ontzettend te bedanken voor een beregaaf weekend. De organisatie, de bands, de logistiek; de perfectie benaderd. OK, zelfs de frikadellen!

– Thank you very much for a great weekend! This was by far our most enjoyable gig ever, and we had a great time at the farm from the minute we arrived. I really hope that we can come back to Holland and meet you again someday.

– Please pass on these THANK YOU’S to all involved over the weekend! We all had an excellent time & I’m sure we’ll always remember this weekend. We loved the Dutch breakfast…shame the cheese shop was shut! We were amazed by how friendly everyone was…I’m sure it wouldn’t be so over here.

– Ik wilde u nog even bedanken voor een geweldige dag! Erg genoten van de optredens, vooral van Twin Age en Flamborough Head! Ook op de organisatie valt in mijn ogen niets aan te merken. Een perfect festival. Is het volgend jaar weer? Dan zal ik zeker van de partij zijn!

– Complimenten nogmaals voor jullie perfect georganiseerd Progfarm 1998, Ik had het zelf niet beter gekund……Ik vond jullie de Flamborianen erg goed en strak! Ook het geluid stond erg mooi.  Ik kon al je solo’s perfect volgen, het was gewoon af !

– Via de elektronische snelweg wil ik jullie bedanken voor de prima organisatie van Progfarm ’98. T…. en ik hebben er echt van genoten. Niet alleen van de muziek, maar ook de ambiance waarin dat plaatsvond was er een van gezelligheid en gemoedelijkheid. Eten en drinken was goed en goedkoop en het was prettig om tussen de concerten even de voeten rust te geven in het Progcafe. Ik hoop van harte dat jullie dit jaar wel uit de kosten zijn gekomen. Bedank svp de overige bandleden ook namens ons.

– Bedankt voor de fantastische symfo-dag die jullie mij (en al die andere liefhebbers) bezorgd hebben. Behalve de muzikale hoogstandjes was het ook nog eens beregezellig. Ik heb al laten weten dat ik jullie (alweer !) beter vond dan bij vorige optredens. Ga zo door ! Het geluid was best wel goed te noemen, vooral v.w.b. het volume (eindelijk eens een keer niet te hard).

– Hi Edo and the Heads, Thanks again for letting us play at Progfarm 98 and for the cosy reception!!!

– It has been a tremendous weekend with you guys. It has been lots of fun, great bands, great music, very kind people (the fans, the musicians …everyone), the locations was brilliant, your organization was superb (except the amount of shirts) ;-)))

– Finally, thanks to all of you for making the weekend totally unforgettable! Brilliant gig!!! See you next year?

– Allereerst nog enorm bedankt voor een zeer geslaagde dag vorige week zaterdag. Ik kon niet tot het eind blijven, maar voor zover ik er bij ben geweest was ik zeer onder de indruk van de enorm goede sfeer die er hing. De keuze van de bands was heel goed. Genoeg verschil en genoeg overeenkomst. Echt complimenten voor jullie initiatief. Ik was ook behoorlijk onder de indruk van jullie optreden. Jullie hebben live een hele mooie, ronde, warme sound, en vooral ook rust in de muziek,……

– The festival was great. Some very good surprises: Flamborough Head was really good and Twin Age  simply fantastic. A great mood, very nice people and it was great for us not to have to take the car back to Belgium: we had a very good overnight and breakfeast. Thanks again for organisation (perfect !) and for sure, see you next year !

 

Frank Blades at Progfarm ’98:

This was always going to be an interesting weekend, but somehow the whole thing reached to new levels of stupidity. It all started in the long, hot days of summer when Mike Eldon suggested that we share the petrol and ferry costs, and go across to Holland for Progfarm 98. Even in July, it seemed like a daft idea, but somehow he and Edo Spanninga – festival organiser and keyboard player with Flamborough Head – managed to convince me. Then Marillion announced their autumn tour dates. Now, Mike is a huge Marillion fan; he’s only seen them 140 or so times – and so could not miss the guys playing his hometown the night before the festival. Instead of a simple “meet at Mike’s house”, things became more complicated and I caved into the suggestion that it would be “much easier” if I went to the Marillion gig too. Now, I have been a huge Marillion fan in my time but have not seen the guys since 1989. But Mike was willing to organise buying the tickets, and it was the easier option… Taking three days off work, I drove down to Luton on Friday afternoon, met up with him and another friend Kevin and caught the Marillion gig. We had managed to get another two suckers to join our ProgFarm trip. Rock-superstar and chicken-fan Tim Burness, whose CD Infinite Oceans I reviewed last year, met us outside The Forum after the Marillion gig. And after dropping Kevin off at Brent Cross we drove hell for leather south to meet up with Keith Marshall, editor of the webzine Eleusis at Dover in time for the 2-30 a.m. crossing. Somehow, we took ages to get to the south coast, and poor Keith was waiting patiently, but with increasing concern, as the time ticked on. As luck would have it we arrived just in time, and after piling Keith’s gear into the car we joined the queue and we soon on board and making our way across the Channel. We had a very easy crossing, and after 75 minutes or so were driving off the ferry into Calais. We quickly found our way onto the road north and set off on the 300-mile journey north. At this point I would like to mention that Mike had been up since 6-00 a.m. that morning, and yet managed to drive us all the way to Bakkeveen with only an hour’s sleep! And for those of you who don’t know where Bakkeveen is, you will find it midway between Groningen and Leeuwarden in Northern Holland. For those of you without a map to hand, imagine driving to the middle of no-where and then keep going… Our journey would take us across Belgium and most of Holland. To be honest, I slept most of the way! But thanks to Mike’s tireless driving and Keith’s reliable navigating, we arrived in one piece at about 10-00 a.m. What is ProgFarm? Well, the “festival site” is De Harmsdôbbe farm which belongs to drummer Koen Roozen. It is no longer a working farm, and makes its money as a campsite during the summer. Last year, Koen and the rest of Flamborough Head organised the first ProgFarm festival. The line-up consisted of Lyonesse, Cliffhanger, Flamborough Head, Odyesse and Grey Lady Down. Although the festival made a slight loss financially, the feedback was very positive, and so the guys decided the have another one this year. The guys had obviously spent the week converting the farm into Prog Central for the weekend. The main barn was now the stage area with a raised stage and standing room for about 150 people. I suspect that this could be the band’s regular practise room, as it looked a little too permanent! Behind the stage was the canteen where burgers, soup, coffee and beer could be bought. Connecting the two was an enclosed area that was where the stalls were set up. This formed one side of a yard. Opposite that was the ProgCafé where breakfast was served, and chairs were set up for general relaxation before during and after the festival. Forming a third side to the yard was the sleeping quarters. Now I, perhaps naively, thought that “bed and breakfast” would mean us staying in some quaint Dutch cottage with comfy beds, hot and cold running Frauleins and the like. But no – the sleeping quarters were a series of three dormitories with iron-framed bunk beds in rows, thirty to a room. There was heating in one room – but not in ours! Add a few toilets (five in all), showers (four) and parking, and there you had ProgFarm. Glastonbury’s facilities are positively up-market in comparison; even Strangeway’s prison in Manchester compares favourable – and the prisoners rioted over the conditions! And it was cold. Damned cold. It was a nice day – sun shining, a few tattered clouds amidst the blue sky – but it was still damned cold! We met by Edo and introduced to the few people already there. Two cars with an “L” sticker indicated the presence of the Luxembourg proggers No Name, while the only other cars with British plates meant that Big Big Train were also here. Prog in Sweden is obviously better paid, and we watched as Twin Age unpacked their van (with pneumatic tailgates!). After a quick look round, we were pointed in the direction of the ProgCafé where we demolished the remnants of the bands’ breakfast. Any sensible folk would now have disappeared into the dormitories and tried to grab a few hours sleep before the festival got underway. Of course, and sensible folk would have been back in England, but Tim showed some sense and crashed out while the rest of us circulated round the bands. My first job had more urgency. Seduced by my visions of Dutch Bed and Breakfast Nivana, I had not bothered with such trivial accoutrements such as pillows, blankets or sleeping bags. I stood to look forward to a very cold and uncomfortable night unless I could acquire at least a blanket. I considered killing someone, bury them in the cow meadows and using their sleeping bag. Luckily, plan A, which involved asking Edo, was successful, so murder was not necessary after all. My saviour was Flamborough Head drummer, the eight foot tall Koen. He was more than happy to lend me one of his, and so with my future warmth guaranteed, I joined the others. We had a long chat with a very nervous Big Big Train. The program notes read that the release of the band’s last album English Boy Wonders was “followed by an extensive run of live concerts.” Now I knew this for a slight exaggeration – Big Big Train tour less than Galahad – and Galahad have only played a handful of concerts in the last four years. Canadian vocalist Martin Reed put the record straight. In truth the band have never really toured much, and have probably played live no more than a dozen times in their eight year history! Amazingly Keith had actually seen the last Big Big Train gig at the Astoria in February 1996 supporting IQ and Jadis. Equally amazingly, this gig in reviewed in Alternate View, as Kev Rowlands was also present. Kev’s review starts: “After a shaky start Big Big Train proved that in the concert setting they are as good musically as they are on CD.” Guitarist Greg Spawton told me the story around that line. Apparently at the gig, the band’s drummer was let rock fame go to his head – or rather his groin. While the rest of the band were preparing for the gig, he was busy in the bar chatting up a girl. Dragged on stage, just in time, his mind was obviously on other things. As the band started their first song, he started a completely different song. They ground to a halt one note into the gig. Not an idea start in front of a crowded Astoria which included their new label management! Greg laughing hoped that they would do better this time… We left them having an impromptu last-minute practise in the dormitories; their only audience, the dozing Tim in the other room. The last thing I heard was a lot of nervous laughter and a “that sounded a little Spinal Tap…” comment. Gulp! I hope they could hold it together on stage! As I left, I was given the job of being Official Big Big Train photographer, armed with Greg’s neat camera, I hoped I would be recording their finest moment! After a lunch-break of soep and rolls in the ProgCafé – I think it should have been soup – but it could have been anything – we dragged Tim out of bed and made our way to the stage to catch the first band of the day, Dutchmen Sinister Street. It was all rather confusing to start with. The band struck up with their first number, and while the vocalist wandered on and off the stage, the rest of the band knuckled down with a great song entitles A Song For A Day. At the end, everyone cheered, the band looked confused and the vocalist explained that was just the sound-check. Sounded pretty good to us. After a few minor changes, the set started properly. This time the lights went down, and the band launched into Summit from their 1992 debut album The Eve Of Innocence. They followed this with Thin Ice and One In A Million. Only three of the six-piece remain from the Eve line-up – vocalist Olaf Balaauw and the two keyboard players Peter van Leerdam and Erik van der Vlis. The band split in 1996, and there are now three new members Frits Bonjernoor on drums, Roger Vingerhoeds on bass and Omar Niamut on guitar. This had given the band a harder edge to their sound. The result is a mixed set containing more mellow tracks based around the keyboards and voice, and heavier songs based around the guitar, bass and drums. This was no more apparent than when fate stepped in. At the end of Million, Omar broke a guitar string. Disaster! And unless you have a row of spare guitars – and preferably a roadie to re-string them, you have to do it yourself. This was the first major gig for Omar, 20 years old – and somehow looking a lot younger! He was totally stressed out as he tried to restring the guitar, but the old hands stepped in. Olaf and Erik treated us to an impromptu vocal and keyboard version of the Peter Gabriel song Family Snapshot – to the obvious appreciation of Olaf’s sister in the crowd! Omar was down but not out. Guitar fixed, he then led the band into the next song, the heavier Turning Tide. This was followed by a rocking version of the Rush song YYZ. The set continued with this mixture of old songs and new: A Prayer For the Dying, Midas Touch, Entre Nous (the second Rush cover) and Lost For Words. Highlight of the set was a new song, the proposed title track for the band’s next album Trust. This really was a powerful prog rock composition. If the rest of the album is a fraction as good as this (and I reckon it will be a lot better than that), it is going to be a cracker. They followed that with 2 In 1 and then a totally unexpected cover of the UK song In The Dead Of Night which made Keith’s day. I have never heard anyone play a UK track – UK including! – so this was a real bonus; for Keith, this was his favourtie UK track which made the whole thing even better. Sinister Street tried to leave it at that but were called back for an encore and they duly delivered Go The Distance. The crowd loved Sinister Street, and the room was pretty full for the whole set. My only criticism of the band was Olaf’s frontmanship (if such a word exists). He is obviously an outrageous extrovert, but he could do a lot more with the crowd. He is the frontman – and rather than mime the drummer’s rolls or the guitarists breaks he should be leaping around enticing the crowd to get involved. It was a minor irritation, but made the band look more like a pub band than a professional outfit. However, as the icebreaker for the festival they ploughed through any icebergs the organisers may have worried about. To be honest though, the crowd was here to be entertained – and was more than willing to forgive little mishaps like broken strings! Sinister Street delivered an excellent set; a mishmash of intricate prog and power-rock, and they were richly rewarded by the crowd! Each band was pencilled in for a 75-minute set, and there was a fifteen-minute, or thereabouts, break between bands to allow one band to decamp their gear and the next band to set up. The crowd mirrored this activity as we charged to the loos, canteen and bar! Sinister Street set up stall in the side room, and next to them Distributions, the Dutch prog CD Mail Order Company unveiled their stock. Fl 35,- for a CD. Quick calculations made that about £11-75 that made purchases eminently affordable… Next up on stage was the still nervous Big Big Train. Whereas bands usually set up with a certain amount of decisiveness, BBT were milling around rather aimlessly before launching into their first song A Giddy Thing. First mistake – they really should have spent a bit more time checking the sound off-stage – and at very least done a sound-check. And in a horrible deja vu of their last live performance, the band petered out without getting started. I went cold; what a horrendous start to a set! What went wrong? Well, somehow the keyboards had got unplugged, and when the expected keyboard line came in, about six notes into the song, there was nothing. Second mistake – when things go wrong, tell the audience. We hadn’t got a clue what was going on – and as a result BBT looked amateurish – especially following Sinister Street (which was never going to be easy). Keyboard fixed, the band started again. A Giddy Thing went a lot smoother this time, although the sound was still not ideal and the nuances of the song was lost even to me, and I know the song pretty well. This was followed by The Shipping Forecast also from the band’s last album English Boy Wonders. This is one of the quieter tracks on the album, and it lost the crowd a little, and the hall started to empty. They then went back to the previous album Goodbye To The Age Of Steam for Wind Distorted Pioneers and Head Hit The Pillow. By now the population had settled at about half full, and the sound had improved a bit as the sound crew began to suss out what things were supposed to sound like. The excellent Brushed Aside was next; this is my favourite track from EBW. As Martin sang the opening lines: “Great God, this is an awful place although sometimes her smile lights the emptiness; He lost his way, it happens…” I couldn’t help but smile at the irony. I hope it helped! They followed this with the album’s opener Big Empty Skies which is a powerful rocker. To be honest, I was enjoying myself – I love English Boy Wonders – it was up there as one my favourite albums of 1997. Reaching For John Dowland, Mr Boxgrove and Blow The Home Down followed, and they tied up the set with the excellent Albion Perfide. The crowd reaction was pretty good – obviously not a loud as for Sinister Street, but they seemed to have won over the 70 or 80 people still in the hall. To be brutally honest, this was not a great set. Martin looked uncomfortable between songs – his “patter” showed that practice does make spontaneity more realistic. The rest of the band also lacked stage presence resulting in a rather uninspiring set from a visual viewpoint. I suppose it is naive to go out on stage for the first time for a couple of years and expect to knock ‘em flat. They could have bluffed it in a different setting. Had they been, for example, second band on at an open-air gig with the sun beating down and us all lying on our backs staring at the clouds with Big Big Train’s music floating over us – they would have been in their element. Practise they don’t need. The songs were played well, and after the initial keyboard problem, the instrumentation was pretty much spot on. Greg’s guitar work was as distinctive as ever – throwing in a mix of subtle acoustics with raw electric breaks. Tony Muller’s keyboards were on the nail too, although sometimes lost in the mix. What BBT obviously lacked was gig experience, and it showed. In their defence, the sound was poor – and BBT’s songs do require good sound for the subtleties to shine through. But then again, a sound check might have fixed this – everyone else’s sound was okay. I just hope this hasn’t turned people off Big Big Train because English Boy Wonders is a superb album – however, a bit more live experience is a must if they want to do their songs justice on stage. Postscript: After the set the Big Big Train guys emerged, and had a brief chat with Greg and Martin – returning Greg’s camera with what will hopefully be some great pictures! What I had missed earlier was that this was the band’s first gig with their new drummer. Well, that doesn’t mean much when their last gig was in 1996 – but Steve Hughes had left two weeks ago, so the new EBW Pete Hibbert had only had that time to learn the set! They seemed relieved that everything had finished, and they could now enjoy themselves! We chatted over the possibility of gigs in England too. If I get dragged into organising gigs in Bristol, I guess we may see BBT in the area someday! In the next gap, I chatted to Olaf and his sister on the Sinister Street stall. He seemed pretty pleased with the whole set, and promises that the new album will be out early next year. Sinister Street is based in the Rotterdam area – a lot nearer England than Bakkeveen is – and was talking about maybe organising some gigs down there. Sinister Street is keen to play a lot more gigs – so maybe we might see them in England in the future. As the Big Big Train guys emerged, and had a brief chat with Greg and Martin – returning Greg’s camera with what will hopefully be some great pictures! What I had missed earlier was that this was the band’s first gig with their new drummer. Well, that doesn’t mean much when their last gig was in 1996 – but Steve Hughes had left two weeks ago, so the new English Boy Wonder Pete Hibbert had only had that time to learn the set! They seemed relieved that everything had finished, and they could now enjoy themselves! We chatted over the possibility of gigs in England too. If I get dragged into organising gigs in Bristol, I guess we may see BBT in the area someday! I chatted for too long, and as a result almost missed the start of the No Name set. I rushed in just in time as they opened their set. I almost missed the start of the No Name set, and rushed in as they opened with a new track from their upcoming album The Other Side entitled Horizon. This is an excellent set-opener that will also open the new album. No Name’s set was a mixture of old favourites and new songs. Next up was De Verstand which is definitely one of the former – and went down very well with the Dutch-speaking crowd as well as me! We got the full rock version, which is on the band’s new CD-EP Strange Decisions, rather than the voice and piano version from The Secret Garden that I was more familiar with. This was followed by the epic Orient Express, which powered through its twelve or so minutes. We then got some more material from The Other Side – Strange Decisions; again, the full version rather than the single was followed by Sha’uri, Ra and The Ruler – three sections from the massive six-section epic Tan ‘Ibhan. No Name’s music was obviously not that familiar with the ProgFarm crowd, but the band was good enough to keep the majority of the crowd riveted. Patrick was showing us what a good frontman was like – Olaf and Martin could do worse that learn from him; although as it turned out, he was a rank amateur compared with Twin Age’s Johan Hanssen – but that comes later! Dolphins, Sharks and A Flood Of Sunshine is one of those tracks where Patrick’s presence made itself felt. No Name love their long tracks and the ProgFarm crowd did too – especially A Tale Of Mr. Fogg – another twelve minute epic from Secret Garden. I have always liked this track, but seeing it played live really drive home what a cracker it is. And the piano solo from the band’s composer Alex Rukavina was out of this world. I thought I knew the track, but that solo fits so well with the rest of the song that it by-passed me. Seeing Alex play it live was quite an eye-opener – the only keyboard player who has impressed me more live is Rick Wakeman. This track really does work well live. The section “Suez to London STOP pursue bankrobber Fogg STOP warrant of arrest immediately STOP send it to Bombay STOP” is ideal for audience participation. I’m not sure who else was joining in the STOPs but I was caught yelling it out! The crowd went wild for the next song, a cover of the IQ song No Love Lost. This went down a storm; possibly for a lot of the crowd this was the first track they recognised in the set! For me though the next song, Battlefield, was more memorable and as it turned out, the set-finisher. It is a long-time live favourite – and finished the set with a suitably epic finale. The encore was the only new track to me. Apparently it was called Mat Enger Trein; makes more sense if you speak Dutch, I suppose! No Name left the stage to great applause. They had played a very impressive set with professionalism and aplomb – and had made a lot of new friends. I was already a convert – but it was great to see the songs I knew so well being play live so brilliantly! Behind the scenes, things were fairly racing along. People had not realised that the best time to grab food and beer was when the bands were playing, and instead queues were forming rapidly in the canteen area between bands. Chatting to Flamborough Head bass player Marcel Derix the day afterwards he explained how he remembered the start of the Flamborough Head set. Clad in apron he was slaving over the oven, churning out burgers and hotdogs. Then someone came over and complained that the toilets were flooding. He rushed outside to find the male toilets were totally backed up and rather than spend an hour or so with his arm down the toilet bowl, he closed them. As he rushed back, he realised that the rest of the band was already on stage tuning up. A quick wash and change into stage clothes – which I think involved taking his apron off! – and he was out on stage ready for the set to start. Somewhere in the second song, he was still wondering who was looking after the burgers… As hosts Flamborough Head could have demanded top-slot, but instead let Twin Age headline. In front of a home crowd though, they seemed determined to produce a set to challenge any headline act. They hit the stage with the opening song from their excellent debut album Unspoken Whisper. Schoolyard Fantasy, with its strong Floydian overtones was a great way to start the set – it got the fans attention and guaranteed them the largest crowd of the night. It was interesting to see the make-up of the crowd. Along with the regular rockers, were a handful of children – I assume this was FH’s various off-spring – mothers and a couple of older folk too. Netherlands has a much more open view of prog rock, I can tell you! One of fan stands out in my memory. Sat in his wheelchair for the first four sets (I’m not sure where he was for Twin Age) was a lad with severe physical disabilities. I’ll tell you what though; he was up for the gig – smiling face, fist raised high for the guitar solos. That was one guy having a great time! Legend Of the Old Man Tree was next up with the whole band playing as tightly as I have ever seen any band play live. The best way I could explain it is that the whole band looked totally at home on stage. I suspect that this is in fact the case, and this stage is actually where FH have their practise sessions! Still, the interplay between guitar and keyboards on Legend was a joy to watch and listen to. Flamborough Head’s set included all seven tracks from Unspoken Whisper as well as two new songs. Corrugated Road was the first of the new tracks, and this was followed by Heroes and Childscream from the album. The whole of Flamborough Head’s set has resolved itself into one glorious track to me now. Listening to the album, I am so aware that this was what I was hearing live – the band are so tight and professional that live they pretty much reproduce the studio sound. That’s no mean feat is a barn! Siebe-Rein Schaaf is a great frontman, for all the looks like the Chelsea defender Graham Le Saux. He has a superbly powerful voice when required, but it is in songs like Childscream that the strength is shown. Childscream is more of a sad ballad of a song, but Siebe-Rein’s voice comes over full and evocative. Garden Of Dreams is another new song, and this was followed by the title track from the album Unspoken Whisper. Edo Spanninga opens this with some great piano work before Andre Cents joins on guitar. And I have memories of Siebe-Rein’s lyric: “if we fly too close to the sun, we shall burn our wings” rippling across the audience. It brings shivers as I listen to it now! After the mellowness of Unspoken Whisper, the band closed the set in storming style with the aggressive instrumental Wolves At War. The opening duet of synth and guitar ripping through the sound barrier. What a storming set! An encore? Well, they did have one song left – Xymphonia, the ten-minute epic, up their collective sleeves. This kinda explains what we were all there for: “Some people say its too sophisticated, but it’s more than just a feeling, a progressive sound with a thousand meanings…” Flamborough Head went off to tremendous applause. Well, I thought, Twin Age are going to have a lot to do to out-do that set! Everyone else I had talked to, including Mike, was really looking forward to the Twin Age set; personally I knew nothing about them. I missed them setting up their stage-show as I was busy chatting to Edo and Marcel, congratulating them on their performance. When I arrived back in the main hall, I stopped in amazement. What the ….? The stage was not overly large. Sure, it was big enough for the five-pieces who had played – even Sinister Street with their twin bands of keyboards. But for some reason, Twin Age had erected what I can only describe as a black and while child’s playhouse on the left had side of the stage. This took up fully a third of the stage and meant that the rest of the band were squeezed into the rest of the stage. I did not expect much from Twin Age although the rumour around the festival was that they were a top-trate band. I had heard nothing by them, and was waiting to be impressed. They weren’t managing it. Bass player Petter Pettersson was sporting black eye make-up. Not gothic Damned-style make-up; no, the whole of his eye sockets were blackened like he had grabbed an eye pencil and hastily shaded them. And the band looked so young. John Löwandler looked about 16, embarrassed behind his guitar, and Carl Johan Kilborn, seemingly crouched on the floor with his keyboard looked not much older. Drummer Jörgen Hanson was virtually lost behind the playhouse, and there was no sign of the vocalist. They looked like a High School band at their first Prom gig! They opened the set with the first track from their latest album Lialim High. Lialim High? Maybe that was the name of their school! Twelve Feet Tall opens with some nice keyboards before the rest of the band launch in. The front row erupted. There was a knot of die-hard Twin Age fans giving everything they had. John only looked more embarrassed, while Petter was lapping it up. Then from the playhouse emerged a black cloaked figure. He stood with his back to the crowd while the instrumental introduction built up, before turning to sing the lyrics: “Carried away, I sighted home inside the wicked zone…”. Johan Hansson, clad in cloak and sporting a black beret took centre stage. I had to admit, Twelve Feet Tall was quite an impressive opener. The following song In The Well was not bad either. Then Johan started quoting from a book entitled “Lialim High” before the band launched into another impressive song Blinded. Johan was working the audience up to a frenzy – well at least the front row anyway. The rest of us were as bemused by the fans as by Johan’s stage presence. But for all his posturing and posing, Johan’s voice was powerful and grabbed the attention as much as his visual performance did. Famous Last Words opens with Carl Johan’s keyboards very much at the fore, and I was beginning to understand that this was one professional keyboard player; John was no slouch on the guitars either. His guitar breaks were very understated, as was his stage presence, but what he was playing was very impressive indeed. Truly a man who let’s his guitar do the talking. Petter’s bass playing was solid – and allowed him to partake in the posing and singing alongside Johan. In fact due to the reduced size of the stage, the whole band were pretty much wedged together. I guess it is called band unity or something! By the end of Famous Last Words, I was pretty much hooked. After a bit more from the book, the band hit us with the fifteen-minute epic The Pelican Lie. This is a tremendous song which shows all that is good about Twin Age. Okay, so what is Johan disappears into the playhouse to change his outfit – and then emerges from one of the “windows” to sing the subsequent line. It looks strange, but you somehow can’t help getting involved in the whole thing! Sometime around here, he emerged from the playhouse with a stage goblet and proceeded to toss handfuls of glitter into the crowd. I guess there was some relevance, lost to me. But the look one guy gave when he discovered his glass of beer was now coated with glitter cracked me up! A Sign Of My Decline opens with some excellent keyboards from Carl Johan. For the whole set he creates a superb soundscape behind the band’s sound, filling it out as well as providing some excellent lead break when called upon to do so. It’s a pity his budget does not extend to a keyboard rack; half the crowd could hardly see him, cowering away on the edge of the stage. This was the final song of the set, but the crowd – especially the lunatic element at the front – would not let the band away that easily. Having played all the songs from Lialim High then played one of their earlier songs Emily Dawn from their debut album Month Of The Year, as the encore. The encore? No way, they were called back from another one and finished the night with A Showpiece In Her Showroom. The crowd would willing have kept the guys on stage for the rest of the night, but all good things have to come to an end, and so ProgFarm came to an end. Twin Age had been a real revelation for me. I had been totally converted, and would have rushed off immediately to buy the album, had I not decided to grab a quick chat with Petter first. What a nice guy! I expected a certain arrogance, but he had been as knocked out by the set as I. He seemed to be struggling to cope with the response the band had got from the crowd. Apparently the band had been a little concerned that they would not go down that well – and certainly had not expected a rabid fan club at the front of the crowd. I left him being talked at by one of his admirers to rush off and buy Lialim High before Distributions closed down and packed up for the night. The crowd would willing have kept Twin Age on stage for the rest of the night, but all good things have to come to an end, and so ProgFarm came to an end. The guys had been a real revelation for me. I had been totally converted, and would have rushed off immediately to buy the album, had I not decided to grab a quick chat with Petter first. I would like to now add a few paragraphs about how we partied on into the night. Sex and drugs and rock’n’roll life style. How the beer flowed like water until finally it began to taste like it… I would like to, but to be honest, Mike, Keith, Tim and I were totally exhausted. It was only 1-00 a.m., but we had had a l-o-n-g day. Amidst temperature that would have frozen the dangley bits off a polar bear, we retired to the dormitories. I removed my shoes and coat, built a pillow out of my spare denims and my towel and climbed fully clothed into the sleeping bad, whispering prayers of thanks to It was too cold to sleep…people were coming and going….tripping over the bags in the corridors…no chance of sleeping…zzzzzzz. I went out like a light and slept like a proverbial log. Daylight, and Tim’s upside-down face from the bunk above awakened seconds later at 10-00 a.m. I leapt out of bed, changed into my running kit and did a quick jog down to the village, had a shower and shave before breakfast. Like buggery I did! It was still freezing cold, but I did risk a change of underwear without getting frost-bitten anywhere too vital. Then it was a rush to the ProgCafé for breakfast. I love Dutch breakfasts. Orange juice and loads of coffee is a must after a long night’s gigging. But I love the whole idea of lumps of bread and lumps of cheese as a breakfast. I’m never sure about the boiled eggs – they don’t settle well with my stomach, but pile that Edam on my breakfast plate. Mike seems more interested in the chocolate-based food-stuffs and was last seen behind a slice of bread piled high with Hagelslag. Okay, so we pigged out, but why not – we’d deserved it. Breakfast was a very friendly meal with the band members circulating around tables chatting to each other and the few hardened fans still remaining. Olaf and his girlfriend joined up and we traded Harry Enfield jokes, prog memories and our knowledge of Himalayan anthropology and politics. Edo and Marcel also joined us, and we discussed how successful the event had been. Once again, the guys had been left slightly out of pocket, but the general feeling was that this had definitely built on last year’s event. One surprise had been the t-shirt shortage, Last year, Edo had printed 25, and been left with over half of them. This year, they had gone before the festival started! We urged him to print some more…But all good things must end, and we had a long drive and a ferry to catch. Saying our farewells, we left the ProgCafé and packed. Big Big Train were right behind us. They had planned things a little better – and we staying the night in Amsterdam. For us, it was the 300 mile drive back to Calais. On the way, I held a straw poll amongst the four of us. How did we rate the bands? Grading them in order Twin Age emerged as undisputed winners. Sinister Street emerged as second favourites with No Name just behind them. Our hosts Flamborough Head came in fourth with Big Big Train just behind them. The voting was fun with Time, Mike and Keith all voting the same way, and me disagreeing with everything except that Twin Age had been best! Who did we reckon the crowd liked best? Well, Twin Age again came out on top with Flamborough Head behind them. Sinister Street came a close third with No Name tipping Big Big Train in the race to avoid the wooden spoon. What does this mean? Well, I guess familiarity had a lot to do with it. The Dutch bands went down well with the Dutch crowd, No Name played a storming set, but less people knew their material. Twin Age though deserved their pole position. Their set was imaginative, innovative and good fun. Big Big Train lost the crowd very early on, and struggled to recapture them.What about next year? Well, I think all four of us were keen to come back. The travelling plans might be a lot better though – maybe a few nights on the continent would be a better idea! Loads of bands were thrown up in the “next year’s line-up” question. Obviously most were English – Sphere (if they have a drummer), Galahad, Mr So & So, World Turtle and Jump were mentioned. For further afield Landberk, Quidam, Galadriel and Ziff were mooted. The general feeling was that Edo and the guys could get away with charging a bit more if that money was used to get better bands. Fl 30,- (£10-00) is hardly a lot of cash to shell out for five bands. And more T-shirts was again brought up…But the underlying feeling was that we had had a cracking day – or three days once the travelling had been taken into consideration. There had not been a duff band amongst the five – everyone had played well and overcome the few technical problems that arose. Hopefully all the bands had made a lot of new friends, and it had been worth their time playing. Certainly the progfans all seemed to have had a good time. And we’ll be back in Bakkeveen next year… (Frank Blades. Alternate View. Progressive Rock Website. November 1998).

De Harmsdôbbe is literally a farm, just outside the village of Bakkeveen in Northern Holland. The owner is a member of Flamborough Head, a Dutch neo-progressive band signed to Cyclops Records, whose debut album Unspoken Whispers was well-received by critics upon release earlier this year. In 1997 the band took the brave step of organising their very own progressive rock festival, using the farm as a venue. Apart from the location, it is ideally suited for the purpose, being a converted adventure centre for children during the summer. This means it has kitchen and sleeping facilities for a lot of people, bed-and-breakfast being a cheap option for attendees. It also has no neighbours to complain about the noise, unless you count a few horses, a couple of cows and a goat! Last year’s festival was a huge critical success, despite the band making a small financial loss, and the repeat this year pulled in about 170 visitors, who just about filled the stable area being used as an auditorium.

I was part of only two English contingents present, the other being the GEP-signed band Big Big Train. Mike Eldon drove the car, while Frank Blades (of Alternative View) and Tim “Free the Chicken in Your Soul” Burness were the other passengers. We travelled through the night to get there, so I’d been up about 36 hours without sleep by the time the final band came on. Still, I have to say it was one of the most enjoyable musical events I have ever been to. Frank went around writing down the set lists so you’d be better off checking out Alternative View for that kind of detailed information, although I had never heard any of the bands before so I may have a rather unique, detached slant on the performances themselves. Enough of us, on to the bands:

Sinister Street.

Everyone was so eager for the concert to get started that as soon as the band started their soundcheck the venue was full of people cheering and clapping wildly – so much so that the singer had to calm everyone down since they weren’t yet ready to start the set.

The band were the only Dutch band present apart from the hosts, and originally became known in progressive circles when Fish used them as a stand-in Marillion soon after leaving that band in 1989. They’ve only released one CD, The Eve of Innocence back in 1992, but have recently settled on a more stable line-up and appear to be heading back into the field again. The current band is a six-piece – consisting of two keyboard players, a bassist, a guitarist, a drummer and a singer.

From the first track I have to say they had me hooked. They have a fairly light brand of prog, similar in some ways to Jadis, but what they carry off much better than others in this field is managing to make their music interesting. Every few bars they miss a beat, or add one, never getting stuck in an over-repetitive groove. Their professionalism was also proven dramatically when the guitarist broke a string two songs into the set. We got an extremely moving, unrehearsed rendition of Peter Gabriel’s Family Snapshot while he fixed it, which held the crowd spellbound. They also managed to get through the microphone cable becoming unattached, and the drummer’s high-hat falling to pieces before they reached the end of an exhilarating set. As they went on, they played more of their new material, which to my ears was more complex and a distinct improvement over the older, sounding almost like a gentler Echolyn at times. I could have managed without the cover of Rush’s YYZ (minus tedious drum solo, thank heaven) but I almost fell over backwards when they came out with a note-perfect rendition of UK’s In The Dead of Night, one of the best progressive rock tracks ever in my opinion.

The band have a lot of talent, particularly the young guitarist, who has an almost effortless way of running up and down the fretboard. The singer sounds a little like Gary Chandler, and like him remains very strong and tuneful throughout, but occasionally becomes a little too much.  There was some great interaction between guitar and keyboard at times, and the title track from their forthcoming new album Trust was an absolutely brilliant instrumental. The new CD is written, but still yet to be recorded, as the band are still seeking a record deal. They were badly screwed by their previous label who gave them no money at all, despite the CD selling several thousand copies.

At the end of their set I knew it had been worth the lack of sleep and effort to come to the festival – all had already been justified. I truly like this band and I’m looking forward to their new CD release, which they are hoping will appear in the first half of next year.

Big Big Train

As the only other English people there, we’d spoken to the band for a while before they went on stage, and had discovered a few things which worried us about how the show would work out. One was that their drummer had left them in the lurch six weeks before, and that the new guy had only had a short time to learn the material. The other was that they’d played very few live gigs ever, and seemed a little nervous about the whole idea. I’d seen them live once before in London, supporting Jadis and IQ, and hadn’t been overwhelmed, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. After Sinister Street had performed brilliantly they also had a hard act to follow, so it wasn’t surprising in some ways that they failed to win the crowd over to start with.

Their music is very quiet and subtle, often pastoral at times, and rather than starting with their more progressive, harder-edged material I think they made a mistake in starting with the more quiet, less progressive stuff. Unfortunately the crowd became uninterested after a while and started to wander out, which was a shame since the music picked up after a while, and despite the singer looking as if he would die of nerves for the first half hour, they did begin to show what they can do. I think their songs are better suited to the studio, personally, and certainly the lounge-room jazz-style piano didn’t win them many admirers I’m afraid. Still, I stayed for the whole set despite an aching back (remember folks, don’t try to sleep sitting up in a car seat – all four of us had bad backs by the end of the day!) and thought it was OK.

Flamborough Head

As the organisers of the whole occasion, Flamborough Head were on a high, and the crowd responded accordingly. I have to say though, at the risk of offending our wonderful hosts, that I found the live set rather disappointing. Their music is very slow, powerful and emotive neo-progressive rock, but I found that all their tracks began to sound the same after the first few, and I’m afraid to admit that I wandered out to look at the stalls outside for the rest of the set. How much this was to do with my aching back and the fact I was half asleep I wouldn’t like to say…

Having said that it was a remarkably solid and professional performance, and I can’t fault the musicianship. I think it just isn’t my kind of music.

No Name

These guys have the rather dubious honour of being one of the biggest bands in Luxembourg at the moment, and it isn’t hard to see why. Their set focusses more on up-tempo songs than the progressive, drawn-out stuff, although obviously influenced by Marillion and co, and you can see they would achieve a good cross-section of fans from both the progressive world and the rock world.

I enjoyed the first hour or so of their set, since they added a boost of energy after the previous band, but I have to say that I found the full 75 minutes just a little too much, despite a passable cover version of IQ’s No Love Lost. They simply weren’t progressive enough for me, as I seem to favour more and more complex material these days.

Twin Age

I’d been talking to people all day througout the festival, since everyone was extremely friendly and also seemed to speak excellent English (It really makes you feel humbled when you realise just how many Europeans speak perfect English, while so few English people can speak any other language..) and the most excitement around was about this young band from Sweden called Twin Age. I’d hardly heard of them before the festival, so I had no idea what to expect, but I could tell it would be something out of the ordinary just by the building atmosphere.

What I got was one of the most memorable live performances I have ever seen, by a truly stunning group of musicians. They have this unfortunate look of a group of 16-year olds, playing at a school concert, even though they are all in their early-to-mid twenties. Don’t let that fool you though, because this performance was by far the most confident and professional of the whole day. The band have a fairly standard five-piece line-up, guitar, keyboards, bass, drums and vocals, and each of them are superlative performers. From the very opening notes of Twelve Feet Tall they had the crowd at their feet, and when the singer appeared cloaked in a grey robe we knew there was something different here. Despite starting out as  a Dream Theater cover band, they now write music far more comparable to early Genesis at their very best. With a small amount of atonality and a strong emphasis on the vocals as well as the instrumental passages they sound like an odd mix of early IQ and Anglagard, without ever being directly derivative.

The singer has a stunning stage presence, with his odd movements and costume changes, and the whole set had me completely spellbound, sucked into both the music and the performance as a whole. This was symphonic progressive rock at its peak, and I am simply lost for words to express how good this really was. Frank was speaking to the bass player afterwards and I think even the band themselves were amazed at the response, saying it was possibly their best gig yet.

Their second CD Lialim High hasn’t left my CD player since I got home (check back here for a full review soon), and I can only say that if you get even half a chance to see them, grab it with both hands! The best way possible to end a festival is on a high, and this was certainly that. Maybe in ten years time this will be hailed as one of the seminal performances of the late nineties, and I’ll be more than happy to say I was there..

In summary, both Twin Age and Sinister Street were extremely impressive to me, although the former clearly stole the show. None of the other bands were playing music that I liked much, although I can’t fault the quality of the performances. All four of us agreed that we’d had a wonderful time, and I must express my thanks to the organisers, who made a wonderful job of everything – the sound equipment was top notch, the food was fine and the ability to fall into a bed straight after the show was more than welcome after so much travelling! I must also express my grateful thanks to Mike Eldon for driving us all the way there and back, Frank and Tim for being such good company, and to everyone I met there for making it such a wonderful atmosphere and friendly, supportive occasion.

I was talking to Edo (Flamborough Head keyboardist) the morning after about organising a third progfarm next year, and he said that depended on the financial side, but I would certainly go back again, whatever the cost. Personally I’d be prepared to pay a lot more for a ticket since they didn’t charge much, and I’m sure there are ways to promote the whole thing through merchandising. I really hope they pull it together for next year, and I wish we could find somewhere with similar facilities in England to put on such a wonderful show, since the existing small festivals we have don’t seem to generate anything like the enthusiasm and atmosphere of this occasion. (Keith Marshall on his Eleusis Prog Website. November 1998).

 

The Festival

It’s a cold Friday in November. Together with the wonderful lady of heart (and prog) 😉 we are driving into the little village “Bakkeveen” (that’s near Drachten in the northern part of the Netherlands, .. erm in the frieslandish part to be precise). Inside the beautiful small village we are looking for a former farm now to be a small camping site and a venue for school classes that want to spend some days here (there’s a nice park with a lake behind the farm). Here it is … the venue “De Harmsdôbbe”. Belonging to the drummer of the dutch progrock band “Flamborough Head”. This is a quite useful place for the band (great practicing facility) and the PROGFARM festival. 1998 is the second season of PROGFARM. In 1997 Flamborough Head made their idea of an own prog festival become reality. As I already mentioned before, the farm is not used as farm anymore but as a sleeping facility for school classes etc. So the site has all that is needed for a festival:

* A kitchen where Siebe Rein (vocals, Flamborough Head) hired Julia and me as “cutting onions and rolling meat balls for the progfarm-soup”-offices. And what fun it was. Cutting onions while listening to great music (tapes containing a mix of 70ies to 90ies progrock) … I wondered whether I was crying because of the music or the onions. 🙂

* A big room (the so called “ProgCafe”) with tables and chairs, lovely decorated with real album covers and heated by a tremendous room dryer (normally used at building sites to dry cement). Apart from coffee and breakfast this cute little device has been the main attraction in the ProgCafe. On the one hand because it was pretty cold outside and on the other hand because some proggers seemed to like it’s destructive sound and the big gasoline powered flame (“FIRE … FIRE … hrm hrm cool he hrm”) :-))

* A few rooms/halls with beds. (the “Dormitories of Prog and sleeping bags”).

So for a bit more money fans were able to get “bed and breakfast” (luckily this was a service a not the boygroup) :-), the others slept in hotels/pension nearby. who just about filled the stable area being used as an auditorium.

Sinister Street

And there it was … the first band hit the stage: the dutch progrockers Sinister Street, playing progrock somehow reminding me of Jadis. All of the songs were grabbing my attention, lots of melody but lots of changes and development as well. With the words “hey, we’re all here to enjoy ourselves” the played some cover versions, i.e. XYZ (Rush) and In the dead of night (UK). I will never become a fan of Rush but I know how hard it is to play that song ! Wow ! In the dead of night pushed the crowd (at least at the place where I stood) into loud singing. This really was an interesting performance and I am really looking forward to feature this band in the “Progressive DisDURPance” compilation cd series.

Big Big Train

This british band did not quite manage to grab the crowd. Their set started with progressive music, but was not progressive rock in the common sense of the word. I think most people could not cope with the folk influences of the first half of their gig. During this first half the band seemed to play isolated … isolated from themselves (I did not see a community on the stage) and this might have inflicted the isolation from the crowd. To the end the songs got straighter, more catchy and more concrete and at least a few people including me) got used to Big Big Train and could catch their music. A big hello to Peter, the new drummer … he played nearly the whole set from the sheets and what complex drumming it was … superb work, man.

Flamborough Head

Wow, a great performance. From the first moment on stage the crowd knew that the organizers of ProgFarm 98 seemed to be the musicians with the most experience and most professional attitude to their music. They played their debut and presented a new song called Garden of dreams which is by far more complicated than all tracks of “Unspoken whisper” and: one of the best progrock songs that I heard this year. The crowd enjoyed the gig of the ProgFarm hosts and even more did the children of them ! Check out the compilation “Progressive DisDURPance Vol.2” (will be available on the DURP around spring 1999), it will feature a track of Flamborough Head.

No Name

The atmosphere grew and grew. From Luxembourg they came and started to turn the audience into a boiling crowd. Their music ? An interesting combination of slow emotional parts and fast progressive parts, mainly carried by the keyboards. Speaking of the keyboards. I am sure … I saw the “satan of keys” that night … I really was stunned by his work ! Back to the music of No Name. I think they’re on the best way , they have great progressive parts in it, but between them there are some lengths, the melodies sang by the vocals are quite unique but too unconcrete for me (as sometimes is the music during singing). The most impressive song they played was Orient express, prog rock at its best ! The live atmosphere was brilliant, powerful and they after the cover of IQs “No love lost” they left a steaming crowd begging for more.

Twin Age

I really felt like a fool. Everyone seemed to know at least the name of this band. I never ever have heard of them before and when I came back I asked lots of friends in prog over here in Germany. Now I don’t feel like an fool anymore because I could not find anyone that knew this band. 🙂 WHAT A SHAME ! Twin Age became the heroes of the evening. This young swedish band (all of them 20 to 26 years old) managed to create an atmosphere that reminded me of an early Marillion gig I saw in television lots of years ago. If you add the atmosphere of early releases of IQ, a bit of Illuvatar and a subtile stage performance (costume changes and jesteralike movements of the vocalist) you get TWIN AGE. I am not a prophet (luckily I am not – otherwise I would have to climb up a hill and let my limbs freeze off) 🙂 but I think a new star has risen in the european progscene ! As nobody knows Twin Age over here I rearranged the song selection of “Progressive DisDURPance Vol.2” and am glad to announce that this great band will be featured on the second edition of the DURP compilation cd series as one of it’s main attractions.

Summary

This has been the best prog festival I have been to. I would like to thank Flamborough Head for doing a great job in organizing this festival, all bands for giving their best and all people I talked to for creating this intimate family-alike prog atmosphere. (Markus Weis -DURP)

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