Dario | Nov 22, 2023 | 0
Haugaland Prog & Rock Festival 2023
“Haugewhat?” That was the first thought when a friend told us at ProgPower Europe 2022 (October) that Meer – who had just smashed everyone at the Dutch festival – was going to play at a small Norwegian Festival called Haugaland Prog & Rock. Thanks to being a geography enthusiast, I knew – more or less – where the town of Haugesund is in the Norwegian landscape. Then, in a quick sequence of thoughts, my brain did a mathematical calculation which my heart immediately accepted: Meer + good prog music + Norwegian west coast + our undying love for road trips + 5 November (my birthday!) + extra free days available = why not?
The line-up looked promising; of the 6 bands, we’d only seen Meer live once and wanted to see them again and again (still do!) and I was eager to enjoy the music of Gösta Berlings Saga and Seven Impale, bands I got to hear recently thanks to our old podcast series Progcast (Ep 66), and the latter because of recommendations from friends. I did a bit of research on the other bands to prepare a bit before our short-planned travel and to discover that The Chronicles of Father Robin has members of Jordsjø, Tusmørke, The Samuel Jackson Five and one of my all-time favorite bands, the almighty Wobbler, I got hyped and curious but disappointed that they had only released a few bits of music thus far. About Sundrowned I’ve seen good reviews before, though their stoner shoegaze style of music is not really my thing, and about Undertakers Circus I got pleasantly surprised at the quality of their music, no matter how old it is! The band has been around in and out of action since late 60s! With a mix of folk, classic prog, funk, blues, soul, the music I found did capture my attention, and I was quite curious at how the brass section was going to sound live.
After a few days on the very rainy south coast of Norway, we arrived in Haugesund almost straight to the venue to find it quite full at the entrance. Not long passed when the local band Sundrowned started the musical evening with their shoegaze post-rock extreme metal mix, a kind of a strange choice of music, but showing the variety of styles this small festival had up their sleeves. The band didn’t have much effect on me, though at times they reminded me very much of Alcest and other bands in the style I’ve heard before, but honestly I can’t say much as it is not a style of progressive rock I enjoy much, though they had their army of enthusiastic followers among the audience, the locals might be well known in Haugesund’s rock scene.
The second band of the evening was the excellent and always surprising Seven Impale. With only 2 albums released at the start of their show (the band recently released their third long awaited album “Summit” to high praise!), the band amassed a following among the progressive rock and metal listeners with their eclectic mix of jazz, progressive metal and, in my view, whatever fits in between. I sincerely was blown away when I listened to their second album, and having the chance to see the band up close was a real highlight for me. And the Norwegians didn’t disappoint! The very complex compositions and weird vocal prowess from their singer and founder Stian Økland surely sent shivers down my spine. What an outstanding band! Yes, please do yourself a favour and listen to their music and see them live whenever you can!
Then arrived the surprise of the evening, at least for us, total newbies when it comes to legendary progressive rock bands. Ok, I’m excused; I know my bits here and there, but to know about this band you have to be either Norwegian or a massive progressive rock and metal walking library, or both! (yes Rune, I’m looking at you). Undertakers Circus started in 1967, a good decade before I saw the light for the first time in this world. They are considered a true legend in the Norwegian music landscape. Their music, a mix of funk, 70s rock, progressive elements, brass section, blues and more, has a bit for everyone! They’re regarded to be the first rock band to have socially critical themes in their lyrics in Norwegian, as well as being the first band there to sing about Norwegian folk stories and poems with an innovative (then) rock and progressive background. When they jumped on the small stage, it was palpable that these gentlemen and ladies are Norwegian musical legends. While I didn’t know what to expect of their show, I started to click my camera and, astonished, I marvelled at the sheer energy these lovely grandpas and grandmas had on stage and how much they enjoyed every single musical note emanating from their instruments and voices! In one single word: WOW! Just look at the pictures in our photo gallery. I just can’t help but smile at those happy faces making the music they love and sharing their enjoyment with every single person in the audience, old or young. Audience that went berserk when Thor Sigbjørn Greni, the band’s frontman, singer and main composer, announced their classic ‘Ragnarock’. Yes, everybody was dancing! What a fantastic way to close the first evening, we went to our rented room with a huge smile on our faces!
“Oh, it’s my birthday! And I’m in one of my favorite places in the world and in the evening I’ll enjoy awesome music and one of my favorite bands!” What could go wrong? We go to stroll a bit around the area, rich in Viking history (another subject close to our nerdy hearts), and after a hike around the island with recreated Viking village buildings, where the excellent TV Norwegian Comedy Series “Norsemen” was filmed (yes, the “real” Norheim), the weather was kind of playing a bit with us; between rain showers, amazing rainbows and sunny moments, we headed back to Haugesund for my birthday late lunch/dinner and then continued the party at the festival. Time to grab the camera bags, and we got almost drenched in the pouring rain when we arrived at the venue. To our surprise, it was not open yet, despite it being about 20 minutes before the start of the show. The personnel of the venue ushered us all to the brewery area (oh yes, the venue has its own brewery!) to wait while enjoying some drinks… and wait… and wait… after about 40 minutes, finally we were able to go inside the stage area. Obviously something had delayed the start of the festival; in our broken Norwegian, it seemed one of the bands arrived late. I wonder if it was because of the weather. Now on to enjoy my highly expected bands!
As soon as we entered, the Swedish instrumental, dark and atmospheric sounds of Gösta Berlings Saga started to fill the air. Loops of guitars and synths, bass and drums marking the eclectic though monotonous trance-like rhythm patterns, while the percussion was the real star of the show. Not only musically, but visually. Impossible to keep our lenses away from the endless stream of energy guest percussionist Jesper Skarin emanated from his setup, Gong included. But sadly, the rest of the band were like statues in full concentration within their music and instruments. It was at times difficult to decide where to take photos, what to watch for, who to capture, as it got monotonous visually as parts of their music can be. Though the strong rhythmic foundation of Gösta Berlings Saga’s music can make a corpse dance or at least move a foot, the atmospheric soundscapes and melodies did little to engage the audience in full. The band’s music is excellent, and it was performed to perfection, but they are clearly musicians first, performers second (or last?).
30 years in the making. Let that sink in for a moment. The Chronicles of Father Robin, 7-piece band consisting of members of Norwegian prog royalty Wobbler as well as from Tusmørke, Jordsjø and The Samuel Jackson Five, recently released a crowd-funded limited deluxe vinyl box set of their long awaited concept trilogy “The Songs & Tales of Airoea”. As I had not heard about this Norwegian supergroup before, I was not entirely sure what to expect, but surely having Andreas Prestmo and Martin Nordrum Kneppen of Wobbler on their files, as well as Håkon Oftung from Jordsjø and Kristoffer Momrak from Tusmørke among others was something of a hook for me (given, I repeat, that Wobbler is one of my all-time favorite progressive rock bands!). From the few we heard, the mix of genres, between classic prog, synth, folk, canterbury, psychedelic and more, is straight up my alley, and add to that some sort of “medieval” story-telling elements and add to the mix some heavier guitars bordering on metal, uff. This is going to be something we’re going to like! And oh boy, how much we did! We were literally blown off our shoes! What a band! The music, the performance, the quality of each musician, the sound was excellent as well, and the stage presence! Yes, including the bard with a flute! Kristoffer Momrak, with his self-made costume (if I remember right, made several decades ago!) was the cherry on top! What a delight! The Chronicles of Father Robin (what a name for a band!) did present the story behind their long awaited trilogy. Sadly I can’t say how many songs they played and if they played the story in a chronological way as in the albums, all I can say is I thoroughly enjoyed their performance and got their music and energy etched in my brain (and heart). Sadly there were no albums on the merch table as it was not released then, but we’re eagerly awaiting the full release!
After that whirlwind of energy left the stage, about 15 minutes after they should have finished their set, Norwegian current progressive rock darlings MEER came up on stage a bit visibly distraught, as they had to scratch off 3 songs of their set, but professionals as they are the band immediately set to perfectly perform the well executed and enchanting music they produce. I barely had a chance to recover my breath, only to lose it again singing along every single line of their highly acclaimed album “Playing House”. What a joy is Meer’s music, with the melodies and rhythms pleasant to listen to, but disguising the complexity of the music behind the angelic but powerful voices from siblings Knut and Johanne Kippersund. Their performance was a bit of a rollercoaster, more like a story unfolding right in front of our eyes (and our cameras), something I hope we captured in our full photo gallery. I noticed at first how the band were not that happy for having to cut songs from their set, then when looking around me, to notice the hall was relatively emptier than before, I couldn’t help but wonder “where is everyone?! Are they really going to miss MEER?! Are they crazy?!” – Somehow I think I caught the same thoughts from Johanne’s eyes; I can’t be sure what she was thinking, but when the firsts songs were finished and the sudden roar of the audience erupted behind me and the shiny eyes and huge smiles were drawn on the siblings faces, then I understood: the people were looking for refreshments and the band had jumped as fast as they could without giving them a chance to come back with their drinks. And what a roar that was, what a response! Well deserved headliners spot, the band have truly earned their place as the hottest Norwegian progressive/art rock act of the moment at home and abroad! The band closed their set even a bit after “curfew”, as the audience wanted more and the musicians from Hamar pleased us all with one more, to end in a long and standing ovation. What a way to end the festival!
Haugaland Prog & Rock festival certainly won a special place in our ever-increasing list of festivals dedicated to our beloved music genre. It is a joy to find new, small or relatively unknown Progressive Rock and Metal festivals, where harmony and friendliness, as well as excellent music and variety of musical styles reign.We loved the venue, Høvleriet, a venue for concerts and other meetings with a small stage, a brewery and even a small beach with a deck direct on the Smedasundet, a branch of the fjord where Haugesund sits. The wooden beams and platforms, windows facing directly over the water, many stairs and labyrinthic ways, really added an extra cosy atmosphere to the place. Also, a local artist had decorated the stage with somewhat weird mannequin sculptures and paper mache hanging balls and other strange figures. Eclectic, artsy and unique.
Most of the bands have been released by Karisma Records or their sister label Apollon Records, which both along with Dark Essence Records on the metal side of prog, seem to be at the vanguard in quality of music and rare musical jewels coming out of the Nordic ragged landscape and temperamental-weather rich land. Maybe that is the secret ingredient in the mix of high quality music of the Norwegian progressive music scene.
If you can, try not to miss the next edition, on 3 – 4 November 2023, with none other than legends Änglagård, Gåte as well as Björn Riis, Ring Van Möbius, Agusa and Gravy Jones.