Progrésiste Convention 2003 (October 2003)

Date of Performance: October 4 - 5, 2003
Venue: Spirit of '66, Verviers, BE

Progresiste Convention 2003 PosterWhen the Belgian magazine Progrésiste reached its fifth year of publication, the nucleus of this fine quarterly publication found it time to organize their first "convention." They did this in conjunction with the French-speaking mailing list Pengla. By programming lesser known bands such as Poetica In Silencio and Globalys, this "convention" nevertheless attracted 200 people. A lot of those present had heard about this new magazine and the revival of progressive rock by means of a famous radio programme. Whilst being present at the convention, a lot of music lovers subscribed to the magazine, in return for which they were presented with a free full-length CD. Because a subscription lasts for one year, a lot of the subscribers now see the yearly "convention" as the ideal excuse to renew their subscription.

Last year the one day festival headlined with Mostly Autumn and Progrésiste is convinced that it would have been been sold-out again this year if they once again had Mostly Autumn closing the festival. Instead, however, they found they should emphasize good but lesser known bands. Together with Spirit of '66 owner Francis Geron, the magazine put forward some bands who in their own right could never pull more than fifty or so people, although they delivered one hell of a set. Gilles Arend: "When we decided we would spread the 'convention' over two days, we found that four bands per day would be ideal. When we discussed the possible names to ask we, as well as Francis, found that we should give lesser known bands a fair chance to do their thing in front of 200 to 300 people. When we looked at the bands who had played at the Spirit before a small audience, we already had six bands. So we added two what we regard as BIG names to make the festival complete. One of those BIG names was Magenta. This band was the best-selling artist at the Musicroom store, whilst it would also be their very first appearance in Belgium. The second BIG name was After Crying, yet although we offered them more money they still didn't want to come. Instead we opted for Mangala Vallis as they are great friends of ours."

Due to unforeseen circumstances, the date for the festival had to be postponed no fewer than ten times! At first, the festival would be held in June, yet Progrésiste found out that the d'Orthez festival was planned around the same time, so it was postponed till the end of June. But that was the "Verviers jogging," blocking all possibilities. "July and August are impossible due to the holidays, so we tried September, but then we had the Wallon festivities," says Gilles. "In the end, we planned [for] the weekend of 4th and 5th October, although we definitely knew it was the Progpower festival that same weekend. We might have lost some people, but we didn't really see Progpower as competition due to their focus on prog metal. People come to the Progrésiste convention to see the people behind the scenes, to renew their subscription, to buy some CDs. This year people paid 30 euro (= 30 dollars) to see no less than eight bands. On top of that we also showed some recent prog DVDs. Without any doubt, the best offer you can get!"

Plackband at Progresiste Convention 2003 (photo: © 2003 John BollenbergOK, so the Progrésiste people were thrilled, but did they have reason to be so? Was it worth the money and the many miles most of us had to travel? Apart from one or two bands whose names I won't mention, the weekend was a success, with a wide range of progressive rock as a result. On Saturday it all started precisely at 4 PM with the Genesis from Holland, Plackband. Indeed their sound often gets close to vintage Genesis, whilst they have found the ideal singer in the person of Karel Messemaker. Last year, Karel played a very short acoustic set with his band November. The band that followed was ... Plackband, so no doubt Karel's vocal appearance didn't go unnoticed. Next to the almost obligatory Genesis classic "Carpet Crawlers," the band also played one of their old songs called "Blue Flashes In The Red Light District." In all, a nicely balanced set with a good mix and some wonderful atmospheric songs.

Galahad at Progresiste Convention 2003 (photo: © 2003 John Bollenberg)Next up was Stu and his Galahad. As someone who once auditioned to replace Fish in Marillion, I have to say that sadly it still doesn't happen for Galahad, although the songs are pretty good. Stu also did some theatrical approaches, even dressed as a priest whilst the music got very energetic and punchy. Later on, Stu's wife told me that both Sleepers and Nothing Is Written have gone out of print and there are no immediate plans to repress the albums. So for the time being, the band sells CD-R copies of these titles. I still think these guys should be given more opportunities.

High Wheel at Progresiste Convention 2003 (photo: © 2003 John Bollenberg)By now it was 8 PM and time for a slice of German prowess with High Wheel. With four albums under their belt, these guys to me delivered the best set of the entire weekend, with the perfect balance between versatility and technique. Throughout their powerful set, I more than once noticed some Gentle Giant influences whilst their final song also contained some Pink Floyd elements. Perfect!

Magenta at Progrestiste Convention 2003 (photo: © 2003 John Bollenberg)The first day closed with what was Magenta's very first concert in Belgium! In fact it was Rob Reed's first Belgian gig as well, as he never performed with his band Cyan. Magenta fuses a Mr. So & So approach with Annie Haslam finesse so as to deliver vintage prog, yet in a contemporary setting. Their set also contained a couple of new songs from their soon to be released second album Seven. Rob Reed is still adding bits and pieces as he goes along, which gives him the difficult task of deciding whether this time around the album will be a single disc or yet another double offering. "Pride" to my ears sounded like Karnataka fusing with Clannad and with a bunch of shorter songs coming our way, Magenta certainly is ready to make a big impact on the current prog scene. For sure, a very successful Saturday, so we had wonderful dreams whilst we stayed in Spa a little further down the road from Verviers.

Lord Of Mushrooms at Progresiste Convention 2003Due to the fact that the organisation had rented all of the main hotels in Verviers, the visitors had to look elsewhere for somewhere to stay. Together with some forty music lovers, we found a nice setting in Spa, about 11 km from Belgium's grand prix circuit at Francorchamps. Sunday morning was the perfect time for a good healthy walk in the surrounding woods. With our lungs full of fresh air, it was time to enter the Spirit arena once agan for yet another delivery of four bands. France was present with Lord Of Mushrooms, yet although from a musical point of view it all sounded promising, I fear that the voice of the singer doesn't really fit the music. It's as if you would ask James LaBrie to front Return To Forever! Very soon I got the "back to the drawing board" effect! Very much more in tune with their ambition came British band Sphere3, which they themselves call "Sphere cubed." Lots of songs from the band's debut album, but also some new material. Sphere3 at Progresiste Convention 2003 (photo:© 2003 John Bollenberg)The band's drummer was apparently here illegally as he didn't have his passport with him. This little story was kind of the main argument for everyone to buy the band's album because they would need all the money they could get to bribe his way out of Belgium! Although Sphere3's music was not everyone's cup of tea, I quite liked the balance between hard and soft passages.

Act at Progresiste Convention 2003 (photo: © 2003 John Bollenberg)With Swedish band A.C.T on stage, this meant the third consecutive band where the bass player played on a 6-string bass! A certain Rosalyn and Jean-Paul had given drummer Thomas Lejon a lift from Baarlo, Holland to Verviers, Belgium. Thomas had played with his other band Andromeda during the Progpower festival and everything was scheduled so he could attend the Progrésiste festival with A.C.T without any major problems. You can't really say this is prog "pur sang" as the band even tackles reggae and all kinds of influences, but if there's one band that can bring the new wave of progressive rock to a bigger audience then it surely has to be A.C.T! Especially singer Herman Saming is a joy to see and hear; a very funny guy with a fabulous voice. The band played selections from their three albums and were greeted with enormous enthusiasm. A girl had even come all the way from Japan to see them! Prog lovers are indeed a weird bunch!

Mangala Vallis at Progresiste Convention 2003 (photo: © 2003 John Bollenberg)The Progrésiste convention closed with Italian band Mangala Vallis, who played their entire debut album The Book Of Dreams in exactly the same order as on the disc. Sadly no new material from these guys, although we all know they have just recorded their second album. A little taster of what to expect would have been welcome. Instead singer Fabio Mora paid tribute to the Italian heroes PFM by means of "Impressione Di Settembre" and "Il Banchetto." As Sunday, 5th October also marked the 44th birthday of Progrésiste writer Piero Romainville, Mangala Vallis offered him, as well as the audience, a birthday gift that he won't forget easily! First the band kicked off with Yes' "Roundabout" followed by "Carpet Crawlers" from Genesis. Mangala Vallis and the Progresiste writers for the finale (photo: © 2003 John BollenbergTo end this wonderful festival with a real fireworks of progressive highlights, Mangala Vallis asked all of the Progrésiste writers on stage so they could sing "In The Court Of The Crimson King" together. A moment to treasure!

There are few negative elements I can find about this festival, as it really felt like one big happy family. Maybe the only sad thing I found was the enormous number of cameras and photographers. No doubt there are always people there trying to do their "job" in taking some pictures for prog magazines and/or websites, but during the weekend almost everyone was taking snapshots. And, most of all, loads of people were filming the performances. This meant that a lot of these people stayed up front during the entire festival, making it almost impossible for other people to get to the front so they could take some good pictures. Some cameramen even thought they were prize winning directors from Hollywood! Maybe for their next edition they should be more strict about this and allow people from the press up front during the first three songs. That way everyone will be happy! No doubt we'll be back next year!


· Plackband (now known as PBII)
· Galahad
· Magenta
· Lord Of Mushrooms
· Sphere3
· A.C.T
· Mangala Vallis
· Progrésiste

Added: October 11th 2003
Reviewer: John "Bobo" Bollenberg

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