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Regarded as a prog metal classic, Dream Theater's Metropolis pt.2: Scenes from a Memory is now 20 years old

ProgBlog reflects on the current state of prog metal

By ProgBlog, Mar 12 2017 07:55PM

The Burning Shed email announcing pre-orders for a 4LP King Crimson Live in Toronto box set is rather tempting, especially if the audio quality is of the same order as Radical action to unseat the hold of monkey mind. I’m a fairly avid record and CD collector but my criteria for choosing music are somewhat rigid, so that my music library isn’t really very big at although I’m pretty sure I have a progressivo Italiano collection that’s as good as anyone’s in the UK. In the past it wouldn’t have been unfair to label me as completist as I was prepared to invest in an album that I knew was substandard in the hope I’d get around to liking it, Talk and Open Your Eyes, both poor fare compared to Yes’ early benchmark being prime examples but over time I’ve accepted that tastes and musical directions change, so I don’t have to like everything by a particular group.



The bulk of the material that makes up my library is symphonic progressive rock and RPI with a bit of jazz rock, jazz and RIO thrown in, the majority of which is from the golden period between 1969 and 1978 but I’m now shifting towards new vinyl (if possible; hence my interest in Live in Toronto) and I’m becoming a sucker for special editions. I’ve got the Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, the Starless and the Road to Red box sets and, having seen Crimson play the Hackney Empire on the same tour as the Toronto and Radical Action recordings, I bought the special edition 3CD, 2DVD, 1 Blu-Ray box set of Radical Action. I have a copy of the original Great Deceiver box set and picked up my 4CD Epitaph box set when I attended the Epitaph playback in London. I was never a member of the King Crimson Collectors' Club even though I was interested in the ProjeKcts and virtually everything else DGM were doing at the time; I have a couple of these releases and have heard more – my brother Richard subscribed in the early days of the KCCC and I think if the series restarted I’d probably now sign up.


So what is it about collecting different versions of the same material? The answer, in respect to Crimson, relates to a couple of things: the historic-cultural-sociological value of the music and the innate variation-development of each individual song. In relation to Yes, up until the release of Progeny: Seven Shows from Seventy Two, there was no live recording from any part of their history which fully captured both the sound and the spark of the band in full flight. The dynamism of Yessongs was hampered by muddy production but the discovery of the master tapes used as source material for Yessongs a couple of years ago meant that, with the benefit of current digital editing, a sound accurate to the original instrumentation, including radio interference on Rick Wakeman’s Mellotron, could be presented to the listener for the first time. The packaging of this box set does full justice to the audio from nine tracks presented on each date, which over three weeks display a subtle musical development as the group becomes ever more familiar with presenting complex songs to each audience. It’s also clear how Jon Anderson’s voice becomes stronger as he recovers from influenza!


The first Yes gig I attended was a matinee performance at Wembley Stadium on October 28th 1978. I had thought that the concert had been broadcast live on BBC radio and that the Yesshows version of Don’t Kill the Whale was from that afternoon’s performance but Alan Freeman’s last ever Saturday Rock Show was broadcast two months previously, on August 26th 1978. A check of various sites suggests there were multiple radio broadcasts and it’s likely that the Yesshows version of Don’t Kill the Whale came from the evening show, which was broadcast on Tommy Vance’s first ever Friday Rock Show on November 24th. I did buy an official copy of the Yes gig on November 17th 2009 as I walked out of the Hammersmith Apollo post-performance, saved onto a USB memory stick, and had to download the encores later.


There was a bit of a craze for producing immediate post-concert releases around this time and I also bought a copy of a Caravan gig, a performance to mark the 40th anniversary of In the Land of Grey and Pink, the majority of which was burned to CD during the show at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire in October 2011. Unfortunately, Pye Hastings appeared to have a cold and his vocals suffered as a consequence.



I don’t own any live Crimson recordings at which I’d been present. If any was to be released, I’d immediately buy it without a second thought. This constitutes fanaticism and I’m a little ashamed by such obsessive behaviour which is certainly unnecessary and borders on the irrational.

I’m not interested in any form of material value of these releases based on their rarity and however limited their print runs are, but I do get a feeling of deep satisfaction listening to music that I like. I’m far more interested in ensuring the artists get the best deal possible so I prefer to buy through Bandcamp or a store like Burning Shed where it’s possible to pick up a limited edition that might come in coloured vinyl or come with a poster or postcard. When AMS re-released the English version of Le Orme’s Felona and Sorona this came on blue vinyl and their re-release of Terra in Bocca by i Giganti, one of first and most difficult to find progressivo Italiano records came with a poster on red vinyl; Anderson-Stolt’s Invention of Knowledge came with a CD of the album and, also from Burning Shed, Kaipa’s re-released self-titled debut came on blue vinyl and included a CD of the album; Höstsonaten’s Cupid and Psyche came on red vinyl, with a postcard and signed by Fabio Zuffanti. One more example, though there are plenty more, is the limited edition box set of Caution Radiation Area I bought in Alessandria last October which came with a vinyl LP, the CD and a set of postcards featuring the individual band members.


There’s not usually any extra charge associated with ‘special releases’ but they do demonstrate more of an engagement with fans. I first noticed this extra effort when Dark Side of the Moon came out in 1973 which included posters and stickers. This was the start of my acquisition of progressive rock-related memorabilia and though the posters and stickers eventually found their way into the bin, having become torn after application and removal from too many bedroom walls as I moved around London as a student and during my early employment. Fortunately, the 40th anniversary vinyl edition included reproduction posters and even my 20th anniversary CD came nicely boxed with individual pieces of specially commissioned artwork. I still have the Wish You Were Here postcard and robot handshake graphic from the black shrink wrap, stored in a Mr Men scrapbook along with other bits and pieces which charted my adolescence. Despite the fall in popularity of prog during my student days, I still managed to fill the scrapbook with ticket stubs and flyers from a variety of events, each announcement and receipt marking a point in time of particular personal relevance; a source of reference for the future. I was fairly impoverished as a student and my prudent streak extended into my early working life, since NHS laboratory work wasn’t particularly well-paid. Instead of buying an official tour program when Pink Floyd played Wembley Stadium in August 1988, I picked up an unofficial program for half the price. As the 90s wore on and it was once more possible to seek out regular suitable gigs, DGM issued a number of promotional postcards alongside a couple of sampler CDs which I collected.



There was a short time where I’d buy a T-shirt instead of a program, rarely both, and when musicians realised that there was a viable livelihood from playing more intimate venues, the post-show merchandise stand became a place of engagement between artist and fans, acting as an encouragement for the audience to perhaps spend a bit more money than anticipated; prog-mate Gina Franchetti had a long and involved conversation with Thijs van Leer about Italian cuisine at the Focus merchandise stand after a gig at the Beaverwood Club but you can also pick up some unusual objects. I’ve liberated A3 sized posters from the walls of venues on my way out after the show on more than one occasion and even got Sonja Kristina to autograph one of these, a Curved Air promotional poster, for me.

I used to have a large collection of badges until I got rid of it about 20 years ago. This included a few rather obscure items like a Brand X crocodile (from Do They Hurt) a Gradually Going Tornado pin and an Enid Touch Me pin but I’ve started to buy badges again – for no obvious purpose. I’ll continue to buy T-shirts and programs but it’s most worthwhile to buy the music at the gig; the signed copy of at the last Steven Wilson Concert; the official release-date copy of Invisible Din by ESP. On another occasion I was all fingers and thumbs attempting to remove the shrink wrap from a just-purchased Anna Phoebe EP so that she could sign it; in the end she did it for me. It’s this degree of connectivity and personal generosity that makes the prog world stand out as a beacon of inclusivity and which makes it worthwhile doing the collecting.












By ProgBlog, Oct 18 2015 10:09PM

Back in 1972, when I started listening to progressive rock and Focus 3 was circulating between brother Tony’s friends, I didn’t make any distinction between groups of different nationalities. From a starting point of Close to the Edge and spreading out to early ELP via the collected works of The Nice, Focus were one of the first bands that I heard and they simply fitted into the spectrum of music that I liked; jazz, classical, early music, blended in with rock instrumentation. The inclusion of flute also made an impression on me and I’m a strong advocate of the instrument in prog. There was a short period in very early 1973 where I’d turn on my small medium wave radio with its single earpiece and tune in to Radio Luxembourg (208m) and the first song I’d hear would be Sylvia. This short, melodic piece is something of a classic and though prog bands tended not to be interested in chart-topping singles, it ended up being Focus’ biggest international hit. I didn’t buy Focus 3 until 1976 (it seemed to me to be quite expensive, even for a double album) but Tony bought Moving Waves (1971) not long after we’d discovered the band and we bought Hamburger Concerto (1974) at the time it was released. Taken as a whole, I think I prefer Hamburger over Moving Waves, probably because of the more varied instrumentation. The two long-form compositions, Eruption and Hamburger Concerto are both brilliant examples of the genre; on Moving Waves the tracks on side one highlight the band’s influences but on Hamburger the tracks are all much more like full-on prog, including a Hocus Pocus reprise in the equally bonkers Harem Scarem. Focus 3 contained the epic Anonymous II running at over 26 minutes but even at this early stage in my understanding of music, I thought that it sounded like a studio jam that pushed the boundaries of taste with the extended bass and drum solos. However, such was my appreciation for Focus, they were one of the very first groups I went to see play live. Unfortunately, Jan Akkerman had left the band and guitar duties were taken up by Philip Catherine so I found the performance a bit disappointing; added to that was the fact that I wasn’t too familiar with the current material (from Mother Focus, 1975) and what I had heard wasn’t too much like Hamburger or anything prior to that. On reflection, Hamburger was a high point and it wasn’t until Focus 9 (2006) when Thijs van Leer was once more reunited with classic-Focus period drummer Pierre van der Linden that I thought them sufficiently progressive enough to afford them another chance. The first time I saw the reformed Focus was at Chislehurst’s Beaverwood Club in October 2010 and they were brilliant. Van Leer has never taken himself too seriously but still managed to produce some incredible music. This performance mixed the early, classic material with some up-to-date songs such as the humorous Aya-Yuppie-Hippie-Yee which fitted in neatly with the 70s music. Bobby Jacobs (bass) was a constant from the original reformed line-up from 2002 but guitarist Niels van der Steenhoven and Pierre van der Linden were new recruits. Van der Steenhoven handled the original Akkerman guitar parts beautifully. Prog mate Gina Franchetti accompanied me to this gig – she was something of a Beaverwood Club regular – and happily engaged van Leer in conversation after the show, where he revealed a love for Italian food.

My next exposure to prog from the Netherlands was seeing Trace on BBC TV’s The Old Grey Whistle Test, performing Gaillarde from their first, eponymous album Trace (1974.) Having only previously seen Rick Wakeman and Keith Emerson with large, multi-keyboard rigs, I was stunned by Rick van der Linden’s keyboards. I noted, though, that he was an ARP synthesizer man, without a Moog in sight. Based on the third movement of JS Bach’s Italian Concerto in F major (BWV 971) and a traditional Polish dance, Gaillarde is more Emerson than Wakeman, predominantly organ-driven, a classical interpretation performed by a trio. Self-taught bassist Jaap van Eik plays neat contrapuntal lines and ex-Focus drummer (playing his transparent Perspex kit on the Whistle Test) lays down jazz patterns, sometimes at breakneck speed. There’s a drum solo on the album (The Lost Past) which calls to mind the drum solo at the end of Eruption (Endless Road) from Moving Waves, but it somehow seems to fit the Trace album better, sandwiched between two parts of the haunting A Memory, a song based on a traditional Swedish piece of music. My copy of Trace was bought in 1975 and remains one of my favourite albums. The follow-up album, Birds was released in 1975, this time incorporating more van der Linden penned pieces and featuring ex-Darryl Way’s Wolf drummer Ian Mosley, Way was a guest on the album playing violins on Opus 1065, another Trace interpretation of JS Bach. My copy, the cover of which was damaged during storage sometime in the last 20 years, was bought from the Leeds University record store on a trip to see Rick Wakeman playing in the uni refectory in May 1976. Like classic Focus albums, Birds contains a multi-section suite which takes up the entire second side of the LP.

I’ve since supplemented my vinyl with CDs and also picked up a copy of The White Ladies (1976) that I saw in Dublin a couple of years ago. Though ascribed to Trace, The White Ladies is Rick van der Linden and his former Ekseption colleagues. I first heard about Ekseption, a pre- and post-Trace band, in around 2004 when I subscribed to a Rick van der Linden internet newsletter that was run by his wife Inez. During this time he was suffering from some of the major complications of diabetes, requiring eye surgery and, if memory serves correctly, needing a pancreas transplant; he died in January 2006 from complications following a stroke. I bought a second-hand copy of what fans regard as the best Ekseption album, Beggar Julia’s Time Trip (1969) for £8 from Beanos and identified portions that van der Linden would recycle for Trace, most notably Bach’s Italian Concerto. Though somewhat experimental it is a good example of fusing rock and the classics, with a bit of jazz thrown in. Whereas Focus and Trace are indistinguishable from British prog, Julia comes across as being different, Continental European, a facet I attribute to the spoken words by Linda van Dyck. It’s still an enjoyable album so I snapped up a CD of Ekseption 3 (1970) / Trinity (1973) when I saw it in a record store in Auckland, New Zealand, in 2009, neither of which has the same quality of composition as Julia throughout.

I was alerted to Supersister by Prog magazine and now own To the Highest Bidder (1971) and Iskander (1973.) This music is fairly complex, with Highest Bidder hinting at Frank Zappa’s Hot Rats (from 1969.) The lyrics may be a bit throwaway but the music and musicianship is outstanding.

My most recent foray into prog from the Netherlands has been another time trip. I bought Earth and Fire’s Song of the Marching Children (1971) at the same time I bought The White Ladies in Dublin and though it’s not musically challenging, it’s in the same league as early Ekseption; I was also given a CD of the remastered first Earth and Fire album (1970), with the Roger Dean cover, as a birthday present this year which is really proto-prog.

I’ve made a distinction between British prog and that of other countries because I think there are stylistic variations based on local cultures and would suggest that most Italian bands have a distinct flavour that allows them to be grouped together in their own sub-genre. It may be because I got to hear Focus and Trace in the early 70s that I don’t think there’s much difference between Dutch prog and UK prog but whether or not there are differences, Focus and Trace have produced some of the best progressive rock, ever.



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