ProgBlog

By ProgBlog, Mar 9 2020 10:23PM

A list of recent past, present and future happenings in the prog world


Latest additions to the ProgBlog collection, primarily garnered from three sources (Black Widow Records, Genoa; Burning Shed; and via the artists themselves through Bandcamp: Collegium Musicum (CD) - Collegium Musicum; Görlitz (CD) – Pulsar; Il Segno del Comando (CD) - Il Segno del Comando; Waterloo Lily (Vinyl) – Caravan; Principe di un Giorno (V) – Celeste; III or Viaggio negli Arcipelaghi del Tempo (V) - Delirium; Maxophone (V) – Maxophone; Il Paese dei Balocchi (V) - Il Paese dei Balocchi; Il Volto Verdi (V) – Il Segno del Comando; Ile de Fièvre (V) – Shylock; Music for Airports (V) – Brian Eno; Live at Coventry Cathedral (CD) – Travis & Fripp; Present from Nancy (V) – Supersister; Worlds Within (CD) – Raphael Weinroth-Browne; Depth of Field (V) – Kaprekar’s Constant; Exsolve (V) – Jo Quail


Jo Quail postcard
Jo Quail postcard

Jo Quail postcard (back)
Jo Quail postcard (back)


The recent past


Live report: Banco del Mutuo Soccorso + Il Segno del Comando, Politeama Genovese, February 5th


Banco del Mutuo Soccorso have been touring 2019’s Transiberiana around major cities in Italy and after reading that there were plans for co-founder Gianni Nocenzi to perform alongside his brother Vittorio Nocenzi at the Genoa concert on 5th February – after leaving Banco in 1985 he has only made very rare appearances with the band – I thought that I’d sign-up for what was billed as an extraordinary, unforgettable event. I was also seduced by the support act, Genovese dark prog band Il Segno del Comando which I’d wanted to see for some time

I saw Banco in Brescia in January 2018 but didn’t manage to catch the full set, having left early to ensure I could get a taxi back to my hotel. This proved to be no problem in Genoa because the concert was being held at the Politeama Genovese, a 1000 seat theatre next door to the hotel where I always stay when I’m in Genoa. This in turn proved to be a bonus, as the band and manager Lorella Brambilla were staying at the same Hotel – I spoke to drummer Fabio Moresco immediately after I’d checked-in when I held the lift for him (he commented on my just-purchased copy of Prog Italia) and later met Lorella and Vittorio Nocenzi as I was returning from a pilgrimage to Black Widow Records. The friendliness and kindness of Italian musicians never ceases to amaze me


BMS poster, Politeama Genovese
BMS poster, Politeama Genovese

The more formal setting of the concert meant it started on time, with a short but enjoyable set from Il Segno del Comando. I wasn’t familiar with their music, having only acquired their first, self titled album and Il Volto Verdi on that trip, but I had been intrigued by the description provided by Black Widow Records’ Massimo Gasperini as ‘dark, like Van der Graaf Generator.’ The band is named after the successful 1971 giallo television series and novel of the same name by Giuseppe D'Agata, the one constant in a line-up that has changed beyond recognition since Il Segno del Comando formed in 1995 is bassist Diego Banchero, who has impressive connections within the Genoa music scene. The current personnel remain unchanged since 2018’s L'Incanto Dello Zero. Joining Banchero were Davide Bruzzi (guitars, keyboards); Fernando Cherchi (drums); Roberto Lucanato (guitars); Beppi Menozzi (keyboards); and Riccardo Morello (vocals)


46 years since their self-titled debut Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, the BMS set mixed 70’s classics with highlights from 2019’s Transiberiana. Last year’s offering marked the first new album for 25 years, the last studio album 13 being released in 1994, and Vittorio Nocenzi made a conscious effort to produce something that captured the original Banco spirit, albeit with an updated sound and clean production. Along with Nocenzi (piano, keyboards and voice) who has been guiding Banco since it was founded were Filippo Marcheggiani (lead guitar), Nicola Di Gia (rhythm guitar), Marco Capozi (bass), Fabio Moresco (ex-Metamorfosi, drums), and Tony D'Alessio (lead vocal.) Unfortunately Gianni Nocenzi did not appear but that didn’t detract from the spectacle or quality of the evening’s music. I thought they were going to begin with Transiberiana opener Stelle Sulla Terra but that proved to be a tease, as the opening bars transformed into Metamorfosi then subsequently taking us through more of the eponymous debut LP, selections from Darwin!, Io Sono Nato Librero and Transiberiana. The music wasn’t the only entertainment – Nocenzi also tells a good story, affecting a cod-Genoese accent and attitude which had my (Genoese) friends laughing out loud, getting political (my sort of politics), and then disparaging the quality and content of the Sanremo music festivals. Each song was performed with consummate skill, the early pieces varying from the album versions due to the different conformations of the band over 40+ years and D’Alessio, who has a fine voice, not even considering the fruitless task of sounding like Francesco di Giacomo. Banco are right up there with the cream of progressive rock, not just progressivo italiano. At times you can hear hints of ELP in the organ and piano but they are so much more than an ELP-school group. More rocking than many of their original Italian contemporaries their social commentary was spot on in the 70s and remains so today. If you’ve not heard any Banco del Mutuo Soccorso you need to buy some of their albums; if you’ve not seen them play live, you should make every endeavour to do so. Is anyone up for hosting Banco in the UK?




Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, Genoa 5/2/20
Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, Genoa 5/2/20

Big Big Train and The Passengers Club


The Passengers Club, a new forum for Big Big Train fans was launched on February 14th.

Membership of the Passengers Club gives listeners a chance to get behind the scenes in the world of Big Big Train. Club members will be able to hear early demos from the writing and recording stages of their studio releases and demos of songs that got lost along the way, including some tracks from an abandoned concept album that they were working on a few years ago. There will be films of the band backstage, recording in the studio, and during rehearsals and soundchecks. There will also be exclusive photo galleries, blog posts, Facebook Q & As, and other good things. Membership costs £30 for one year, or £50 for two years and full details of how to sign up, what is on offer, and the reasons for starting the Passengers Club can be found at https://thepassengersclub.com

By ProgBlog, Dec 20 2019 09:43PM

I’d just gone to buy myself a beer during a break between bands at the 2017 Porto Antico Prog Fest in Genoa when Alessandro Bosca, the bassist from Melting Clock who had just completed their set, also arrived at the drink stand. I introduced myself and told him how much I’d enjoyed their performance, indicating that I’d be writing a review article of the Prog Fest for the blog and Alessandro asked me if I’d like to hear some studio-quality demos of their songs. He passed on my details to Stefano Amadei, acting manager and one of the band’s two guitarists, who sent me files for four tracks, describing them as ‘something we recorded in only two days to present ourselves to venues’. I’d been impressed by their live appearance (their live debut) but the demos L'occhio dello Sciacallo, Antares, Sono Luce and Strade Affollate, all aired at the gig, were beautifully produced and allowed me to fully appreciate their song-craft and playing, even replicating the tingling sensation provoked by Emanuela Vedana’s vocals on Antares. Listening to the download, I was reminded of mid 70's Renaissance: melodic, symphonic and well constructed, though Melting Clock were more complex and had an audible Mediterranean influence. When I told Stefano he was flattered, but said they had only recently discovered Renaissance when some of their friends had made the same connection.


Melting Clock, Porto Antico Prog Fest 2017
Melting Clock, Porto Antico Prog Fest 2017

The origins of Melting Clock can be traced back to the Department of Physics at the University of Genoa in 2001. Stefano explained to me that the original objectives of a small group of friends was to have fun making music, describing the attempts of the fledgling group to play covers from the bands they loved but ‘were so bad that we were off beat on the various section of the songs’. This prompted Alessandro to apply the Italian slang ‘ci sciogliamo il tempo’ (‘we are melting our time’), meaning that they were forgetting or loosing the rhythmand beat, while sparking the connection with the melting clocks in Salvador Dali's 1931 masterpiece The Persistence of Memory that some have suggested was inspired by Einstein's theory of General Relativity. According to Stefano they adopted the moniker Melting Clock as a private joke: a comment on their musical skills and a pretentious link to the nerdy background (Stefano’s description) of the line up at the time.


Four of the original line-up remain: brothers Sandro and Stefano Amadei (keyboards and voice, and guitars respectively); Alessandro Bosca (bass); and Francesco Fiorito (drums), while the current sextet is completed by Simone Caffè (guitars) and Emanuela Vedana (vocals). It surprised me that their coherent, largely symphonic style should result from a wide range of influences because Francesco and Stefano are metal-heads, Simone is a David Gilmour fan, and Sandro listens to Scandinavian jazz, though he has played with Daedalus, a Genoese prog-metal band alongside Fabio Gremo of Il Tempio delle Clessidre, and was a huge fan of Jordan Rudess, lending Rudess his Kurzweil K2600 when the Dream Theater keyboard player was on holiday in Italy and agreed to perform for the Italian Dreamers. The influence of contemporary acts like Porcupine Tree, Riverside, Opeth and Ayreon that the band say have shaped the direction of their sound is tempered by a critical understanding of the cultural significance of the music that came out of Italy in the 70s along with an appreciation of classic UK progressive rock; accompanying them to a gig reveals the depth of their knowledge of Italian prog, and each time I’ve seen them play, they’ve included a classic-prog cover in the set.


Melting Clock at La Claque, Genoa 11/11/2017
Melting Clock at La Claque, Genoa 11/11/2017

It would be fair to say that Genoa, or more broadly Liguria, played a key role in the rise of rock progressivo italiano and in my opinion, Melting Clock have the ability to take on the role of RPI standard-bearers for the entire country. Rubbing shoulders with the city’s original prog musicians and the bands that have more recently come to prominence, Stefano says that the members of Melting Clock are dismissive of any boundary imposed through generational differences. An indication that their music has the potential for broad appeal is the decision of Black Widow Records to allow the band to produce a limited 2LP edition, in purple vinyl, of the debut album. Black Widow co-owner Massimo Gasperini may have thought long and hard about the vinyl release when the band had enough material for three sides of an LP but a cover medley of King Crimson tracks 21st Century Schizoid Man, In the Court of the Crimson King and Starless, first aired to great response during a gig at Genoa’s L’Angelo Azzurro club in March 2019, would provide the material for side four. That performance had been rearranged and I missed the show, not arriving in Genoa until the following week, when I was treated to a band rehearsal where they ran through the entire set from the performance and, warned of a surprise inclusion to the set list, was absolutely blown away by the medley Alla Corte del Re Cremisi, artfully segued together and enhanced by violin from Hanako Tsushima.



Melting Clock rehearsal 21/3/2019
Melting Clock rehearsal 21/3/2019

When I met up with the whole band at the 2018 Porto Antico Prog Fest, we had a lengthy discussion about the merits of singing in their native tongue, unanimously agreeing that it was preferable for a rock progressivo Italiano outfit to sing in Italian. It was clear that they also understood overcoming the language barrier was likely to make their music accessible to the wider public and were considering, at least on one of the formats for their forthcoming debut, to include a bonus track of original music with lyrics translated and sung in English to expand their appeal or perhaps, like veteran local group and Black Widow Records stable mate Il Cerchio d’Oro on their 2008 album Il Viaggio di Colombo, include English translations of the Italian lyrics; what we get in both CD and vinyl editions of Destinazioni is a full English translation of the song words by Emanuela and Stefano providing an interpretation for non-Italian speakers. The Italian singing is expressive and poetic and at times almost operatic; the translations reveal an impressionistic flair that reminds me of Peter Sinfield’s best work – much of it for PFM.

I was also asked my opinion of the proposed album artwork which had divided opinion amongst the members. Initially thinking that the cover, painted by their friend Matteo Anselmo, didn’t accurately reflect the genre, I began to change my opinion because the depiction of the young woman at the bus stop waiting for a boat links the music, especially Antares and title track Destinazioni to Genoa; Stefano later confessed how he feels connected to the sea at a performance of Höstsonaten’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, an admission that caused me no surprise as he’d grown up on the Ligurian coast and something I could empathise with, having spent my formative years in a shipbuilding town in the north west of England.


Destinazioni
Destinazioni

Not only has the material has matured since the original demo and the original live performances, the compositions are thematically linked by the representation of different aspects of a journey. Though the music is largely credited to Simone and Sandro, with a good proportion of the lyrics provided by Emanuela, the process of structuring each piece is dependent on rhythmic arrangement by Francesco and Alessandro and colour and mood supplied by Stefano. Having originally begun recording the album in November 2018, the time spent in Studio MAIA under the direction of Andrea Torretta was used wisely, settling on the most satisfying arrangements that capture the drama of each individual story. Stefano explained that he wasn’t interested in music that he found unchallenging, describing their style as being characterised by evocative and engaging sounds which belie the compositional complexity, drawing in the listener, which reflects how I felt when I first heard them in 2017.


Album opener Caleidoscopio was an excellent choice as a first single because it’s archetypal, condensing Melting Clock into a shade less than eight and a half minutes. It’s incredibly well-structured, built up from short phrases emphasised with distorted guitar yet despite its intricacy, the multiple instrumental layers are all clear and distinct and floating above is Emanuela’s gorgeous vocal melody. There are tempo and metrical changes and a fast organ solo but generally the lyrics express reflection, representing an inner journey.

I always look forward to meeting up with the band because we share an appreciation for many of the same things and conversation inevitably turns to music, books, and politics. Banalmente is a political song, played in a recognisable Melting Clock idiom attacking those who don’t question, preferring not to know or hold any responsibility for any atrocity carried out on the orders of others, along the lines of John Stuart Mill’s ‘Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.’ The references to ‘sand covered in blood where corpses are lying in the sun’ followed by ‘digging our trench to defend the high season party’ bring to mind the fate of refugees who have risked their lives crossing the Mediterranean and landed on Italian territory, a journey of desperation and hope that sadly too often ends in tragedy. There’s poignancy in Sandro’s particularly effective baritone during this piece.

Like a number of rock progressivo bands celebrating their Mediterranean roots before them, Melting Clock employ Middle Eastern scales and rhythm patterns on a couple of sections of Vetro which enhance the feeling of imprisonment and suffocation spelled out by the lyrics inspired by Yevgeny Zamyatin’s dystopian classic We. A song of different moods, the brief cinematic opening is followed by bright acoustic guitar which gives way to the eastern Mediterranean flavour and the start of the vocals. During the singing, which has a story-telling quality, Emanuela holds the melody while the instrumental backing is largely rhythmical (guest percussion is provided by Fabrizio Salvini) though there’s quite a lot going on with guitar and keyboards adding splashes of colour in the background. Following the last verse there’s a bright synthesizer line before a reprise of the acoustic guitar and eastern theme which precedes a piano flourish ending. I was present when this was first aired at a gig – it was one of the last compositions written for the album - where Sandro said he had been concerned about both the technical requirements of performing the piece (the verse is in 19/16 time) and its reception. I can report that not only did the music flow well but that it was really appreciated by the audience.

Strade Affollate was brought to the band by Simone. The acoustic guitar takes something of a lead but it’s obviously gone through the Melting Clock arranging machine. The understated piano that enters during the second verse and the Hammond-like organ arising during the middle eight enhance the melody as the layers build up, with restrained distorted guitar appearing in the third verse. This is a song of hope after the confinement of Vetro and partly because of its message and partly from the way it’s structured, it’s probably the most accessible track on the album, capable of bridging into more mainstream genres.


Melting Clock set list, L'Angelo Azzurro 9/3/2018
Melting Clock set list, L'Angelo Azzurro 9/3/2018




L’Occhio dello Sciacallo is another political song written by Sandro. Lasting less than three minutes and translating as The Jackal’s Eye it’s a short exhortation decrying corporate culture. The abrasive guitar introduction actually gives away to a pleasant melody where Emanuela and Sandro sing call-and response vocals. The drudgery is represented by drumming on the lower kit (though Francesco does use a limited amount of cymbal) and there’s an excellently executed cello solo provided by Stefano Cabrera.

The band is particularly proud of Antares, the first song they wrote for Melting Clock. It also happens to be a personal favourite of mine because it’s structured like a classic early Camel song, with amazing melodies and contrapuntal keyboard and guitar lines. This is another track that links to Genoa and the sea, so it’s not surprising that it begins with sea sound effects. Another composition that relies on building upon short phrases (c.f. Lunar Sea by Camel), it’s enhanced by Mellotron-like washes and contrapuntal synthesizer lines and some excellent twin lead guitar work, plus flute played by Fabrizio Salvini and cello played by Stefano Cabrera. Sandro shares some of the vocal duties but its Emanuela’s wordless vocals leading up to the dramatic denouement that steal the show, generating the physical signs of frisson, the pilomotor reflex and goosebumps.

Sono Luce has a lengthy instrumental introduction, arranged differently from the first time I heard it. This was the song where Alessandro’s playing first caught my attention, prompting me to seriously consider buying myself a 5-string bass. Even though there’s a Gilmour inspired guitar solo (it was written by Simone) the overall sound is less classic prog and more neo-prog with a delicacy to the piano and brightness to the guitars, giving a feeling of hope. The title (Made of Light) and lyrics are suggestive of a journey towards enlightenment but they still reference the sea and the shore.


The title track is something of a departure from the other melodic-symphonic tracks and it’s cleverly presaged by the short late-Floydian or early Marillion instrumental Quello che Rimane… It’s here that we get a better feel for individual influences in what is a notch or two up on the challenging stakes, both for the performers and the listener on the longest track on the album. Destinazioni is substantially heavier than anything else the band has done and begins with a nod to King Crimson and Dream Theater prog-metal while managing to stay adventurous throughout. Less reliant on stand-out melodies, it involves a lot of changes of style without breaks or segues, from fast and heavy to stately, from reflective to angular and aggressive, providing a metaphor for the cyclical nature of time. It conforms more to a classic prog template with accurate patches of analogue keyboards sitting well with the updated sound, exemplified by another fast organ run from Sandro but perhaps best illustrated with a few bars of guitar and keyboards that sound like Gabriel-era Genesis which appear toward the conclusion of the song, the most obvious incorporation of a classic prog influence.

Massimo Gasperini sanctioned the release of the double vinyl format with the medley Alla Corte del Re Cremisi taking up side four. These are pretty faithful recreations of the original King Crimson material, down to the Wetton bass trills on Starless and the role of David Cross covered brilliantly by Hanako on 21st Century Schizoid Man. Massimo has overseen some of the brightest names in contemporary Italian prog and hints at great things for Melting Clock, telling me that he enjoys seeing the band’s excitement about their own music. I also think they have a bright future, provided what is really a quite stunning debut gets attention beyond Genoa and Croydon.

What began as a chance encounter in 2017 has turned into a good friendship. I’ll be watching Melting Clock’s future journey very closely.


Destinazioni by Melting Clock, my album of 2019, is available from Black Widow Records BWR 224





By ProgBlog, May 31 2019 08:50PM

Popping into a local supermarket for essentials on our return from a recent trip to Milan, the sales assistant enquired where we’d been and when informed, asked us if we’d visited ‘the designer shops’. After my first visit to the city for Expo 2015, I was unsure if I liked it, but the time spent there was primarily devoted to the Expo and a day trip out to Bergamo, which I enjoyed (and discovered the delights of the Elav brewery where, amongst their range of music-related beers, was the Progressive Barley Wine – unavailable at the time of our trip.) This time, like then, we avoided designer shops.


Elav Brewery's Progressive Barley Wine
Elav Brewery's Progressive Barley Wine

It was fortunate that we managed to walk around the roof of the magnificent duomo on that first visit, because it has been undergoing restoration work ever since. On each subsequent trip I’ve begun to feel quite at home and got to like the city more and more. The first stop after the airport is Bar Centrale in Milano Centrale station for an espresso, an institution that has attracted poor reviews on Google for the alleged expense and the rudeness of the staff. Don’t these people know that the idea is to grab a quick coffee before you go about your daily business and the baristas are simply serving the hordes of commuters as efficiently as possible? You can’t go wrong if you follow the locals: pay for your drinks (and brioche if you want a bite for breakfast) at the till before standing at the bar; if you choose to sit down the service will be less efficient and more expensive. This is not the best espresso that the city has to offer, though it came close last year when they used Lavazza beans. Unfortunately they’ve changed supplier again and I’m not such a fan of the current roast.

Second stop is La Feltrinelli, which extends over three floors within the station and provides the opportunity to browse some vinyl and to buy the latest edition of Prog Italia. There’s even a dedicated Progressive Italiana CD section, unique to this particular branch of the chain. Only after this ritual can we check in at the hotel.


La Feltrinelli, Milano Centrale
La Feltrinelli, Milano Centrale

We’ve stayed in three different hotels for our visits, all perfectly pleasant although only one is well situated, the NH Machiavelli close to Repubblica Metro station and only 10 minutes walk from Milano Centrale. The UNAHotels Scandinavia was a lastminute.com bargain but the closest Metro stop is Gerusalemme on the M5 line (not fully completed at the time) so an interchange was necessary for each journey. The first prog-related visit was for the 2017 Z-Fest, held at Milan’s Legend Club, a 10 minute walk from Affori Centro, close to the northernmost terminus of the M3 line while our hotel on that occasion was one stop from the northern terminus of the M1 line. I took a taxi to the venue and left before the end of the performance, catching the metro to Duomo at around 1am as the station was closing and I couldn’t get a connection. Fortunately there were taxis around the Duomo piazza to get me back to the hotel. The third trip was just passing through on a journey from Paris to Como by rail. With a few hours between arriving at Centrale and getting a train out to Como, we dropped off our bags at left luggage and killed time by walking to the duomo, by chance (we had no map so I was navigating from memory) passing the NH Machiavelli, which was to become our base for the subsequent two visits for the 2018 Z-Fest and the 2018 FIM Prog Fest; the former easily accessed by metro (and metro replacement bus on the return journey), and the latter within walking distance at the Piazza Città di Lombardia.


It turned out that the NH Machiavelli has another advantage: it’s round the corner from a branch of Libraccio, a chain of shops selling stationery, books and music. The Viale Vittorio Veneto branch is especially good for stocking AMS releases which I normally have to order over the internet from btf.it as AMS, who have a Milan contact address, don’t appear to have a physical shop. Excluding the Vittorio Veneto Libraccio, the Feltrinelli in Centrale and its large sister branch in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the only dedicated Milan record shop I had ever managed to trawl through up to this latest visit was Rossetti Records and Books (via Cesare da Sesto, 24) a specialist in second-hand music founded in 1981. On the first trip I bought three CDs: Il Giorno Sottile (2001) by the experimental Fabio Zuffanti project Quadraphonic, a bleak, interesting and challenging album of industrial music, loops and electronica that just about retains the memory of melody; the self-titled release by Dedalus (1973) which strays into jazz-rock territory; and symphonic prog Il Bianco Regno Di Dooah (2003) by Consorzio Acqua Potabile (CAP); this time I came away with an original copy of Uomo di Pezza by Le Orme (1972).


Rossetti Records and Books, Milano
Rossetti Records and Books, Milano

The weather in northern Italy over our weekend stay was pretty awful and a threatened strike by Trenitalia staff meant we couldn’t plan any excursions to nearby towns. I have considered attempting an expedition to the Marconi bakery where PFM rehearsed and appropriated their moniker, and Chiari, between Milan and Brescia remains one of the few towns in the region that we’ve yet to explore. The omission of a day trip allowed us to take in more of the attractions within the city itself: the Torre Branca observation tower in Parco Sempione; a slow walk around the Navigli district where some canals still remain; the art deco Villa Necchi Campiglio (Piero Portaluppi, 1932-35) filled with innovative design features; and the Pirelli HangarBicocca, a huge contemporary art space converted from a former locomotive factory. Along with the stops for coffee there was also an attempt to photograph the brutalist Department of Accounting at Bocconi University, but my poor navigation and a degree award ceremony put an end to that adventure; what was more successful was ticking off more of the independent record stores.

King Crimson’s Live at the Marquee, August 10, 1971 was playing in Il Discomane (Alzaia Naviglio Grande, 38) when I went in. Primarily a second-hand vinyl store, there was an interesting rarities section but nothing which grabbed my attention; I may not have bought anything but I’d certainly go back for another browse. A couple of doors down was another branch of Libraccio, split into three separate units, but they didn’t have any vinyl that I could see. Serendeepity (Corso di Porta Ticinese, 100) selling new vinyl was also a very short walk away but the ‘Progressive’ section was tiny. Vinylbrokers (Via Privata Pericle, 4) is in the Precotto district, a 20 minute walk from the Pirelli HangarBicocca and it appeared to be closed when we visited, though it wasn’t closing time. However, just as we were turning to go the owner opened up the shop and let us in. To save time I asked for the progressivo Italiano section but he told me they only sold ‘Americana’ and suggested I visit Metropolis Dischi (Via Carlo Esterle, 29). I’d recommend Vinylbrokers for being helpful and friendly, but don’t go there if you’re only looking for prog.


The real purpose of the Milan trip was to attend the FIM Fiera prog fest, organised by Black Widow Records’ Massimo Gasperini in the role of artistic director. This year the event was billed as ‘Da Vinci’s Spirit’, designed to pay tribute to the Renaissance genius on the 500th anniversary of his death. FIM director Verdiano Vera suggested that progressive rock is a musical genre that more than any other embraces Leonardo’s spirit of experimentation due to its diverse influences, unusual time signatures, tempo changes and variations in amplitude and speed, all of which nurture talent, inspiration, inventiveness and ingenuity.



The four bands appearing, Silver Key, Macchina Pneumatica, Universal Totem Orchestra and FEM provided a broad range of examples of the genre from almost straightforward symphonic prog through to neo-prog, psyche-prog and avant-prog/jazz rock, though one constant was a set of Leonardo drawings projected behind the bands providing a constant visual reminder of the link between his futuristic thinking and prog, a musical form known to push at boundaries.

Silver Key began life as a Marillion cover-band in Milan in 1992 and has undergone a number of personnel changes. Over the past seven years they have produced three albums of original neo-prog, starting with In the Land of Dreams (2012), followed up with 2015’s The Screams Empire where keyboard player Davide Manara was left as the only founding member. Current guitarist Roberto Buchicchio and bassist Ivano Tognetti joined for The Screams Empire, and vocalist Dino Procopio was introduced for the latest album Third, released in April 2019; Procopio also provided the lyrics. The band don’t have a drummer – the album credits ‘Mr Drummer’ with percussive duties but when chatting to Massimo Gasperini after their performance, Manara owned up to programming the drums. Concentrating on material from Third, the music was nicely conceived and well played, incorporating convincing-sounding drum parts, expressive guitar, solid bass, nice ambient moments, and multiple false endings. It was evident that Procopio can sing (the vocals were in English) but unfortunately he was under-mixed during the full-ensemble blows.



Silver Key
Silver Key

One of the main draws was Macchina Pneumatica who released their debut album Riflessi e Maschere on Black Widow Records (BWRDIST 680) earlier this year. It’s primarily riff-based and moderately heavy, so it comes across as being on the psyche end of the prog spectrum. I’m reminded of the dominant, driving bass and penchant for distortion of fellow countrymen MUFFX who inhabit much of the same sonic landscape and who I gave a glowing review last year for L’Ora di Tutti; the difference is MUFFX are instrumental and Macchina Pneumatica use vocals, sung by Raffaele Gigliotti with lyrics inspired by everyday life, moods and relationships. The live performance, like Silver Key before them, was dogged by an imperfect sound, with house sound engineers running on stage to adjust the bass volume. From where I was sitting, right of centre and close to the front, some distance from the mixing desk, Gigliotti’s guitar volume was a bit too low and though Carlo Giustiniani’s bass was fairly dominant, it also cuts through on the CD without adversely affecting the sound balance. I was close to keyboard player Carlo Fiore, so I could fully appreciate his synth, piano and organ work, with accurate analogue-sounding patches to recreate a 70’s vibe. Their songs sound deceptively simple but counting out Vincenzo Vitagliano’s rhythmic patterns they’re anything but straightforward and there’s sufficient variation, including melodic passages and lead synthesizer lines, to hold your attention. They’re a relatively new group, formed as a keyboard trio Atom Age Empire in Milan in 2013, renamed Nudo when guitarist/vocalist Raffaele Gigliotti joined, and finally changed to Macchina Pneumatica during the recording of Riflessi e Maschere. They are currently working on a new album.


Macchina Pneumatica
Macchina Pneumatica

I’m well acquainted with Mathematical Mother, the 2016 album by Universal Totem Orchestra; the music is dense and complex with the intensity and pace of Magma or the Mahavishnu Orchestra, especially the 1974-75 incarnation where Gayle Moran adds vocals. The operatic approach to the vocals, whether female or male chorus evokes the Wagnerian facet of Zeuhl but there’s also the exploratory jazz of Coltrane. They employ an eastern scale on the track Elogio del dubbio, all of which indicates a fearless approach to music making that epitomises prog.

I love the intricacy of the compositions and it can’t be denied that Ana Torres Fraile has a superb voice but in the live setting I felt the lead vocal impinged on the instrumental sections, especially scat vocal in the style of Cleo Laine, and Fraile too seemed to have problems with her amplification. Whereas the guitar of Daniele Valle, Yanik Lorenzo Andreatta’s bass and Fabrizio Mattuzzi’s keyboards were all spot on, the saxophone and drums, played by Fedeli Antonio and UTO G. Golin respectively, occasionally sounded a bit loose but that’s not so surprising when you’re pushing boundaries.


Universal Totem Orchestra
Universal Totem Orchestra

The FEM (Forza Elettromotrice) set seemed rather brief after UTO’s sonic bombardment, but this was the closest to symphonic prog all evening, and I felt it ended too soon. The band (Alessandro Graziano, vocals; Paolo Colombo, guitars; Alberto Citterio, keyboards; Pietro Bertoni, trombone and keyboards; Marco Buzzi, bass; and Emanuele Borsati, drums) were showcasing their 2018 album Mutazione and could have been hampered by an injury to Cittero who had his left arm in a sling, but his playing, along with the rest of the ensemble, was fluent. I felt Bertoni was a little under-used but he was furthest from me and I may not have been able to hear him clearly. What did come across was the way each song had been carefully put together; one of the numbers reminded me of Focus.


FEM
FEM

The one downside of a multi-stage or multi-disciplinary event like the FIM Fiera is that there are occasions when you want to see more than one thing at one particular time; Fabio Gremo, bassist with Il Tempio delle Clessidre, has just released a second solo album and was performing it outside in the piazza while Da Vinci’s Spirit was in full flow in the auditorium Testori. I’m a big fan of Fabio Gremo’s La Mia Voce (2013) which demonstrates his considerable classical guitar skills, but the recital of Don’t be Scared of Trying also included piano accompaniment from Sandro Amadei of Melting Clock, so I was disappointed I didn’t get to see them play. I did get to chat with Sandro and his brother Stefano when they came to take in some of the prog fest, but I didn’t get to speak to Fabio. A major plus is that Da Vinci’s Spirit, and last year’s Prog On, showcased not just incredible music, but the confirmation of a ‘prog family’ that is all-embracing in its approach and one that rejoices in differences. The concept of a prog rock festival as Da Vinci’s Spirit is perfectly apt. Thanks, Massimo Gasperini and Verdiano Vera. See you next year!


Postscript

Even if you’re not into prog, forget Milan and fashion and seek out Milan and Leonardo da Vinci. There’s a waiting list for tickets to view The Last Supper which is in the former refectory of the convent attached to Milan’s Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, but I managed to arrange tickets for the first of our 2017 trips. If you are planning on going to Milan I’d strongly recommend booking a guided tour; the refectory and Leonardo’s masterpiece form an integral part of the convent architecture which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And the prog's not bad, either.


Leonardo's The Last Supper
Leonardo's The Last Supper











By ProgBlog, Aug 20 2018 03:25PM

I met up with an old school friend last week. Though we have always exchanged Christmas cards and occasional emails, usually around the time his band is about to release some new music which he will dutifully send me, I’d not seen Bill or his wife, Anna, for thirty years, the last time being at their wedding. Bill lived two doors away from me in Barrow, was in the same year at school and, as part of a tight-knit group of adolescents, we grew up liking the same music, the direction of which was set by my older brother.

I played bass and Bill played drums in a band influenced by early Pink Floyd and King Crimson until we departed for separate universities; we listened to records, analysed and discussed music and last Monday, in the Royal Oak, Borough, a pub without any form of electronic amusements where even the contactless payment facility failed to work, began making up for lost time in conversation about music over well-kept beer from Harvey’s of Lewes.



Having not long before returned from a trip to Italy, talk naturally turned to PFM, who’s Photos of Ghosts, Cook and Chocolate Kings were first obtained by Bill. I hadn’t realised that he wasn’t so much a fan of Jet Lag, despite its jazz rock leanings and his proclivity for jazz and jazz rock, or Chocolate Kings, because of Bernardo Lanzetti’s English vocals and what he suggested was a move away from the earlier band sound, with its distinctive Mediterranean feel. Favouring their post-millennium output, he also thought that Emotional Tattoos was the best thing they’d done since Photos of Ghosts. For my part, I agree that Emotional Tattoos is a step in the right direction, with a couple of tracks that do hint at their 70s prime, but I think the Mediterranean warmth that pervades their early work is largely absent. There’s less use of change in amplitude and other devices to add contrast to an individual piece of music than there used to be, less contrapuntal interplay and no flute; as much as I like Lucio Fabbri’s playing, I miss the flute when the current band play the old material. Still, based on Bill’s recommendation, I’ve just invested in a copy of Dracula from a seller on ebay, a CD I saw when I was in Rome in 2006 but failed to buy, but I’ve never seen it anywhere since.



I tend to play the English version of Emotional Tattoos because that’s the version I own on vinyl, but I listened to the Italian version (which came on CD with the 2LP) before going to see them in Genova last year. Bill and I agreed that the Italian version was better, like their 70’s material that was available in both Italian and English. I’m not trying to suggest that I don’t like PFM’s English language work as Photos of Ghosts and The World Became the World include faithful re-workings of songs from Storia di un Minuto and Per un Amico and I’m not too put out by Lanzetti’s singing; unfortunately, Peter Sinfield’s words required a more nuanced delivery than the band were capable of, though I found it pleasing, not understanding the social situation in Italy at the time, that they accepted his environmentalism and his compassionate lyrics.



The topic of Italian bands singing in English was also raised when I was talking to Melting Clock at the Porto Antico Prog Fest, who employ their native language for their original material. They also play one or two progressive rock classics during their live set, where vocalist Emanuela Vedana sings with confidence when they perform accurate renditions of Genesis’ Firth of Fifth, Time by Pink Floyd or Soon, the coda to Gates of Delirium by Yes; this not only demonstrates their understanding of prog history, but it’s also a clever device to ingratiate themselves with members of an audience who may not have heard their self-penned music. We were unanimous in agreement that it was preferable for a rock progressivo Italiano bands to sing in Italian, but they also understood that overcoming the language barrier was likely to make their music accessible to the wider public and were considering, at least on one of the formats for their forthcoming debut, to include a bonus track of original music with lyrics translated and sung in English to expand their appeal but also, like veteran local group and Black Widow Records stable mate Il Cerchio d’Oro on their 2008 album Il Viaggio di Columbo, include English translations of the Italian lyrics.



It could be argued that world-wide appreciation for the entire sub-genre of RPI was facilitated by Greg Lake, Keith Emerson and Manticore Records. PFM manager Franco Mamone passed on a tape of the group to Greg Lake who, to the surprise of the Italians, listened to and liked what he heard, and invited them to Fulham to see and hear them play. Peter Sinfield was working with ELP at the time and compared their musicianship to King Crimson (PFM performed cover versions of 21st Century Schizoid Man and Pictures of a City on their first Italian tours in 1971 and 72) and suggested that English language lyrics would make their music universally appealing, and the band agreed. Banco del Mutuo Soccorso were also signed to Manticore after Emerson had heard them play and became a huge fan. Banco (1975) was their first release for Manticore, containing one original track (in Italian) and re-workings of material from Banco del Mutuo Soccorso and Io Sono Nato Libero in Italian and English, followed in 1976 by a concept album Come in un’ultima cena / As in a Last Supper released in both Italian and English.



Le Orme, another of the most successful RPI bands, also experimented with an English version of one of their highly regarded LPs with the aim of conquering the UK and US. Released on the Charisma label, Felona and Sorona had lyrics written by Peter Hammill (who was signed to Charisma), based on the concept provided by Tagliapietra, Pagliuca and Dei Rossi so that his words closely followed the original story.



In a modern twist, when La Maschera di Cera released their continuation of the Felona e Sorona story Le Porte del Domani in 2013, they also released a version in English, The Gates of Tomorrow, with a very subtle alternative mix and a less subtle variation of the album sleeve, painted by Lanfranco who had provided the original art work for Le Orme. In addition to Italian groups releasing an alternative version of an album for the English-speaking market, which spreads beyond the four acts listed above, there are examples found in my collection of groups who only sing in English (The Trip, Cellar Noise, Hollowscene); those like Banco, PFM and Osanna who have released albums with a mixture of Italian and English lyrics; and those who have released both all-Italian and all-English albums (Nuova Era with Dopo L’Infinito and Return to the Castle respectively).



The phenomenon of non-native English speakers singing in English isn’t restricted to Italy; plucking a few more examples from my collection are Tasavallan Presidentti from Finland (Wigwam don’t count because they were Anglo-Finnish); Pulsar from France (both French and English are used on Strands of the Future, 1976); Germany’s Eloy and Triumvirat; Aphrodite’s Child from Greece; Earth and Fire, Focus and Supersister from the Netherlands; Norway's Wobbler; Albion from Poland (Broken Hopes, 2007); Spain’s Iceberg (Tutankhamon, 1975, a mixture of Spanish and English); and Sweden’s Anekdoten. So what influenced these choices? Was it simply the likelihood that the music would be more universally accepted, with concomitant success, if they used English lyrics? I’m not so sure it’s that straightforward; there’s a theory that in Italy during the 70s in there was something of a backlash against groups singing in anything other than Italian when the political tension is well documented. It’s strange then that PFM should release their anti-American opus, Chocolate Kings as an English language LP but that album might give a hint why there’s a melange of native- and English languages used throughout progressive rock in mainland Europe.

The title track on Chocolate Kings spells out that the US army, an occupying force in Italy following the Second World War, became unwelcome when fascism was defeated and bribing the local populace with candy and consumer items was insufficient for them to gain the goodwill of the locals; it could even have been seen as a potential source of friction, especially with the polarisation of political viewpoints in the late 60s and 70s. American and British music arrived in Italy through major ports like Genova and with further influx from a mixture of cultures it’s not surprising that Genova has played an important role in the development of musical styles, though a crucial element was retaining some of their own heritage and identity, including a desire to sing in their own language. It could be argued that the adherence to a ‘romantic style’ also helps to explain the attraction of UK progressive rock in Italy.

A similar situation occurred in Germany, though there was a greater concentration of American armed forces. The counter-culture generation, born after the war, largely rejected Anglicised music but also opted to break from their own traditions to create their own music scene, disrespectfully dubbed Krautrock by the English-speaking media, which has since become massively influential in its own right. The more mainstream prog bands tended to develop along the lines of the space rock of early Pink Floyd although Triumvirat became something of an ELP-clone.


Progressive rock started as an British phenomenon and was absorbed an integrated by many European countries putting their own stamp on the movement, including choosing whether or not to adopt English as its official language. The eclectic mix of influences that helped to form progressive rock indicates that there was no manifesto for the genre to remain 'English', and many bands stuck to their native tongue; this enriched the scene and made it a joy for the UK and US audiences to discover something new. Sadly, globalisation means that the music industry, which once thrived on creativity, now treats artists as commodity, fulfilling the fears aired in Chocolate Kings. The trend for an increasing number of mainland European prog bands to sing in English may reflect the attitudes of the market but would anyone dispute that most fans prefer Italian bands to sing in Italian?


I personally like all non-UK bands to sing in their mother tongue because it sounds more fluent, more poetic, more passionate and more believable but it all boils down to whether or not a band feels that English lyrics best serve the purposes of their music.











By ProgBlog, Aug 12 2018 09:30PM

There was relatively short notice for this year’s Porto Antico Prog Fest and it was only held on one day, Friday 3rd August, so the event was made up with two bands performing original music, Ancient Veil and Sophya Baccini’s Aradia, plus two bands contributing towards a ‘tribute night’, Get ‘em Out from Milan playing Gabriel-era Genesis, and Outside the Wall playing Pink Floyd from 1973-1980.



Ancient Veil began proceedings with a really enjoyable 45 minute set that included pieces from their three studio albums, Rings of Earthly Light (as Eris Pluvia), Ancient Veil and last year’s I am Changing, reflecting their live album Rings of Earthly... Live, with performances taken from two 2017 appearances at Genova’s La Claque club, released this year. Their music is predominately prog-folk, largely due to the variety of wind instruments played by Edmondo Romano which are sometimes used to give a Celtic feel, but Alessandro Serri adds some jazzy acoustic guitar and, during the epic 17 minute Rings of Earthly Light suite, played guitar parts with the Steve Hackett-invented finger tapping technique. The scope of this song, which at times invokes Genesis and Focus, is the reason it’s my personal favourite.


Ancient Veil - Porto Antico Prog Fest 2018
Ancient Veil - Porto Antico Prog Fest 2018

I took a break for almost an hour to have dinner with my wife and came back to witness Get 'em Out embark upon their last number of the evening, Supper’s Ready. It’s impossible to underestimate the affection that Italian prog fans hold for early Genesis but there are a couple of explanations for the appeal, one offered by long-time band associate Richard MacPhail who thought the appreciation came from the emotional content of Genesis’ music, presented as long-form, romantic, almost operatic suites which form an important part of the country’s musical heritage. Steve Hackett linked their success to the theological association of the storylines in many of the songs which, as well as in Italy, seemed to strike a chord in fans from other catholic countries, and also thought that the Italians especially, picked up on the Greco-Roman myth told in The Fountain Of Salmacis.


Enhanced by back projections and the costume changes of vocalist Franco Giaffreda, decent reproductions of Gabriel’s Narcissus flower and Magog head, Get ‘em Out proved to be an excellent act providing an accurate interpretation of the classic 1972 Genesis song, including the set design and instrumentation and, much as MacPhail describes in his book, even for a tribute act each section was cheered because so many of the audience knew every note and nuance of the song, singing along or mouthing the words.




Get 'em Out - Porto Antico Prog Fest 2018
Get 'em Out - Porto Antico Prog Fest 2018

I’d been looking forward to Sophya Baccini, even considering buying one of her albums from the pop-up Black Widow Records stall but on reflection I maybe should have gone for dinner an hour later so I'd not have missed Get 'em Out. Hailing from Naples, Baccini is a flamboyant vocalist with involvement in a number of musical collaborations including her heavy rock band Presence and her work with some of the most recognisable names in Italian prog, like Banco del Mutuo Soccorso’s Vittorio Nocenzi, Lino Vairetti of Osanna, and appearing as a guest on Delirium’s 2009 album Il Nome del Vento. Sophya Baccini’s Aradia is her current project and the band focused on their second album Big Red Dragon (William Blake’s Visions) from 2013.

Intrigued by the ‘dark prog’ tag and her ability to combine operatic vocal and experimental electronic elements, I was immediately disappointed with the quality of the sound, muddied by the use of delay on the vocals so that it was difficult to determine whether her vocals were in Italian or English (she sings in both); the only track I could fully discern was Satan from Big Red Dragon. Keyboard player Marilena Striano was also plagued with monitor problems at the beginning of their set but she did go on to provide some of the most interesting moments in a performance that conformed to ‘dark’ but was lacking in prog. The rhythm section of Isa Dido (bass) and Francesca Colaps (drums) was solid enough but lacked invention and the guitar lines provided by Peppe Gianfredo, despite the nice tone, were fairly predictable, devoid of the creativity and experimentation I was expecting.


Outside the Wall is a well known and acclaimed Italian Pink Floyd tribute band and, judging by the enthusiastic reaction of the crowd, easily met expectations. I thought they did a decent job if you ignored the frequently forgotten words, though they rhythm section of Mauro Vigo (drums) and Fabio Cecchini (bass) were, in common with the Waters-era Floyd, arguably the weakest link; Vigo’s timing was a little off and Cecchini added a few too many redundant funky frills. Performing most of The Dark Side of the Moon, including accurate sound effects, the title track and Shine On You Crazy Diamond from Wish You Were Here, plus Comfortably Numb, Another Brick in the Wall (part 2) and Run Like Hell from The Wall (even though the audience, when asked, appeared to want a selection from Animals), the most accomplished piece was The Great Gig in the Sky, with an outstanding vocal performance by Elisabetta Rondanina. Martin Grice from Delirium, a reliable presence at the prog fest (his band hail from Savona, a short distance west along the Riviera), added the Dick Parry saxophone parts on Money and Us and Them which he reproduced accurately and with feeling. I also enjoyed the film that they used to accompany them, made up mostly from genuine Floyd footage for Dark Side and The Wall interspersed with original cuts.


Although I would have preferred a bill of all original acts performing over two days, the size of the crowd, possibly reflecting the draw of the music of Genesis and Pink Floyd, seemed much bigger than at the 2017 Porto Antico Prog Fest. This is important because the event has to draw in punters to ensure it can continue. I had a great time, meeting up with the Black Widows Records team who organise the event, saying hello to Mauro Serpe from Panther & C. and watching proceedings with all the members of last year’s surprise star turn, Melting Clock.


I can exclusively reveal that Melting Clock is booked to begin recording their debut album later this month and, if everything goes smoothly, have a record ready for sale in November. Part of our conversation related to cover artwork and I was shown the design for the album sleeve, then asked what I thought about their proposed cover and about album artwork generally. It was something of an honour to preview the cover art (I like it a lot) but I didn’t back up my opinion with a full explanation why I think an appropriate album sleeve is an important part of the whole package, which I think should also take the music and (where possible) the live experience into account.

My preference for an album sleeve is a photographic image, because the medium, though both easily digitally manipulated and suitable for abstract work, best represents realism; I’m also an avid photographer with an inclination for scenery and architecture. I love much of the work of Hipgnosis but one of my favourite pieces is John Pasche’s design for Illusion by Isotope (1974) with a cover photo by Phil Jude - the depiction of headphones with a mercury-like fluid connecting the two ear-pieces was part of the reason I bought an Isotope LP and listen out for more jazz rock. However, I’m also partial to a good painting, graphic design or some other form of artwork, like Henry Cow’s iconic sock imagery.


The presentation of an album used to be one of the factors I took into account when I was first attempting to discover new music in the early 70s, a time when the 12 inch LP format offered the best possible option for displaying images, innocently believing that art direction was more the responsibility of the group than the label and hypothesised that a band that invested in decent artwork was likely to have taken equal care with their music. Pre-prog, The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) with a design by Peter Blake and Jann Howarth pioneered a new form of album presentation, opening the doors for cover art to reflect the musical and lyrical content of the release.


The presumption, good artwork equates to good music, didn’t always stand up. Examples I use to illustrate the failure of the theory are Gentle Giant’s Acquiring the Taste and the second Italian release by PFM, Per Un Amico, where the covers are awful but the music is excellent, and the alternative situation with a great Roger Dean cover but music not to my liking, Badger’s One Live Badger, but there are many other examples of good music wrapped in awful artwork and vice versa.

There are a number of artists and design teams who have a strong association with progressive rock but the most famous has to be Roger Dean, predominantly for his work with Yes. Whereas Hipgnosis images sometimes only obliquely refer to an album title or lyrical references, there is usually some allusion to the subject matter. On the other hand, Dean’s paintings have less of a concrete relationship with the subject matter because, on the two studio albums Close to the Edge and Tales from Topographic Oceans, Jon Anderson was utilising the sounds of words rather than their meaning when penning lyrics. Even though there is no concept linking Fragile and Close to the Edge, Dean constructed a coherent narrative thread, explained in the paintings adorning the triple gatefold of Yessongs and later revisited in a number of live releases from Yes and Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe, that nevertheless formed an instantly recognisable visual brand.


I believe there are tangible benefits to a long-term partnership between a musical entity and a particular designer, where music, lyrics and visual motifs create a coherent artistic vision, a gesamtkuntswerk, readily recognisable to the record-buying public. For a band like Melting Clock embarking upon their debut album that have yet to build up such a relationship, it is essential to be comfortable with the trust placed in the artist to interpret their musical ideas to grace the album sleeve. Those of us who have heard their demo EP or seen them live know how good the music is; I think the cover artwork fits their vision.

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