ProgBlog

By ProgBlog, Jul 23 2017 12:25PM

The port in Genoa, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, is over 1000 years old but has been reinvented during the last 20, thanks in large part to local starchitect Renzo Piano. The facilities, a mixture of new build and renovated historic buildings include an aquarium, harbour offices, a viewing platform known as the Bigo and a 20m diameter crystal sphere, the Bolla (‘Bubble’) on a floating platform containing the largest collection of ferns in the world. The matrix of steel poles which support the Bigo, inspired by the cranes on the old wharfs, also support the membrane above a performance space, the Piazza delle Feste which is where the Porto Antico Prog Fest is held.


Piazza delle Feste from the Bigo (Daryl Page)
Piazza delle Feste from the Bigo (Daryl Page)

It may be entirely by accident but the reinvention of the old port has parallels with progressive rock. In the early 70s before the redevelopment of the harbour area, Genoa was home to some of the well-known names in progressivo Italiano: I New Trolls; Delirium; Gleemen; Garybaldi; Latte e Miele; Osage Tribe; Nuova Idea, and the recent resurgence in the genre has some very strong Genovese connections, from the Fabio Zuffanti projects including Maschera di Cera, Finisterre and Höstsonaten to other now well-established acts like Ancient Veil, Il Tempio delle Clessidre and La Coscienza di Zeno.

The second Porto Antico Prog Fest, organised by local record label and record shop Black Widow, was held over the weekend of 15th – 17th July, with live performances on the Friday and Saturday and, alongside famous artists, featured some of the emerging or less well-known but nevertheless incredible local talent, including Melting Clock on Friday and Panther & C. on Saturday.


Melting Clock was something of a revelation. Fronted by amazing vocalist Emanuela Vedana, the group who also comprise Sandro Amadei on keyboards, Stefano Amadei on guitar, Alessandro Bosca on bass, Simone Caffè on guitar and Francesco Fiorito on drums, have not yet released a record but they performed some wonderful, highly accomplished symphonic progressivo Italiano with a nice full, well-balanced sound. The stand-out track for me was a piece called Antares with Mellotron strings and harmony vocals and plenty of musical drama, although the entire set was thoroughly enjoyable. They may have concluded with an excellent rendition of Firth of Fifth but their music doesn’t seem to be directly influenced by the UK prog scene, it’s seeped in the expressive, lyrical style of RPI. It’s well worth checking out their music at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCu4J-y-P_JnFFXtHiu2kPfw


Melting Clock
Melting Clock

Mad Fellaz hail from Bassano del Grappa in the Veneto and though they say they were influenced by classic UK and Italian prog bands along with more recent exponents of the genre, the octet (Luca Brighi, vocals; Enrico Brunelli, keyboards; Marco Busatto, drums; Paolo Busatto, guitar; Ruggero Burigo, guitar; Carlo Passuello, bass; Lorenzo Todesco, percussion; and Rudy Zilio, flute, clarinet, keyboards) played complex tunes which came across as a blend of Zappa and Canterbury. It certainly wasn’t music that you could fall asleep to, with unpredictable twists and turns somehow all fitting together brilliantly. I was reminded of some of the bands I’d seen at Prog Résiste in Soignies in 2014 which seemed to specialise in RIO acts – uncompromising, challenging and really enjoyable.


Il Cerchio d’Oro were around in the 70s but never managed to release an album of original material until reforming in the 00s. I was looking forward to this appearance because I’d read some good things about Il Viaggio di Colombo (2008) and Dedalo e Icaro (2013) and there is another album in the pipeline. For this version of the band, the original members Gino (drums) and Giuseppe Terribile (bass) and Franco Piccolini (keyboards) were augmented by Massimo Cesare (guitar), Piuccio Pradal (acoustic guitar, vocals) and Simone Piccolini (keyboards), with guest vocalist Pino Ballarini (ex-Il Rovescio della Medaglia) and guest drummer Paolo Siani (ex-Nuova Idea.) The compositions were well structured but I felt there was less complexity than there might have been – some of the singles they released in the 70s weren’t actually prog. It was still an enjoyable performance and the appearance of the two guest musicians was warmly appreciated by the crowd.



One of the main reasons for attending was seeing Delirium on the bill, another local band who formed in 1970 and whose debut Dolce Acqua (1971) and third album Delirium III – Viaggio Negli Arcipelaghi del Tempo (1974) are considered classics of the genre; the first album is largely acoustic with an Italian folk influence and features Ivano Fossati on flute and vocals and the set at the Prog Fest contained a number of songs from this release; Delirium III is highly regarded and full-on symphonic prog though despite the absence of Fossati, who left to pursue a solo career before the second, less successful record to be replaced by Englishman Martin Grice on flute and sax, there are obvious sonic comparisons between III and Dolce Acqua, especially on opening track Il Dono. Grice has performed with Fabio Zuffanti in the Z Band and I’ve seen him at a number of gigs in the city. The present line-up, reconvened in 2015 after a hiatus of six years for the album L’Era della Menzogna features Grice, Fabio Chigini on bass, Alessandro Corvaglia on vocals (another Zuffanti connection, La Maschera di Cera), Michele Cusato on guitar, Alfredo Vandresi on drums and original member Ettore Vigo on keyboards. A very enjoyable set.


Delirium IPG
Delirium IPG

It’s pertinent that he headline act on Friday, Gens de la Lune, followed Delirium on stage because they feature Francis Décamps, formerly of French prog superstars Ange, and Ange’s crowning glory was Au-Delà Du Délire (Beyond Delirium, 1974.) I started collecting Ange CDs whilst on holiday in August 2004 from what is now Bazoom BD Musique in Auray and, not knowing which best represented their output, decided that Le Cimetière Des Arlequins was most suitable based on its year of release (1973.) I was really pleased that I detected Aujourd'Hui C'Est La Fête Chez L'Apprenti Sorcier during the Ange medley because despite the stop-start expressionist nature of the music and the theatrical delivery of Décamps (in grease paint and long leather coat, performing some serious tongue flicking) and vocalist Jean Philippe Suzan who wore a Venetian plague mask and bowler hat during one song, there wasn’t too much of Ange in evidence. Though touching on prog metal at times where the ensemble got very heavy, the music was pretty varied with more gentle moments such as guitarist Damien Chopard performing an acoustic guitar solo, and the use of a theremin and a Haken Continuum Fingerboard by Décamps. One of the highlights was an unusual percussion duet with Suzan and drummer Cédric Mells. Bassist Mathieu Desbarats was really solid throughout. They were a very good way to end the first day, finishing their set at nearly half past midnight.


The second day began with Panther & C. performing a very accomplished set of melodic symphonic prog. Their latest album Il Giusto Equilibrio was reviewed on ProgBlog earlier this month http://progblog.co.uk/the-blogs/4583484660/Panther-C./11189638 and as I’d only streamed that album and listened to their debut release L’Epoca di un Altro on YouTube, I thought I ought to do the decent thing and buy both CDs from the Black Widow stand.



Mr Punch
Mr Punch

I didn’t get to see the full Mr Punch performance and saw none of The Mugshots because I’d booked a table at a local restaurant, Le Rune. What I did see of Mr Punch, a Marillion tribute act, was pretty good as they played through Misplaced Childhood. Featuring Alessandro Corvaglia for the second time that weekend, delivering a fairly convincing Fish vocal and barefoot, just for the shooting stars, he was joined on stage by another link to Fabio Zuffanti, Luca Scherani (who plays keyboards with La Coscienza di Zeno and Höstsonaten), plus Marcella Arganese (guitar), Roberto Leoni (drums) and Guglielmo Mariotti Pirovano (bass.) I returned after dinner to see the Arabs in Aspic set and was impressed by their brand of prog which tended towards the heavy end of the spectrum but which contained sufficient melody, variation and surprises to suit someone more accustomed to symphonic prog. The Norwegian quartet sang and communicated to the crowd in excellent English, reminding us that we were united by progressive rock and when they’d finished, I was a little bemused that they weren’t helped by a group of roadies to clear their equipment. In fact, guitarist Jostein Smeby stood in the shadows stage left and began to tune one of his instruments because along with the rest of the band (Erik Paulsen, bass; Eskil Nyhus, drums; Stig Arve Jorgenson, keyboards) he was part of the backing group for Saturday headliner and space-rock legend Nik Turner.

I have to admit I didn’t stay for the whole of Turner’s performance but I did watch them tick off old Hawkwind favourites Motorhead, Silver Machine and Master of the Universe. My Hawkwind collection is limited to Space Ritual, Silver Machine and Quark Strangeness and Charm (the latter bought from Black Widow Records earlier this year) and though I’d never call them prog, there are moments when it’s appropriate to turn up the amplifier and blast out some driving riff tracks like Brainstorm and Orgone Accumulator or the electronics and spoken-word Sonic Attack. I think Quark Strangeness and Charm is a much more coherent effort than preceding albums but I do feel Nik Turner’s contribution to the early material (he left the band after Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music in 1976) is a key part of the attraction of their music and it was a real pleasure to see him on-stage, backed by a group of exceptional musicians.


The success of the festival was due to a combination of factors but the organisational nous of Massimo Gasperini and the Black Widow team and the international network of gifted musicians associated with the Black Widow roster were vitally important. It helped too, that the weather was amazing and the Piazza delle Feste provides a really good performance space. My one minor gripe was an over-zealous security guard but that was swiftly resolved by the organising team.

From the old bands to the new, Genoa is the centre of progressivo Italiano; I can’t wait to go back.









By ProgBlog, Jun 5 2017 07:31PM



Genovese prog rockers Il Tempio Delle Clessidre (The Temple of the Hourglass) released their third studio album last month, four years on from AlieNatura. The new album, Il Ludere is another excellent piece of music that fits nicely in the progressivo Italiano canon. I’ve followed them since 2014 but their journey began in 2006, when keyboard player Elisa Montaldo met former Museo Rosenbach vocalist Stefano ‘Lupo’ Galifi in the Black Widow record store in the heart of Genoa. They assembled the group Il Tempio delle Clessidre, named after a subsection of the 1973 Museo Rosenbach classic Zarathustra with the notion to perform that album live – with the inclusion of Giulio Canepa on guitar, Fabio Gremo on bass, and the 19-year old Paolo Tixi on drums. There’s a DVD of a 2011 performance in Seoul with extras including footage of their 2009 debut performance from Genoa’s Teatro della Gioventu, which acts as a documentary of the Galifi era (Black Widow Records BWR168). Part of the Seoul gig was the modern recreation of Zarathustra in its entirety which, though technically challenging was hailed as a resounding success.


My introduction to the band was at the Fiera Internazionale della Musica in Genoa in May 2014. I’d specifically gone to see La Maschera di Cera but was struck by the stellar range of the line-up, a testament to the healthy state of Italian progressive rock in general and the importance of the host city in particular. Il Tempio delle Clessidre played on the first day and, because I had seen drummer Paolo Tixi play with Fabio Zuffanti’s Z-Band a few weeks before, I was intrigued by their inclusion on the bill. I’d looked up references to them before seeing them and was delighted to hear their style of melodic symphonic prog. Afterwards, I could fully appreciate their tag as a successor to Museo Rosenbach.




Il Tempio delle Clessidre  Genoa May 2014
Il Tempio delle Clessidre Genoa May 2014

Il Tempio delle Clessidre  Genoa May 2014
Il Tempio delle Clessidre Genoa May 2014

Il Tempio delle Clessidre  Genoa May 2014
Il Tempio delle Clessidre Genoa May 2014

Vocalist Francesco Ciapica replaced Galifi for the second album, AlieNatura (2013) and his voice has a similar quality to Galifi, full and rich with a good range. The entire performance was very assured and impressed me sufficiently to visit the Black Widow stand and buy a copy of their first CD; I also bought an ITDC T-shirt from the dedicated merchandise stall. I bought my copy of AlieNatura in Black Widow in 2015 (the shop had been temporarily closed in 2014, though it was specially convened at the Fiera) and it has proved difficult to decide which of these first two albums I like better; both are of an amazing quality, best exemplified by Il Centro Sottile from the first album and the multi-part suite Il Cacciatore from AlieNatura.

Il Ludere includes another change of personnel, with former Änglagård drummer Mattias Olsson replacing Tixi. As with the preceding album, the title Il Ludere is a pun combining the Latin verb ludere (to play), with the article il generates a double meaning: the act of playing and, from the verb illudere, deception or illusion. The cover illustration continues this theme and the first track Le Regole del Gioco (The rules of the game) spells it out. What is immediately striking is that this is more conventional rock-sounding than the full-on symphonic prog of its two predecessors, although it remains firmly in the prog camp thanks to great playing, intelligent writing and, to a greater extent, a rejection of straightforward form.

Le Regole del Gioco owes something to musique concrète: an instruction to the listener how best to enjoy the stereo effect before segueing into the upbeat, jazzy La Parola Magica (The Magic Word) where the first hints at a different sound can be detected. The organ tends to follow the vocal melody, the guitar is distorted and the concluding electric piano seems to be influenced by the Canterbury scene. If that isn’t hint enough, Come Nella Favole (As in the Fables) begins like a heavy rock track and Ciapica even pulls off a high register vocal. What separates this track from a multitude of early 80s metal bands is a fiendishly tricky break, though I can imagine this being a new live favourite. There may be a hint of guitar hero about the soloing on next track Dentro la Mia Mente (Inside My Mind) but this is a fairly lengthy, more complex piece which reminds me of some of Finisterre’s experimentation featuring tape effects. As if triggered by this media manipulation; the rest of the album is undeniably proggy.

Spettro del Palco (Stage of the Spectrum) which has been selected as a single, is the tale of an unrequited love with a tragic ending. It’s set in a theatre and comes across as suitably dramatic, with themes picked out first by delicate acoustic and ending with a crescendo of passionate electric guitar. The coda provides a prelude to the theme running through the penultimate track La Spirale del Vento (The Wind Spiral.) Prospettive (Perspectives) opens with an acoustic guitar figure and builds slowly with piano and synthesizer before a Mellotron like break and some striking electric guitar. The vocals are full of feeling and most effective, producing some high quality prog. One of the most achingly beautiful moments on the whole release is the Gilmour-like guitar on Manitou where the percussion, similar to the recording of Peter Gabriel IV, is played out on the bottom kit, without cymbals. This provides an earthy, world music feel which is fitting for a song about a fundamental life force. Nuova Alchimia (New Alchemy) flows on almost seamlessly, initially with sparse percussion, though it’s very riff-driven. There’s an interlude with a sort of carnival atmosphere before Montaldo plays a fast synthesizer solo in classic RPI style; the vocals form an important part of the song, adding immediacy, but unfortunately it doesn’t really develop.

Perhaps it was the influence of their new drummer, but there are some distinctly angular lines that call to mind Olsson’s former band Änglagård or even Fragile-era Yes on La Spirale del Vento which, at 8’43 is the longest track on the album and closest to the material from the first two albums. This is my favourite track; there is plenty of space between the vocal passages to allow Montaldo to shine with some excellent lead synthesizer and the whole piece is well-constructed. One of the biggest surprises is Gnaffe, included as a bonus track. Based on the 14th Century Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio, a collection of stories ranging from the tragic to the erotic, it includes tales of wit and practical jokes. The song, at times medieval and at others what I would regard as traditional Italian popular music (during the duet between Ciapica and Montaldo), offers the contrast between almost scholarly classical guitar and outright playfulness during the storytelling.

Despite being uncharacteristic of progressivo Italiano, this album has grown on me the more I’ve listened to it. Maybe I’m mellowing with age because I really enjoy another 2017 release, the eponymous Christadoro album which is also not true RPI. To be fair to Il Tempio delle Clessidre, they have produced a more homogeneous work because they’ve widened the pool of creative input. This may seem counterintuitive but it’s the distorted, riffing guitar that has pulled them towards rock. On the other hand, there’s still a huge variety of textures that would never get represented in the mainstream and the inclusion of Olsson has provided the impetus for utilising a variety of effects. It’s unfortunate that my grasp of the Italian language is so poor, because I’m sure that there are more musical and lyrical puns at play throughout the release.


Despite my inability to pick up nuances in the language I think that though it may be a little atypical of the genre, from the atmospheric to the dramatic, this is a great album.







By ProgBlog, May 24 2016 07:35PM

It was Bill Bruford’s 67th birthday last week (Tuesday 17th May.) Widely regarded as being one of the great progressive rock drummers with a legacy that includes playing for three greats of prog, Yes, King Crimson and Genesis, he was the first rock drummer that I listened to and followed. The inclusion of Genesis in this list is something of a red herring, despite its reference in almost all articles concerning Bruford and a headline in Melody Maker from March 13th 1976 ‘BRUFORD JOINS GENESIS’ that actually goes on to say he wasn’t going to be a permanent member; yes, he played with them during the A Trick of the Tail tour to assist Phil Collins settle in as the Genesis vocalist but in his autobiography, Bruford describes himself as “on the whole, a lousy hired gun” because, though he dutifully learnt the music he was fairly ambivalent about it, having had no emotional involvement in the writing process and consequently looked upon his role as merely a means to pay the bills. In his rather forthright way he describes his behaviour as becoming increasingly inappropriate, driven by the feeling of frustration from playing material that had nothing to do with him as though he was trying to get himself sacked.


I’m not so sure that my opinion of Genesis music at the time wasn’t dissimilar to the way Bruford felt about it; I did get into Genesis fairly late on for someone who discovered progressive rock only three years after the commencement of the genre, having invested a great deal of time during my emotional development following Yes-related strands to the extent that my O Level English Language exam featured a piece of creative writing about going to a Yes concert with friends and almost missing the show due to some misadventure in snowy conditions.

My best friend bought a copy of Seconds Out (1977) and though I’d already begun to acquire Genesis albums by that time, the inclusion of Bruford as one of the players certainly aided my acceptance of the band as one of the greats. My best friend was a drummer who lived two houses away in Infield Park; his surname was Burford. Quite how Richard Matthew Burford became Bill Burford was one of those strange schoolboy convolutions of logic but certainly by the time we were in the Upper Sixth at Barrow Grammar, his nickname had morphed from Beel to Bill. My brother was christened Richard William, which gives us Bill, and this was transferred to Richard ‘Bill’ Burford; the ‘Beel’ may have been a deliberate mispronunciation because it conjured up images of Beelzebub, long before Bruford came up with the track of that name on his first solo album, Feels Good to Me (1978). I put an advert out in the For Sale column of our local paper the North Western Evening Mail, on the occasion of one of Bill Burford’s birthdays: “Live in the Park – rare triple live album by Bill Burford” and included his telephone number. I know he got at least one enquiry! Bill Burford was also very much into Bruford’s recorded output and this interest enabled him to expand and improve his own drumming. He now plays and records with Water’s Edge, based in the Penrith area of Cumbria.

The departure of Bruford from Yes in 1972 came as something of a shock, even though I’d only just started listening to prog. How could anyone replace the drummer of a band that had just released something as perfect as Close to the Edge? As much as I’ve come to respect Alan White, the work of Bruford seems to act as a positive creative force within Yes, helping to propel them towards an artistic pinnacle. Though subsequent Yes studio albums might come close to matching Close to the Edge, none of them would ever equal that masterwork. Bruford cropped up on two tracks from Rick Wakeman’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1973) and Chris Squire’s Fish out of Water (1975), two albums I bought around the time of their release and still regard very highly, but it wasn’t until I first heard the ’72 – ’74 King Crimson some time in 1974 that I began to take an interest in Bruford’s continuing musical endeavours; I’d not seen the Melody Maker front page Yes Man To Join Crimson on the 22nd July 1972. Though I picked up Crimson albums out of chronological sequence, when my brother Tony bought Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (1973) it became evident that Bruford had not only fallen on his feet following his departure from Yes, he had joined an ensemble that promoted his development as a musician.

King Crimson and Yes are frequently referred to as being part of the same continuum but in reality their output, though displaying some common traits of symphonic progressive rock, had diverged to the extent that by 1974 Crimson were demonstrating a penchant for complex, heavy, improvised material where subtleties were lost as the guitar attempted to keep up with the Bruford/Wetton rhythm section. When Crimson ‘ceased to exist’ in 1974 I followed Bruford’s activity through his appearance on Fish out of Water, Steve Howe’s first solo album Beginnings (1975) and his later involvement with Genesis; sometime in the early 80s I picked up a copy of Pavlov’s Dog album At the Sound of the Bell (1976) for £2.99 because it featured Bruford on drums but also featured Mellotron.

The release of the eponymous UK debut album in March 1978 and the first Bruford solo album Feels Good to Me five months later demonstrated two sides of Bruford: the relatively straightforward progressive rock playing on UK and the matured compositional rock-jazz styling on his debut album under his own name. These two albums helped to fill in the canvas of my progressive rock world. Other than reuniting the Crimson rhythm section there was a common link in Allan Holdsworth; Eddie Jobson had added violin parts to Crimson’s USA (1975) and I was aware of Bruford’s keyboard player Dave Stewart from The Civil Surface by Egg (1974), the first ‘Canterbury’ album in my collection. This allowed me to discover National Health where, although not appearing on any of the full studio albums, Bruford was a member of this amorphous ensemble from around October 1975 until September 1976 and his contributions can be heard on Missing Pieces (1996).


I first got to see Bruford play in 1980 with the ‘unknown John Clark’ line-up having taped One of a Kind (1979) and added Gradually Going Tornado (1980) to my collection. I find the second solo effort more coherent than Feels Good to Me but slightly less bright. By the time of Tornado the group were incredibly slick (c.f. the excellent official bootleg The Bruford Tapes, 1979) and rather funky. The next time I got to see Bruford was reunited with Robert Fripp in Discipline, before they renamed themselves King Crimson and it was here that I possibly first truly appreciated his drum technique with the interwoven polyrhythmic patterns and his embracing of electronic drums; Discipline (1981) is as much a groundbreaking album as Larks’ Tongues was in 1973. I went to see the band again in 1982 during the Beat tour but the subsequent time I saw Crimson play, at the Royal Albert Hall in 1995 in the double trio formation was on Bruford’s 46th birthday, a memorable and enjoyable gig where our seats were ideally placed to witness his seemingly effortless style.

Bruford’s professed main love is jazz and it’s his jazz sensibility that benefited both Yes and King Crimson. His work under the Bruford moniker wasn’t really jazz rock but it was rock with more than a hint of jazz and for this reason, and his association with Dave Stewart, that has resulted in some observers classing the band under the Canterbury banner. While still with Crimson, Bruford recorded Music for Piano and Drums with Patrick Moraz in 1983 which, despite the progressive rock heritage of the two musicians, was a jazz album. Bruford formed Earthworks, originally an electric jazz band, in 1985 following the cessation of the 80s Crimson but returned to progressive rock with Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe (ABWH) in 1988, releasing their self-titled debut album in 1989. The proposed follow-up album was hijacked by music executives and Bruford was for a short while a member of Yes once more, responsible for Union (1991) which was disowned by the majority of the cast. I really enjoyed the ABWH tour, seeing Bruford perform Close to the Edge, but the Union show was less satisfactory with Trevor Rabin hogging the limelight and Steve Howe and Bruford pushed to the periphery.

The modus operandi of the double trio Crimson saw the various members split off into ‘ProjeKcts’ in search of possible new material. Aside from these fractals, Bruford teamed up with Tony Levin to form Bruford Levin Upper Extremities (BLUE). Difficult to pigeonhole, this group, who had first recorded together on David Torn’s Cloud About Mercury (1987) played a form of electric jazz rooted very much in a rock context, releasing a self titled album in 1998 and the live set B.L.U.E. Nights recorded in 1998 and released in 2000.

The last time I got to see Bruford was with Earthworks, by now an acoustic jazz band at the Clair Hall in Haywards Heath in May 1999. He joked about members of the audience wearing Yes T-shirts and told us not to expect anything like that. What we did get was an evening of inventive, original modern jazz, brilliantly played.


Bruford gave up public performance at the beginning of 2009 but his status as the godfather of progressive rock drumming means he’s still very much in demand as a talking head and as a contributor to the foreword of publications on the genre. He may have ended up as a jazz drummer but there’s absolutely no doubt that he’s had a profound influence on prog and remains immensely popular with prog fans.
Bruford gave up public performance at the beginning of 2009 but his status as the godfather of progressive rock drumming means he’s still very much in demand as a talking head and as a contributor to the foreword of publications on the genre. He may have ended up as a jazz drummer but there’s absolutely no doubt that he’s had a profound influence on prog and remains immensely popular with prog fans.






By ProgBlog, Feb 21 2016 08:11PM

For the past fifteen or so years, my wife has spent February half-term in New York which is fine by me. I can listen to lots of music at home without resorting to headphones and, if I’m lucky, she might find a bit of original US prog to bring back home. I’ve been to NYC three times, most recently in 2003; I ski in Europe later on in the season in lieu of a transatlantic shopping trip. Up until my first visit in 1998, my expectations had been modulated by film, TV and bits and pieces of music. I was quite taken by the steam vents that I’d heard described by Peter Gabriel around the time of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974), a system of heating, cooling, cleaning and powering businesses in Manhattan. About half of the steam is cogenerated and using this as an energy source dramatically increases the efficiency of fuels.

The first time I visited the country was for the 16th American Society for Histocompatibility and Immunogenetics (ASHI) annual conference in Century City, Los Angeles, in 1990. My original contract with Guy’s Hospital allowed me one international conference per year and I chose this one for its potential to provide an insight into the cutting edge of transplantation science. I may have been swayed by the fact that the Hipgnosis cover for Yes’ Going for the One (1977) features Century City. This was not a good time for progressive rock bands, or prog in general and it pre-dated my seeking out local record stores to explore music by local artists, so I didn’t buy anything by US groups on that trip.


Century City
Century City

In fact, all my trips to the States to cities other than New York have been for symposia or workshops. I was in Dallas in 1995 for another ASHI conference and as prog was beginning to resurface, when the band playing at the gala dinner suggested they’d take requests, I asked them to play some King Crimson but they played some Talking Heads instead. Both LA and Dallas are huge conurbations and some of the things I had bookmarked to see in LA were impossible. I stayed in a Holiday Inn on Wilshire Boulevard and it took about an hour to walk to the conference venue but there were decent views across to the Hollywood Hills; My hotel reservation in Dallas, the venue for the ASHI meeting itself, was thrown into chaos by a mid-flight engine failure on my aircraft, resulting in an unscheduled overnight stop over at the Hilton in Boston. Perhaps I shouldn’t have wished too loudly for an end to the improvised fleadh on the plane as passengers, off to a traditional music festival somewhere, took out fiddles and pipes and began to play. TWA kindly flew me first class from Boston to St Louis early the next morning for a flight on to Dallas. Unfortunately my room had been given away and I had to stay in a different but possibly more glamorous hotel around the corner for one night. The walk between the two buildings would have taken less than two minutes as the crow flies but, being on a busy freeway intersection with no footpath, it took a little longer and I had to cope with drivers abusing me for daring to walk. Apparently it was dangerous, so when I attended the evening entertainment I stuck to the transport provided.


Grassy knoll, Dallas
Grassy knoll, Dallas

Seattle was a different prospect. Verdant, compact and interesting, I was there for the 2002 International Histocompatibility Workshop Conference. The meeting was held in the Washington State Convention Center [sic] and my accommodation was a brief walk away at the Kings Inn motel, where I felt pretty insecure because the room opened out from the ill-fitting steel door, my first experience of this kind of hotel. I didn’t manage to buy any music but I did spend time at the rather good Experience Music Project, a Frank Gehry-designed museum that had opened a couple of years earlier. Seattle has some high profile musician links such as Jimi Hendrix, Queensryche and Kurt Cobain but I was more interested in the Yes drummer Alan White connection; one of his kits was on display.


I’d picked up CDs in New York but these were by UK artists and were either far cheaper than I could have found at home or relatively obscure, for example Exiles (1997) by David Cross. The first US prog that I bought was Day for Night (1999) by Spock’s Beard when I was in Miami in 2003. I was in Miami twice that year, for a training course in April and presenting at the ASHI conference in October. The April trip was memorable because I left a laptop and some CDs in the boot of the taxi that dropped me off at my hotel in Coconut Grove, one of these being my signed copy of King Crimson’s The Nightwatch (1997) that I’d bought at the playback at the Intercontinental Hotel in London. On my return to the UK I emailed ET, the Crimson related forum and asked American contributors to look out for it. No one was sympathetic, some pointing out how stupid it was to carry original CDs around. Correct, but hardly helpful. Day for Night was bought on the autumn trip along with a copy of a cheap limited edition European version of The Ladder (1999) by Yes, in a slip case plus poster. I can’t remember the store but you could scan the barcode and listen to extracts of the music. I quite liked the analogue sounds of that particular Spock’s Beard album, which is why I bought it, rather than any other. I may have also been seduced by the Yes-like structure of the title track with its trebly bass and the Gentle Giant homage Gibberish. Though there’s a range of styles on display I get the feeling that the band has taken 80s Yes as a template with a deliberate attempt at being radio friendly.
I’d picked up CDs in New York but these were by UK artists and were either far cheaper than I could have found at home or relatively obscure, for example Exiles (1997) by David Cross. The first US prog that I bought was Day for Night (1999) by Spock’s Beard when I was in Miami in 2003. I was in Miami twice that year, for a training course in April and presenting at the ASHI conference in October. The April trip was memorable because I left a laptop and some CDs in the boot of the taxi that dropped me off at my hotel in Coconut Grove, one of these being my signed copy of King Crimson’s The Nightwatch (1997) that I’d bought at the playback at the Intercontinental Hotel in London. On my return to the UK I emailed ET, the Crimson related forum and asked American contributors to look out for it. No one was sympathetic, some pointing out how stupid it was to carry original CDs around. Correct, but hardly helpful. Day for Night was bought on the autumn trip along with a copy of a cheap limited edition European version of The Ladder (1999) by Yes, in a slip case plus poster. I can’t remember the store but you could scan the barcode and listen to extracts of the music. I quite liked the analogue sounds of that particular Spock’s Beard album, which is why I bought it, rather than any other. I may have also been seduced by the Yes-like structure of the title track with its trebly bass and the Gentle Giant homage Gibberish. Though there’s a range of styles on display I get the feeling that the band has taken 80s Yes as a template with a deliberate attempt at being radio friendly.

My first tastes of American rock music would have been on Alan Freeman’s radio show and one of Tony’s friends was quite heavily into the Doors. Tony had Mass in F Minor (1967), a concise psychedelic masterpiece by The Electric Prunes and we liked the early prog-era instrumental Zappa; I may have bought Hot Rats (1969) in New York. I was tuned into the United States of America by a chapter in Progressive Rock Reconsidered (2001, ed. Kevin Holm-Hudson), The “American Metaphysical Circus.” Influenced by avant garde rather than 19th Century European composers, their 1968 eponymous debut has a distinct West Coast sound but there are plenty of melody lines that could almost be pop, were it not for the underlying electronics and manipulations and hints of radical politics. Susan got me a copy from New York in 2009.

I read a review of The Weirding (2009) by Astra before buying it. Progressive rock had become truly respectable again and bands were happy to reference Pink Floyd and King Crimson. This offering is slightly spacey and there’s a lack of polish in the playing which gives it a kind of authenticity, aided by a decent production. It’s ok, but it doesn’t really challenge.

Last year I requested some recent releases by Glass Hammer, should Susan happen to be passing any suitable record shops. I’d got Journey of the Dunadan (1993) for Christmas 2013 even though I’d read that it wasn’t anywhere close to their best album, which contains some very nice keyboard work but displays a sort of naivety; attempting to cover The Lord of the Rings on a single, debut album was simply over-ambitious. I’m still waiting for more Glass Hammer! A year later I was given Finneus Gauge’s One Inch of the Fall (1999) which is on the progressive side of jazz rock, like an American UK. Laura Martin’s vocals are clear and distinctive and the musicianship can’t be faulted, with uniform high quality writing. I think I can detect some Canterbury influences but it doesn’t really sound like anyone else. There’s more guitar than keyboards, some of which is reminiscent of Allan Holdsworth.

Last year, in anticipation of a new deck, I bought Fireballet’s Night on Bald Mountain (1975) when I came across it by chance at a vinyl fair in Spittalfields Market. The stall holder had bought it new from East Side Music & Video in Toronto but didn’t know much about it. I’d just read about the album in Prog Rock FAQ by Will Romano and thought it looked an interesting proposition and, considering the efforts of other US bands during the golden era of prog, it proved to be way ahead of any of them. It may be derivative but the calibre of musicianship is high and it gets really good treatment from producer (ex-King Crimson) Ian McDonald; second track Centurion could be Trespass-era Genesis but album opener Les Cathèdrales utilises the uncredited Theme One by George Martin. This is the closest an American band would get to original prog.

Postscript: I had the first two Happy the Man CDs on my NY wish list. Didn’t get either!






By ProgBlog, Jul 19 2015 07:03PM

Oktober are comprised of Gary Bennett (basses, guitars, keyboards), David Speight (drums, percussion) and Molnár Kinga (vocals). Their origins hark back to 2007 when drummer Speight was playing with Peter Banks’ improvisation group Harmony in Diversity, who were invited to play at a Hungarian prog festival; also on the bill were Netherlands band Flamborough Head and Yesterdays, a Hungarian band based in Cluj Napoca, in the Transylvanian region of Romania and featuring Kinga on vocals. Speight was acquainted with Gary Bennett through symphonic prog band Yak but when the pair were involved in a collaborative effort on a record for Southend-on-Sea based hi-fi company Rega, Speight suggested Kinga as a vocalist for the project because she would be able to handle the complex arrangements associated with the prog take on the tracks they’d selected.

Bennett continued to work on original material with Kinga when she was back in Transylvania, sharing mp3 files over the internet. By 2011 the songs were ready for the addition of the drum tracks. The vocals were recorded in the UK in 2013 and the entire album was completed, mixed and mastered in December 2014; Sandcastles (2015) is the end result and it’s an album of well-crafted, beautiful melodic music carefully presented with some poignant (uncredited) photography from Bennett and his partner Fiona and one photo, ice skating, taken by Bennett’s father in 1986.

This isn’t really prog but it certainly has sonic links with prog. At just under 32 minutes and containing six songs it could have come from the early progressivo Italiano stable where a band’s recorded output was often notoriously brief. I’m struggling to pigeonhole the music but I shouldn’t really try because it’s best to let the music speak for itself; labels are only marketing tools, after all. Lyrically, the content is reflective and descriptive, taking in supernatural phenomenon and myriad aspects of the natural world. Throughout, Kinga’s voice is clear and strong and is reminiscent of Annie Haslam from Renaissance or, perhaps closer still, Amy Darby from Thieves’ Kitchen. Another comparison with Renaissance would be shared natural imagery as Betty Thatcher’s words included word pictures of icy pools and curling leaves; I’d go as far as suggesting that Bennett’s lyrics stray into classic Yes territory with his use of ‘green language’.

There’s a general progression over the CD of increasing complexity, where the later tracks are more layered than on the earlier tracks. Opening song Other People’s Parties is almost exclusively Bennett on acoustic guitar and Kinga singing though it’s here that we first get a glimpse of one of Bennett’s influences with a short burst of electric guitar that calls to mind the clean, compressed and EQ’d sound used by Mike Oldfield. This song is a joint Bennett – Kinga composition, the remainder of the album was written entirely by Bennett.

The shortest track on the CD, Don’t Stop is more up tempo and introduces a short riff on one of the multi-tracked guitars during the first two verses before another splash of Oldfield-like lead. The contemplative Dust and Rain is analogous to Genesis’ Blood on the Rooftops with some clever word-play over classical guitar, something that Steve Hackett would cover over his solo career. Lost and Found gets a traditional Irish folk song treatment, Bennett having played in a ceilidh band, and Oktober are joined by guest musicians Mick Graves on fiddle and Fez Powell on bodhran - Graves’ violin was produced by premier London violin maker Richard Duke and dates from around 1780. In this song Kinga delivers some neat call and response vocals and her harmonies remind me of Canterbury-scene backing vocalists The Northettes.

The opening section of Sleepers Awake is a fantastic riff reminiscent of Songs from the Wood era Jethro Tull and features a bouzouki, custom-made from an old 12 string guitar. The scan of the last two lines of verse two is a clever piece of lyricism, like Steve Hackett’s Tigermoth from Spectral Mornings. There’s more evidence of keyboards on this, the longest track, and there’s a nice ambient percussion section before a repeat of the bouzouki phrase and a reprise of the third verse from preceding track Lost and Found. In very prog fashion, there’s a neat segue into final track Sandcastles; taken together these two tracks could almost be a 13 minute long mini-suite because musically they’re approaching prog territory. Sandcastles features more Oldfield-like lead guitar but it’s the structure of the song that makes it stand out; after a fairly conventional verse-verse-chorus-verse-chorus there’s a short syncopated section with the kick drum on every beat overlain with a concise guitar solo that fades (too) rapidly to seashore noises. This ends with a haunting verse that doesn’t appear in the lyrics, rather like a hidden song: Sing me to sleep underneath weeping willows / Wild fragrant roses are still in full bloom / I need to be gone by the first chill of autumn / My old friend the west wind is calling me home. These last two tracks are without a doubt my favourites and when Kinga sings the ‘rolling white horses’ line in the first chorus of Sandcastles it gives me involuntary goose bumps.

Bennett himself suggested that it would be disingenuous to call the album prog, but as both he and Speight are lifelong progressive rock fanatics, specifically citing Yes and Genesis, it’s hardly surprising that prog influences shine through and it’s evident from their respective techniques on guitars and drums that they really know their art. It was their belief that there was sufficient prog element in the songs to appeal to fans of the genre and I find it difficult to disagree. The songs may range from singer-songwriter introspection to electric folk but they defy being catalogued. Not having a target audience could be detrimental but, if Oktober get the break they deserve, Sandcastles, with its general theme of the ephemeral nature of things, has the power to speak to a wide range of people. I know I like it and I know there’s an audience out there.

Copies of the album can be ordered on ebay: http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Sandcastles-Oktober-/291512162629 or by contacting the band at www.facebook.com/oktobertheband



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