ProgBlog

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, Jun 21 2015 09:35PM

The recent Page family Milan trip involved a trip to Expo 2015 and the tickets, bought on-line with a 48 hour travel pass, included free admission to the Arts and Foods exhibition at the Triennale di Milano. This display of more than 2000 pieces of work featured a wide array of visual idioms, from models, through objects to entire room settings that revolved around the world of food, nutrition, and the way people eat together. The idea was to examine the relationship between art and the many rituals associated with eating, with special reference to how the aesthetic and functional aspects of what we eat have impacted creative expression. Though much of this was in the form of installations and painting, amongst the artefacts and Andy Warhols was a display of album sleeves, each one depicting a food theme.

The closest this piece came to including a cover from a prog artist or band were Frank Zappa’s Overnite Sensation which shows some crumbs in McDonalds packaging, a half-eaten donut and a piece of rotten fruit bearing the legend ‘Roadies Delite’; the Zappa-Captain Beefheart collaboration Bongo Fury; and an Island Records budget-priced compilation album from 1969 called Nice Enough to Eat which includes 21st Century Schizoid Man by King Crimson and We Used to Know from Stand Up by Jethro Tull. I came across this album in a Brighton flea market last week so I had a chance to get a close look at the material that was included but apart from the Crimson and Tull, the remainder wasn’t all that inspiring. Also present on the same market stall was another prog album with a food-themed cover, not present in the Milano Triennale exhibition but a record I used to have in my collection, Exotic Birds and Fruit by Procol Harum.

One obvious prog-food related band is Egg. Not only is the first album called Egg (1970) but the cover photograph by David Wedgbury shows an egg-cracking machine beautifully constructed by Peter Chapman that could have come from my old school physics laboratories. The Civil Surface (1974) also features an egg on its cover, this time strongly reminding me of the British Egg Marketing Board’s TV advertising theme, Go to Work on an Egg which began in 1957 and was certainly still running in some form when I was young. It may be that this association is entirely fabricated, possibly due to the presence of an iconic British Lion mark on the Egg that graces The Civil Surface. This was the first Egg album I possessed, a Caroline Records release that sold for around £1.50. I wasn’t too aware of the Canterbury connection at the time and subsequently sold it to my friend Bill Burford before buying it again, this time on CD, from Cover Music in Berlin in 2005. Now that I have all the Egg releases I think that it’s their best record despite Dave Stewart’s warning about the drums being too high in the mix; the recording seems much cleaner than Egg and The Polite Force (1971) and the interpretation of the compositions more mature. Some commentators have questioned the presence of the two wind quartet pieces, suggesting that they are just filler but though these aren’t being played by Egg the band, I think their inclusion is legitimate because they seem to fit with the mood of the album. Calling a record Hamburger Concerto (1974) is obviously suggestive of food and the neon-style writing used for the title fits in with the image of a US burger joint but the side long title track, based on a piece by Hamburg-born Johannes Brahms, Variations on a Theme by Haydn, is evidently a Focus pun. The track was conceived as a sequel to Eruption from Moving Waves (1971) and evidently had nothing to do with hamburgers, beginning life as Vesuvius, a portion of which appears on the odds and ends Focus album Ship of Memories (1976) as Out of Vesuvius; the six subsections Starter, Rare, Medium I, Medium II, Well Done and One for the Road make up the three movements of a concerto if you take the first four parts as the first movement comprising exposition, double exposition, development and recapitulation. Though I’m very fond of Moving Waves I prefer Hamburger because of the greater range of instrumentation and sounds, even though Jan Akkerman’s guitar is much less to the fore on the later album’s concept piece.

Gong’s Camembert Electrique (1971) could have been included in the Milan exhibition though there are only written references to cheese on the cover: the album title; ‘Cheez Pleez’ and ‘Strong and streamin mate!’ thought and speech bubbles respectively; plus the small ‘Cheese Rock’ and much larger ‘Fabriqué en Normandie’ tags. I probably bought this album when I was too young to appreciate it, but at £0.49 it was pretty irresistible. You have to remember that I took my prog very seriously and I liked my prog to be serious; the anarchic humour and Dadaist leanings were fine as long as they didn’t pretend to be progressive rock and this was more psychedelia or space rock than prog, with my favourite track being Fohat Digs Holes in Space. The title and cover of England’s Garden Shed (1977) is a play on Robertson’s Golden Shred marmalade but the relative subtlety of the reference and the relative unknown status of the album meant that it would never have got a look-in at Milan. This is a late golden-era classic, easily accessible to Genesis devotees but incorporating influences from other classic prog bands without coming across as an imitation. I updated my 20th Anniversary edition with the 2005 Special Edition Booklet and CD from the England merchandise stand at last year’s Resonance Festival.

The nature of much progressive rock music, with grand themes and concepts and cover images to match, is almost the opposite to the prosaic topic of food though the Milan exhibition showed that the notion of ‘eat to live’ has been overtaken by the concept of ‘live to eat’, certainly in Western cultures; perhaps Pink Floyd should have included a track about (the popular but erroneous meaning of) Epicureanism on Dark Side of the Moon. I can’t think of any prog rock song that highlights famine in the same way that Yes penned a song relating to a global concern when they requested Don’t Kill the Whale and perhaps it’s only Genesis who highlight the arrival of rampant consumerism which they compare with an England of folk lore and conservatism (with a small ‘c’) notably its association with food, in Dancing with the Moonlit Knight and Aisle of Plenty from Selling England by the Pound (1973).



By ProgBlog, Nov 30 2014 09:04PM

Bassoon player and oboist Lindsay Cooper died last year from complications associated with Multiple Sclerosis. I’m most familiar with her work with Henry Cow and other, like-minded bands that made up the Canterbury scene, notably Hatfield and the North and Egg. She was briefly in progressive-folk band Comus before they split in 1972 (I have a copy of To Keep from Crying which features Cooper’s bassoon on the title track) and it may have been this that got her a job with Henry Cow – To Keep from Crying was released on Virgin in 1974 and Leg End was also a Virgin release, recorded at their Manor Studios in 1973.) Her collaborations were multitudinous and I saw her perform at the Actual 84 Festival in London with combinations of David Thomas (Pere Ubu), Chris Cutler, Sally Potter, Phil Minton, Georgie Born and Dagmar Krause.

The performance at the Barbican on November 21st was a celebration of the music of Cooper in chronological order of the ensembles she had performed with: Henry Cow, Music for Films, News from Babel and Oh Moscow. I’d gone because it was in effect the first Henry Cow gig since their split in 1978, with the reunion of Fred Frith (guitar and bass), John Greaves (bass, vocals), Tim Hodgkinson (alto sax, organ), Chris Cutler (drums) and Dagmar Krause (vocals). The bassoon parts were covered by Michel Berckmans from Univers Zero.

The music almost defies categorisation, but the closest I can get is experimental chamber music. There’s Canterbury progressive in the mix, most audible on the first number they played, Falling Away from Western Culture which I found reassuringly familiar. There were no song introductions but Sally Potter, before she took her place on the stage, made a general announcement about only being able to present a tiny proportion of Cooper’s oeuvre and the appropriateness of the venue for Cooper’s music. The audience was fully aware of the complexity of the song writing but it was the first time I’ve ever seen a band have to stop and restart on three different tunes, Falling Away being the first. This prompted Jim Knipe, in attendance with me, to comment that the performance was along the lines of ‘genially shambolic.’ This opinion may have gained some currency from observing Cutler’s expansive drum technique and the fact that both Cutler and Frith played barefoot. The inclusion of the 36 second long Slice proved to be a bit of a test for the audience; its sudden conclusion could easily have been a pause between sections of a lengthier piece but we did applaud after a brief, awkward silence.

The band weren’t over amplified and the layers of music were quite clear, illustrating Cooper’s ability to write for a number of instruments simultaneously. Her compositional skills reflected her excellent improvisation which was based on her ability to pick out the different lines. With an (up to) 12 piece ensemble playing, her dense, complex and startlingly original compositions were given an almost fun airing, contradicting the popular image of the deeply studious and serious musicians. I was previously a bit wary of Dagmar Krause’s singing but I found her much more melodic than I remember; she came across with a controlled intensity that added to the haunting beauty of the compositions. If anything, the one musician I was slightly disappointed with was Fred Frith, who may have had some problems with his effects pedals. The performance of the Oh Moscow song-cycle (featuring Sally Potter) was joyous and theatrical; that the piece explores the cold war as political fact and emotional metaphor was given new relevance by recent events in the Caucus. This best demonstrated Cooper’s melodic side in contrast to the rhythmically complex material she wrote for Henry Cow.

The review in The Guardian described the audience as a mixture of ‘ageing revolutionaries, prog aficionados and Italian communists’ and though the hall wasn’t full, it was a very respectable turn out for a performance packaged as jazz festival event; there may even have been a few others not fitting The Guardian’s stereotype making up the numbers, just not very many. However, a few of the adjectives have been applied to me at some time or other.

Lindsay Cooper was an articulate political activist and outstanding musician and composer, bringing the bassoon from the orchestral shadows to front-stage in a rock context. This was an extraordinary evening: extraordinary musicians playing extraordinary music. Henry Cow had said they’d never reform but Chris Cutler managed to bring together an incredible number of musicians closely associated with the music of Cooper. It doesn’t matter what you call it: avant-rock, avant-jazz, or experimental chamber music, it was certainly an evening to remember.


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I was lucky enough to get to see two gigs in Italy last summer while the UK live music industry was halted and unsupported by the government, and the subsequent year-long gap between going to see bands play live has been frustrating - but necessary.

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