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

ProgBlog reflects on the current state of prog metal

By ProgBlog, Mar 19 2017 10:50PM

Brighton is a progressive city, including the constituency of the only Green Party MP in the UK. Under normal circumstances, much less than an hour away from Croydon by train with a regular scheduled service without changes, it boasts good coffee shops, good pubs, countless record stores selling both new and second-hand CDs and vinyl, and some excellent musical instrument shops. The University of Sussex is located just outside Brighton so it’s fitting that there are also a number of venues for live music. The Brighton Centre entertains political parties, record fairs and all sorts of other things including scientific meetings (I was there for the joint British Society for Histocompatibility and Immunogenetics/European Federation for Immunogenetics congress in 1995) but, more pertinently, I went to see Yes performing Yes Symphonic at the Brighton Centre in 2001.



The Komedia is an all standing venue not unlike the Electric Ballroom in Camden or the old Astoria in Charing Cross Road, with a high ceiling giving the impression of a large space. My two visits there were both for Steve Hackett gigs, in 2010 and 2012, pre-dating the Genesis Revisited tours but both very enjoyable featuring a range of material from his repertoire.



Straying outside of the run-of-the-mill progressive rock fare, I’ve also been to see Pat Metheney and the Esbjorn Svensson Trio in Brighton, at the rather impressive Brighton Dome. This Grade I listed building has a history going back over 200 years during which time it’s been a stable block, a temporary hospital, a roller skating rink and, in the words of the Dome’s website but a description I’m not going to argue with, now the south coast's leading multi-arts venue.






The Dome was commissioned by the Prince of Wales (later King George IV) and built between 1803 and 1808. His taste for flamboyant fashions and outlandish architecture is well documented, as was his predilection for mistresses. He used to stay at a small lodging house on Old Steine but alterations and additions to these lodgings meant that the original stables needed to be replaced so the Prince commissioned architect William Porden to draw up plans for a vast new stable block and riding house. The new stables could be viewed as an Oriental version of the Pantheon in Rome, devoted to George's love of horsemanship; the five-year build incorporated 61 stalls, 38 for hunters and other saddle horses and 23 for coach horses, and cost the not inconsequential sum of £54,783, almost bankrupting the Prince in the process so that his father, the King, had to appeal to Parliament to clear the debt.

The exterior of the Dome was inspired by the great Jami Masjid (Friday Mosque) in Delhi, as there was a widespread interest in all things Indian at the time, whereas the interior was influenced by the design of the Paris Corn Exchange, whose segmented glass ceiling was copied in the original dome construction. The dimensions of the domed roof (24m in diameter, 20m high) made it one of the largest constructions of its type in the world and there were severe doubts about its stability once the scaffolding had been removed, though Porden himself had absolute faith in the engineering. The dimensions of the riding house (54m x 18m), with a 10m high unsupported roof were also ambitious, incurring significant delays searching for sufficiently large single spans of roof timber.

Compared to the new stables and riding house, the Regent’s Marine Pavilion made relatively poor accommodation, so he undertook the task of converting his modest dwelling into the much grander Royal Pavilion. An underground passage, still in existence, was built between the stables and the Royal Pavilion. It was said that the tunnel was built so that the Prince could move undetected between the Palace and the stables in order to meet his mistress Maria Fitzherbert but by the time of its completion, George had fallen out with Mrs Fitzherbert.

Queen Victoria, the Prince’s niece, disliked Brighton and the Royal Pavilion Estate so the town bought the stable building in 1850 for use as a cavalry barracks up until 1864. Its interior was remodelled by architect Philip Lockwood before reopening in 1867 as a concert and assembly hall, holding 2500 people. The riding house was also restored and opened as the new Corn Exchange in 1868; a market was held every Thursday until December 1914 when the building was repurposed as a military hospital. Between December 1914 and February 1916 over 4000 wounded Indian soldiers were nursed at the makeshift hospitals set up inside the buildings of the Royal Pavilion estate, which included three operating theatres, one installed inside Brighton Dome itself. The India Gate, on the south side of the Pavilion Gardens, added in 1921, was a gift from the people of India to commemorate their fallen soldiers.

The concert hall and Corn Exchange both underwent further alteration between 1934 and 1935. The Concert Hall was transformed into the venue that exists today by architect Robert Atkinson, including the period art deco styling.

A new period of renovation began in 1999 using a combination of Lottery funding, the support of Brighton & Hove City Council and a host of individual, corporate and trust and foundation supporters. Reopened in 2002, the Concert Hall now has a seating capacity of 1800, much improved sight lines, and upgraded acoustics. Looking down on the stalls from the circle reminds me of some of the seating at the Royal Albert Hall, where rows become oddly truncated due to the curvature of the auditorium; looking up at the ceiling also reveals some fine architectural detail and overall, I’d rate it as a fantastic venue.



I was there again last Wednesday (March 15th) to see Anderson Rabin Wakeman (ARW) performing an evening of Yes music and more, having arrived in Brighton by train with my brother Richard and successfully completed a rendezvous with my friend Jim Knipe. We ate at one of Brighton’s many gastropubs, The Dorset Bar in North Street (recommended), opposite the bright red and yellow Guitar, Amp and Keyboard Centre and a five minute stroll from the Dome. If this isn’t the first time you’ve read the blog, you’ll be aware that 80s Yes is not really my cup of tea and that 90125, Big Generator and Talk are only associated with progressive rock through their historical connections; so why did I go? The opportunity to hear Jon Anderson sing was a major factor and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed his last two mini-tours with Rick Wakeman; including Lee Pomeroy in the band was also a positive move (his rendition of The Fish was truly remarkable, earning him a huge round of applause) and though I’d never heard, or heard of Louis Molino III, he turned out to be an excellent drummer.


It was inevitable that the set would contain a hefty dose of 80s material but I felt that these pieces would be outweighed by tracks like And You And I, Awaken, Heart of the Sunrise and Perpetual Change; with four songs from 90125 (one of them, Cinema, being instrumental and another, Changes, being my favourite track from that album) and only one song from Big Generator (Rhythm of Love), plus the Yes-West Lift Me Up from Union, it really wasn’t too bad a trade-off. The audience response, somewhat surprisingly given that Owner of a Lonely Heart and 90125 gained a whole new audience for the band, was not as enthusiastic for the Rabin-period music. Was this the Brighton effect? I acknowledge that Trevor Rabin’s involvement with the group ensured their continued survival but, fine guitarist that he undoubtedly is, his writing style is not classic-Yes, which is why the Rabin-Squire-White group was originally called Cinema. The songs presented by that trio had far more mainstream construction and content, lacking spiritual depth and sonic diversity, and that’s what came across on Wednesday night. The early Yes material varies dramatically within each number, demonstrating the best use of long-form and it’s far more thoughtful, head-music, if you like, rather than acceding to the demands of a record company for songs that had a wider, baser, appeal. This tendency towards guitar-sound homogeneity was even noticeable in the old material but the musicianship and writing carried the day. Awaken was the highlight for me, rearranged with a really spaced-out middle section featuring some brilliant keyboard work. It was obvious that considerable effort had gone into all the arrangements though I wasn’t convinced by their reworking of Long Distance Runaround.


The show was very, very good and the Brighton Dome made it slightly more memorable than going to the Hammersmith Apollo. They have really gelled as a group; while Anderson, sporting what seemed like some sort of support on his left hand, worked through his announcements, the band provided a short synopsis of what they were about to play laced with quotations from other Yes material, including On the Silent Wings of Freedom and a theme from Tales and demonstrated an obvious pleasure for what they were doing. YES!










By ProgBlog, May 29 2016 09:00PM

In the mid-70s I was aware that progressive rock could be found elsewhere in the world other than the UK. I was very much into Focus and Trace (Netherlands); PFM (Italy); Gong (France); and even had an inkling that Wigwam were predominantly Finnish. I’d also come across the work of Swedish multi-instrumentalist Bo Hansson.

Hansson had a track on Charisma Keyboards, the Charisma sampler from 1974 that also included America by The Nice, The Fountain of Salmacis by Genesis and White Hammer by Van der Graaf Generator; Hansson’s Flight to the Ford was the shortest track on the album by some margin but the brevity of the piece didn’t deter Guy Wimble, a friend from across the road, buying Music Inspired by Lord of the Rings Hansson’s most successful assault on the UK album charts, from which the track was taken. The LP had been very successful in Sweden when it was originally released on Silence Records in 1970, partly because of the adoption of The Lord of the Rings by the counter-culture but equally because the music fitted the nascent progressive rock movement. The acquisition of Hansson by Charisma exposed Hansson to a far wider market and though his subsequent albums Magician’s Hat (Silence, 1972, Charisma 1973), Attic Thoughts (1975) and Music Inspired by Watership Down (1977) were not as successful it’s unlikely that many of us would have heard of him had it not been for Tony Stratton-Smith.


Bo Hansson's Music Inspired by Lord of the Rings
Bo Hansson's Music Inspired by Lord of the Rings

The music itself is pleasant and melodic but you could never call it over-adventurous; listening to it recently I found I liked it more than I remember doing so. There’s a space rock vibe pervading the compositions (the original Silence release cover art was quite psychedelic) and Hansson layers the instruments in a way that I think may have influenced Mike Oldfield’s modus operandi; he adds some nice distorted jazzy guitar that strays into Santana territory and, though he may have jammed with Jimi Hendrix, his playing is clearly more informed by jazz than the blues. Flight to the Ford is one of two up-tempo tracks (the other is The Horns of Rohan/The Battle of the Pelennor Fields where the cymbal work suggests clashing swords) but there’s only a relatively narrow dynamic range on the entire album; the swelling organ work conjures images of rolling countryside and though not truly pastoral, it certainly comes across as very reflective. Perhaps I was swayed more by the literary influences and references than the music itself, as Hansson employs titles from books I was reading as a teenager: The Lord of the Rings (obviously); Elidor by Alan Garner and Watership Down by Richard Adams. I suppose that it’s hardly surprising that the Swedes should have taken to modern myths from contemporary authors given their own story-telling legacy and Tolkien’s desire to create a myth to match the Norse sagas.

I travelled around Sweden as part of an InterRail adventure in 1983, making a brief stop in Gothenburg to wait for a train to Oslo,spent two hours in Boden before moving on to Finland, two full days in Stockholm, about half an hour waiting for a hydrofoil in Malmo plus hours of travel on the Swedish rail network, many kilometres of which were spent inside the arctic circle where, even in August, the landscape was stark; the trees denuded as though by acid rainfall, which was just reaching our collective environmental consciousness at the time. I really enjoyed Stockholm and wished I could have spent more time there, staying overnight on a full-rigged three mast iron sailing ship built in Whitehaven, Cumbria in 1888 (SS Dunboyne) which had become permanently moored off Skeppsholmen and converted to a Youth Hostel, the af Chapman. Travelling with college friend Nick Hodgetts, now a renowned bryophytologist, we island-hopped and explored some of the less popular areas of the city, the narrow streets behind the main thoroughfares. I don’t buy ‘tourist’ things but rather I bought a Franz Kafka T-shirt from the Akademibokhandeln bookshop, 1983 being Kafka’s centenary. The legend, in Swedish, read “Kafka hade inte heller så roligt” something along the lines of “Kafka was not so funny”.


The author in 1984 sporting the Kafka T-shirt
The author in 1984 sporting the Kafka T-shirt

The third wave of progressive rock didn’t arise in the UK but in Sweden and the USA. Around the time that King Crimson resurfaced with the double trio conformation in 1994 I started to subscribe to Elephant Talk, the King Crimson internet resource run by Toby Howard and this is when I realised that there was some form of prog revival, frequently sounding like metal with some prog flourishes but also material that was reported to sound like Red-era Crimson; heavy prog but not prog metal. It probably didn’t sink in that there was a strong Swedish connection to the prog revival until I bought my first Jerry Lucky book and with two highly regarded bands mentioned very early on in the listings, Anekdoten and Änglagård, I added Änglagård’s Hybris (1992) to my wish list (copies were selling for in excess of £50 when they were available, which was infrequent) and invested in my first ever download, Anekdoten’s Vemod (1993) because I’d read a description that suggested the music sounded like King Crimson would have done if they hadn’t disbanded in 1974, a remarkably accurate assessment. Vemod is heavy, Mellotron-drenched and although it’s predominantly instrumental, the lyrics are intelligent and call to mind Richard Palmer-James, rather than Peter Sinfield. The melancholy feel of the music is enhanced by the addition of cello; at times the guitar is like the angular playing of Steve Howe on Fragile and the bass style owes a heavy debt to John Wetton. I finally got my hands on a copy of Hybris from a stall at the Prog Résiste festival in 2014, a brilliant, less heavy affair than Vemod or the Anekdoten follow-up Nucleus (1995) but still deeply rooted in the 70s progressive rock sensibility. The darkness and sadness in this trio of albums may be in part due to the Scandinavian physical geography and latitude (nicely parodied by Steven Wilson in live performances of The Raven That Refused to Sing by asking Guthrie Govan to play guitar in the style of a number of stereotypical Swedish situations) but it’s to the benefit of every prog fan that they have such an attitude. I was fortunate to get to see Änglagård play their first UK gig at the Resonance Festival in 2014 and despite a lengthy delay due to the obstinacy of a Mellotron, it was a fantastic routine.



One name that links Änglagård and Anekdoten is Markus Resch who serviced and repaired their Mellotrons and who now owns the rights to the Mellotron name. I think I’m correct in believing that I first came across his name at the Night Watch playback in 1997 where there were two Mellotrons on display.

Another leading light of the third wave is Flower Kings, led by guitarist Roine Stolt who had joined Swedish symphonic prog band Kaipa aged 17 in the mid 70s. I managed to catch them headlining at Prog Résiste but was a little disappointed because they didn’t match expectations. I subsequently read that their later material deliberately moved away from classic analogue keyboard sounds and this fits with my memory of their set, which didn’t come anywhere close to recreating 70s prog but sounded more mainstream and, if you’ll excuse the pun, more transatlantic.



Flower Kings at Soignies 26th April 2014
Flower Kings at Soignies 26th April 2014

Sometime before I managed to acquire any of the 90s Swedish prog I’d been given Seven Days of Falling (2003) by E.S.T, the Esbjorn Svensson Trio as a present and later bought their final album Leucocyte (2008), released posthumously three months after the death of pianist Svensson. This jazz trio deliberately blurred genres and if such a thing existed, they’d be labelled as prog-jazz, incorporating electronics and noise into their recordings. It was after an E.S.T gig in Brighton in 2005 that I was caught accidentally speeding (34 mph in a 30 mph zone) searching for directions how to get out of the city centre and return to Croydon. It was still a good concert.

If you thought that the only musical export from Sweden was the over-produced Abba singing meaningless nonsense, you need to reappraise. Not only was Bo Hansson riding the first wave of progressive rock, it was the Swedes who resurrected the genre, not just as prog but as genuine progressive rock in the 90s. Bring on the Bo Hansson T-shirts!





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