ProgBlog

By ProgBlog, Sep 12 2018 10:01PM

On a recent trip to my local retro-fashion and second-hand vinyl emporium Atomica, I bought a classic piece of 70’s electronica Timewind by Klaus Schulze and also picked up Kate Bush’s Lionheart from 1978. David and Nicky, who own Atomica, are into 60’s psyche and 70’s prog so, while I flicked through record sleeves and In the Court of the Crimson King was playing on a retro record deck, the conversation turned from Kate Bush sophistipop (their term) to the paucity of progressive rock in the 80s.

In common with some other commentators, I believe that the golden age of progressive rock ended in 1978, although that’s not to deny some good progressive rock music was produced afterwards; it’s simply that the industry and the market changed. Writing in a 2014 blog, I addressed what I called the ‘lean years for prog’ and referenced my gig diary; between Fairport Convention at Wimbledon Theatre in January 1985 and the unexpected but very welcome reunion of Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe who I witnessed at Wembley Area in October 1989, I attended only two gigs: John McLaughlin and Jonas Hellborg at the Fairfield Halls, Croydon in March 1987, and a resurrected Pink Floyd at Wembley Stadium in August 1988. It’s possible that the stunning presentation of the Floyd live show, complete with crash-diving Stuka bomber and evil flying pig reinvented the concert as rock music spectacular but from a personal perspective, it was the music that stood out. Their descent to mainstream rock (albeit with appropriate sentiment) covering parts of Animals, all of The Wall and The Final Cut was thrown into reverse with A Momentary Lapse of Reason which I’ve previously stated was a return to (progressive rock) form. Although I commented on what I was buying in lieu of prog I didn’t cover, and have never really written about, neo-prog.





The demise of progressive rock at the end of the 70s was inextricably linked to free market dogma, the predominant ideology at the time and one that was opposite to the counter-cultural beliefs that had inspired the movement. Punk may have briefly surfaced between 1976-8 as reaction to the perceived excesses of some of the established bands and musicians but it was quickly hijacked by the nascent publicity machinery, a major part of the UK’s replacement for a decimated manufacturing base.

Punk can be seen as a discontinuity (if you’ll forgive the geological pun); progressive rock was the dominant style in the preceding years and new wave would follow. For existing artists, moving away from prog was less a conscious decision and more of a drift towards conformity under pressure from a music business that was changing from an ethos of supporting artistic freedom (that somehow still managed to sell millions of albums) to one of commodity. Examples of record company interference might include the imposition of external producers to capture the immediacy of punk, or simply the insistence that a band produce a hit single or get dropped from the roster.

Punk may also have illustrated the bleakness of ordinary lives but in reaction, this readied the world for a bit of glamour: Fashion and music, the rise of style over substance. Fortunately, some of the next generation of musicians, those born in the late 50s and early 60s who had grown up listening to progressive rock, made a conscious decision to emulate these groups, sometimes injected with an attitude borrowed from punk or the fashion of post-punk. However, before the appearance of these neo-prog acts, King Crimson were making a reappearance as a cross between polyrhythmic progressive rock and new wave sophistipop, thanks to the inclusion of former Talking Head Adrian Belew in the line-up. The Discipline-era King Crimson lasted from 1981 to Sunday 12th July 1984, the morning after the last show of the Three of a Perfect Pair tour, during which time I managed to see them live on two occasions, the first as the pre-King Crimson Discipline.


Asia had also convened in 1981, releasing their eponymous debut album in March 1982. An easy target for critics, they were seen as yesterday’s musicians with nothing new to give but fortunately for the band, millions of ordinary members of the record-buying public disagreed and somehow Asia managed to ride the zeitgeist for a few years. At the time, I was happy to buy Asia without having heard a single bar of the music, simply based on the line-up. The end product was undoubtedly slick but it wasn’t progressive rock and I really wish they’d taken a different approach. Though it wasn’t terribly adventurous, the musicianship still manages to shine through despite this inability to challenge the listener. I also think the lyrical content conforms to the prevailing political climate of the time, where the subject matter is primarily about relationships, love, and sung in the first person. It’s inward-looking, what the world is doing to the singer, putting the individual at the centre. These were the new world values where the politics were far from progressive.


Out of some misplaced sense of loyalty I also bought the second Asia album Alpha when that came out in 1983 and a couple of months later handed over my cash for Yes' 90125. This proved to be a qualitative move away from classic Yes music, incorporating MTV- and radio-friendly tunes from which all traces of analogue keyboard had been eradicated. The shift towards more accessible music affected the existing Yes fan-base more than it did the fans of band members who made up Asia. Asia was a new band with no previously defined sound of its own whereas Yes had considerable history and, despite sometimes seismic personnel changes they had always maintained a particular world-view; 90125 is radically different, with a combination of guitar-heavy material from Trevor Rabin and Trevor Horn’s brash production. It may have become the best–selling Yes album but it divided existing Yes fans, with substantial numbers, like me, who could barely relate to the overtly commercial sound of a compressed sonic palette and what felt like a retrograde step towards generic 80s rock.

Yet hidden beneath the clamour created by the surprise continued success of some big names from the progressive rock genre, there were a few acts with a loyal live following struggling to get the attention of record labels, plying a music very closely related to classic 70’s progressive rock. My dalliance with neo-prog consisted of prevaricating about buying Marillion’s Script for a Jester’s Tear when it was first released in 1983, ‘Marillion’ being a shortened form of the band’s original name, Silmarillion, after the JRR Tolkien history of Middle Earth; buying the Garden Party 7” single (b/w Margaret) because it was cheap; recording a live radio broadcast of the Fugazi tour from Golddiggers in Chippenham in March 1984; buying the 12” single of Kayleigh b/w Lady Nina (extended version) sometime in 1985; and going to see The Enid with a variety of neo-prog support acts including Pendragon and Solstice at the Ace in Brixton on 11th May 1983.






The absence of column inches dedicated to my old favourites meant that I no longer regularly bought anything from the music press and therefore missed out on seeing the two best neo-prog bands, Marillion and IQ. Someone gave me a copy of Marillion in Words and Pictures by Carol Clerk for a birthday in the early 90s and around this time, when seconded to work in Saudi Arabia for a few weeks, I bought an unauthorised Marillion compilation on cassette. I reappraised the lack of Marillion in my collection in 2008 and got Misplaced Childhood on CD, and downloads of Script and Fugazi; having read sufficient good things about IQ and seen Martin Orford play in John Wetton’s band, I also bought a download of The Wake (1985) at the same time, and received the 30th anniversary Tales from the Lush Attic after that was released in 2013; I’ve since bought vinyl versions of Tales from the Lush Attic, The Wake, Script for a Jester’s Tear and bought a download of IQ’s Dark Matter (2004). Also, while looking for Spanish prog on holiday in Barcelona in 2010, I came across a second-hand copy of Pendragon’s Masquerade Overture (1996) in Impacto for €9.95.



Subsequent to my rediscovery of UK neo-prog, a trip to Milan earlier this year turned up a book about Italian prog, Rock Progressivo Italiano 1980-2013 by Massimo Salari (Arcana, 2018) which covers neo-prog and the 90’s progressive revival, quite different from the other progressivo Italiano books that tend to concentrate on music of the late 60s and 70s. My decision to buy Italian vinyl whilst visiting the country means I’ve unwittingly started to collect Italian music from the neo-prog era, the most prized being Ancient Afternoons (1990) by Ezra Winston, voted the best Italian album of the 90s by Prog Italia magazine, followed by Dopo l’Infinito (1988) by Nuovo Era and Heartquake (1988) by Leviathan, which were number 2 and number 7 respectively in Prog Italia’s Italian albums of the 80s – Ezra Winston were first with Myth of the Chrysavides from 1988.





One of the criticisms hurled at Marillion in particular, was that they were just a rehash of early 70’s Genesis. Fish’s predilection for greasepaint and costume changes must have added weight to that argument but it is actually guitarist Steve Rothery who comes across as being most influenced by Genesis with a playing style based on Steve Hackett and Dave Gilmour and Andy Latimer. It’s also well documented how much Gabriel-era Genesis influenced the Italian progressive rock bands but that influence also affects Italian neo-prog, with much of Ancient Afternoons referencing the pastoral charm of Trespass; however, both Heartquake and Dopo l’Infinito have a more modern sound, more akin to UK neo-prog than 70’s classic progressive rock. Perhaps it’s not so surprising that there are a number of different Marillion tribute acts in Italy – I saw Mr Punch perform an accurate recreation of Misplaced Childhood last year at the Porto Antico Prog Fest.




Another Italian band that I follow who came together during this time are Eris Pluvia. They released Rings of Earthly Light in 1991 and later reformed as Ancient Veil; both versions of the group, with Alessandro Serri and Edmondo Romano as core members, play a broader range of styles than Leviathan or Nuovo Era, demonstrated by jazz phrasing along with Serri’s Hackett-like guitar, and some very prog-folk moments thanks to Romano’s use of a full range of wind instruments.


My previous contention that the 80s was largely devoid of interesting music was totally misplaced. 70’s style progressive rock may have disappeared but both the industry and the market had changed when I didn’t. I was dimly aware that something was going on but declined to fully engage, spending my time and money seeking out albums to fill the gaps in my 70’s-centric collection, consequently missing out on a range of bands that I should have embraced. I do now.





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, Jul 2 2018 04:39PM

One of my recent purchases, on a short trip out to Crystal Palace, was a £1 copy of Short Stories (1980) by Jon and Vangelis, from Bambinos in Church Road. I’d been told that this album, the debut full-length release from the duo, was quite good, but never having heard anything from it other than the single I Hear You Now, I was only really interested in it as a curio, being a fan of both Jon Anderson and Vangelis. There are moments which are reminiscent of Anderson’s solo album Olias of Sunhillow (1976), which some say has the stamp of Vangelis over it, plus plenty of vintage Vangelis soundtrack electronica. What took me by surprise was the first track Curious Electric, not because of its portentous Blade Runner-like opening bars, but the unexpected strangeness of the vocal section, with Anderson getting round to introducing the concept of ‘short stories’ after telling us he was “...sitting it out Watching "Match of the Day..."


Jon and Vangelis - Short Stories
Jon and Vangelis - Short Stories

That struck me as being quite pertinent, as we’ve just entered the knockout rounds of the World Cup and I thought I’d explore the connections between progressive rock and (association) football...

I’ve lived within shouting distance and more recently within easy walking distance of Selhurst Park for the past 32 years. I didn’t follow any particular football team when I was at school or university though I do remember changing the words of hymns in a junior school hymn book to reflect the glory of Chelsea FC who had just won the FA Cup; I later professed an admiration for Derby County, who happened to be winning the league and playing in Europe at the time. I once went to see Barrow AFC thrash Cambridge United at Holker Street when Barrow were still in the old Third Division and graffiti at the top of the Arc de Triomph proclaimed ‘BBB rule the World’, Barrow Boot Boys being the thuggish element of the Holker Street crowd. I’ve been back to Holker Street a few times since with my son Daryl and brother Richard, after I’d seriously begun to support Crystal Palace; in the 70s we were really a rugby family and I spent quite a lot of time on the terraces (and later in the stand when I was offered a free ticket) at Craven Park, home of Barrow RLFC.

So why did I start paying my hard earned money to a football club, and not a particularly fashionable club out of all the teams available in London? Palace was my local team and the noise of the crowd was easily audible from our flat in Edith Road. One drawback was the road was convenient for travelling fans, so taking the car out on a Saturday afternoon or Tuesday evening often meant parking round the corner when we returned home. Selhurst Park was so local that it genuinely felt like part of the community; the local paper had pages devoted to the team and my wife’s family were long-standing supporters. As a new home-owner I was cementing my relationship with my adoptive community.

The first match I attended was against a second-tier fixture against Reading on the 4th November 1995 and the first match I took Daryl to was against Norwich, the last home game of that season (95-96.) Richard had come down to visit to go and see a gig and the opportunity to see a football match presented itself. Richard takes his sport somewhat more seriously than me but this was also the chance to introduce a young Daryl to his local team, a father-son thing. That was such a long time ago...


Out of all the football teams, Crystal Palace has the most progressive rock sounding name. In the early-mid 80s I used to live in Crystal Palace (Upper Norwood) and it is rumoured the players used to hang out in the Holly Bush, a five minute walk up Gipsy Hill from the flat I used to live in at the time. But progressive rock doesn’t really go with football because prog isn’t about a mob mentality. When I started to go to Selhurst Park regularly I’d get tickets as close to Block A of the Lower Holmesdale stand as I possibly could, just for the vibe. This was the section frequented by the hardcore supporters and, at the time, close to the seating reserved for the away support. Detached, I’d watch the fans get carried away, frequently abusing their own team for underperforming and creating an atmosphere that had a tendency to normalise sexist, racist, homophobic and other unpalatable behaviours, despite the signs warning that the use of offensive language would result in ejection from the ground. Though it’s improved over the years, with racism pretty much eliminated from the crowd at Palace, there remains work to be done to further reduce unacceptable behaviour and unforgivable vulgarity.


CPFC season ticket
CPFC season ticket

The club may have survived in the Premier League for a run of five seasons (and counting) but the inevitable pessimism that accompanies Palace fans on the rollercoaster ride as the team yo-yos between the top two divisions, flirts with relegation into the third tier and goes into receivership, twice, and hires and fires managers runs counter to the ethos of early 70s progressive rock. Test match cricket is probably more in tune with prog, requiring patience, considerable thought, lasting five days and being incomprehensible to many. Sadly, cricket has become commercialised in the fight to survive and new forms of the game have the same relationship to former test matches as 90125-era Yes had to the classic line-up of 1972. Furthermore, pessimism associated with supporting a team, whatever the sport, seems to be an English disease.


So is there any sort of link between soccer and prog? I can’t imagine any footballer being conversant with progressive rock, although Palace goalkeeper and cult hero Julián Speroni has been known to attend the after-show parties of London heavy-rock outfit Thunder. It may be that somewhere out in Italy one of the players knows something about the genre because it's embedded in the nation’s psyche. I’m quite tempted to get a ticket for a Genoa CFC home game (the oldest club in Italy, founded 7th September 1893) next time I’m in Liguria during the football season: their strip is in the same colours as Crystal Palace and, despite nine championship titles, seem to spend their time oscillating between Serie A and Serie B.


Crystal Palace FC vs Inter Milan - pre-season friendly 270705
Crystal Palace FC vs Inter Milan - pre-season friendly 270705

Those high up in the politics of the game have attempted to make soccer more inclusive, if only to attract corporate sponsors, but I still think songs about football tend to be more rock ‘n’ roll, more Rod Stewart than King Crimson, a music more mainstream than prog, despite Focus’ Hocus Pocus being used by sportswear manufacturer Nike for an advert during the 2010 World Cup. Genesis released an out-take EP of songs that didn’t make it on to Wind and Wuthering in 1977 that included the song Match of the Day, a surprising homage to the beautiful game and an encouragement to spend your Saturday on the terraces. Back in 1973, Peter Gabriel used extensive football metaphors in The Battle of Epping Forest and, to his great credit, held an anti-apartheit festival at Selhurst Park in 1983, but Match of the Day from the Spot the Pigeon EP (its cover sleeve displaying a photo from a spot the ball competition) was a straightforward song about football as lifestyle; Genesis even managed to get in a football reference in Mad Man Moon from A Trick of the Tail “...For a gaol can give you a goal and a goal can find you a role / On a muddy pitch in Newcastle...”


There is a photo of a Pink Floyd FC on the cover of A Nice Pair and a related photo, with cheerleaders, in Nick Mason’s personal history of Pink Floyd, Inside Out. This is dated January 1972 and depicts the team about to take on opponents made up of members from Family.

Rick Wakeman is a confessed football addict. It may have been his influence, but a photo from the Yes biography, Close to the Edge - The Story of Yes by Chris Welch shows Yes United, from 1976. This is likely to have been at the time when soccer was starting to take off in the USA, and Wakeman, along with 10 others, bought the franchise for the Philadelphia Furys. He was instrumental in getting a number of former UK stars to go over to the States, including Alan Ball, Peter Osgood and Johnny Giles. His admiration for Brentford FC, first made public in the booklet that accompanied Fragile, led him to become a director of the club in 1979 for a year though when an Isle of Man resident he seemed to shift his affections to Manchester City. Jon Anderson was also a committed football fan and even went for a trial at his local boyhood club, Accrington Stanley but was turned down because he was too small, though he remained a loyal supporter.


Yes United (photo by Scott Weiner, in Close to the Edge - The Story of Yes)
Yes United (photo by Scott Weiner, in Close to the Edge - The Story of Yes)

I’m an advocate of using sport as a democratic lever, much as I once naively thought progressive rock could contribute towards creating greater peace and understanding throughout the world. Systemic corruption of world football’s governing body was exposed in 2015 but it seems to me that there’s been insufficient change in the stewardship of the organisation since Sepp Blatter’s election run for a fifth term as president was wrecked by the arrests of FIFA executives for the ‘World Cup of fraud’. FIFA pays a low rate of tax in Switzerland due to its Charity status and has also been accused of enabling tax evasion, but it’s in the stands of grounds up and down the country where fans can directly witness the effects of ineffectual governance: the appointment of owners unfit to run a club; pricing many true supporters away from watching their team; the empty corporate seats after half time; and over-rewarding players in an age of austerity. I‘m in favour of the English FA attempting to set up a rival governing body and once Russia was confirmed as host nation for the competition this year, thought that a general boycott of the World Cup (and the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014) might have had some genuine influence over the direction of Russia’s foreign policy. To avoid any charge of hypocrisy, I ought to highlight the UK's role in human rights abuses, clearly set out in a recent report by the parliamentary intelligence and security committee.



However, I’m pleasantly surprised how well the competition has been managed, apparently without intimidation or violence. I’m still concerned that the globalisation of the game and the concomitant awarding of ‘official partners’ and branding rights subverts the democratic running of world football and increases the divide between the players and the fans and I'm desperate for real change.

Prog? I don't think so. Football is stadium rock, corporate rock, not prog.


(Part of this piece was originally posted on ProgBlog as 'Match of the Day' on 13th January 2014)










By ProgBlog, Jun 26 2018 02:59PM



It doesn’t take much to get me on an aeroplane to Italy, but the promise of a good band is an added incentive. The last trip to Milan for the FIM Fiera Internazionale della Musica was primarily about getting to see Anekdoten, something of a coup for the Black Widow Records-organised Prog On evening, with a support slot from La Fabbrica dell’Assoluto whose excellent 1984: L’Ultimo Uomo d’Europa was added to my record collection earlier this year. I’d also been informed that the third band on the bill, Hollowscene, was another amazing symphonic prog band well worth looking out for.


Originally a duo called Banaau formed in 1990 by guitar player Andrea Massimo and keyboard player Lino Cicala, they recruited drummer Davide Quacquarella and bassist player Dino Pantaleo to perform long-form suites inspired by T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men and The Love Story of J Alfred Prufrock and Edgar Allan Poe’s The Conqueror Worm, but didn’t spend any time recording the material. There was a hiatus following the departures of Quacquarella and Pantaleo lasting from the early 90s until 2011 when the pair met again and agreed to continue working on songs written by Massimo during that almost 20 year gap. In 2015 they officially re-emerged as a septet, augmented by Andrea Zani on keyboards, Elton Novara on guitar, Tony Alemanno on bass guitar and bass pedals, Matteo Paparazzo on drums and Demetra Fogazza playing flute and adding vocals, and released a highly-acclaimed 20 minute-long EP The Burial inspired by The Burial of the Dead, the first of five sections of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922).


For their first full-length album, Massimo and Cicala changed the band name to Hollowscene and replaced Novara with guitarist Walter Kesten. The new moniker recalls T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men but is also a play on the current geological era, the Holocene, and could even allude to the general state of music, a hollow scene. Once again, this features a lengthy concept, a five-part suite Broken Coriolanus and the album also includes a reworked version of The Worm, one of their original compositions, plus a cover version of The Moon is Down, a 1971 Gentle Giant song taken from Acquiring the Taste.


‘Broken Coriolanus’ is another T.S. Eliot reference, appearing in line 215 of The Waste Land:


Only at nightfall, aethereal rumours

Revive for a moment a broken Coriolanus


This itself is a reference to Shakespeare’s tragedy Coriolanus, based on the life of the legendary Roman general Caius Marcius Coriolanus who, following military success against uprisings challenging the government of Rome becomes active in politics. A proud, rude but genuine character whose nature, according to Menenius in the play


...is too noble for the world:

He would not flatter Neptune for his trident,

Or Jove for’s power to thunder. His heart’s his mouth:

What his breast forges, that his tongue must vent


Such a temperament made him unsuited to popular leadership and he is quickly deposed but, being true, he sets about trying to right wrongs in his own way and is forced to choose between his pride and his love for his family, ultimately bringing about his sad death.


Through no fault of theirs, Hollowscene’s performance in Milan was disrupted by a change to the published running order and a shortage of time during the soundcheck. I was expecting them to be the second act to play, following Prowlers, allowing them plenty of time to complete the entire Broken Coriolanus suite but they were actually the first band on stage which meant I missed their first track. What I did hear soon dispelled any disappointment because it was first-class symphonic prog that reminded me alternately of Tony Bank’s keyboard work for Genesis and, perhaps because of the double keyboards, occasional jazz phrasing of the guitar and the flute, National Health circa 1978. When they were rather hastily removed from the stage without completing their full scheduled set, presumably to keep the evening running to time, many of the audience were rather disbelieving; I’d just have to wait to get to hear the album.


I picked up a copy of the CD at the gig and the moment you click play it’s obvious that this is a very fine piece of rock progressivo Italiano. First track Welcome to Rome is simultaneously modern-sounding and a classic progressive rock piece. It begins with a fairly brief sinuous synthesizer and guitar line in an uncompromising time signature and gives way to a military rhythm which is very fitting with the theme, just before the vocals begin over harmonic flute lines. You get the immediate impression that it’s an uplifting (welcoming!) song, aided by fluent synth parts, yet there’s a rhythmical complexity underlying the entire piece. All the singing on the album is in well-delivered English. Massimo has a good voice that suits the story-telling requirements of the music; he’s not over-flashy and confines himself to a fairly narrow range, but he sings with a studied confidence. The group have a full, well-balanced sound, both live and on disc, and it’s clear that Genesis, Steve Hackett and Banks in particular, are a major influence.

A Brave Fellow follows in much the same vein; highly melodic, again with the same clean lead guitar which gives way to some excellent synth. A flute passage gives way to emotive piano and vocals, with constantly changing instrumentation and sounds. When the second set of vocals finish, they’re followed by an eerie synth with a staccato rhythm, replaced by organ that harks back to classic 70’s progressivo Italiano; slightly threatening, building gradually towards the denouement.

Traitor is played with a slightly increased tempo. It’s a predominantly vocal piece punctuated by relatively short but tasteful guitar breaks, the second, soaring, more lengthy than the first. That’s not to say there isn’t a great deal going on underneath the singing; there are busy keyboard parts, some strong melodic flute and the contrast of a short burst of more breathy flute.

Slippery Turns is more sedate than the previous track, beginning with more of the emotive piano and vocals before being joined by flute. It departs from the expected with a passage in Japanese from Atsumori, a classical musical drama by Zeami Motokiyo who lived from around the late 14th century to the mid 15th century, narrated by Takehiro Ueki:


Human life lasts only 50 years, Contrast human life with life of Geten, It is but a very dream and illusion. Once they are given life from god, there is no such thing don't perish


Atsumori was a 16 year-old killed in the battle of Ichi-no-Tani in 1184 who is said to have carried a flute into battle, evidence of his peaceful, courtly nature as well as his youthfulness and naïveté. Eliot is believed to have invoked Coriolanus for The Waste Land as an allusion to death in battle.

The tone on the Japanese-spoken section is solemn but gives way to one of Hollowscene’s trademark guitar breaks. Massimo speaks the last section over another staccato rhythm that reminds me of Watcher of the Skies, without the Mellotron, but with some bright synth.

Rage and Sorrow is a mini-epic and, at a little over 13 minutes, the longest track on the CD. The development of the composition takes in the full range of keyboard sounds you’d associate with prog and there’s a really good balance between vocal and instrumental passages. Fogazza takes on shared lead vocal duties at the beginning of the piece, which I thought were reminiscent of Amanda Parsons singing on National Health; a strong, clear, unaffected voice.

A truly dynamic conclusion to the concept, one of the sections that most transports me is an emotive 12 string guitar accompanied by highly melodic flute akin to the classic Genesis sound on Foxtrot or Selling England by the Pound but throughout the track the twin guitars really work well, with nice angular riffs providing a framework for the vocal melody lines.


The Worm commences with an extended passage of gorgeous early Crimson-like flute, floating above picked guitar chords and keyboard washes which I think represents the best of progressive rock. The keyboard line which is introduced prior to the vocals is closer to neo-prog, perhaps reflecting the era in which the song was originally written, demonstrating that Hollowscene aren’t simply attempting to recreate a 70’s vibe but selecting suitable references to make some outstanding modern symphonic prog. The song undergoes a number of tempo changes, injecting a sense of urgency with the use of triplets and even gets quite dark.

Gentle Giant’s The Moon is Down is relatively sparse, containing brief flashes of texture, with phased clarinet, sax and multi-tracked vocals and a relatively urgent instrumental middle section which could be seen as a template for the GG medieval sound; Hollowscene stamp their own form on the song with different instrumentation, beginning the piece with piano and flute but using fuzzed guitar behind the vocals, adding lead synthesizer to their middle section. It’s a nice nod to one of the classic 70s progressive rock bands.



The band have used the same cover image for the Burial EP and Hollowscene, taken by acknowledged master photographer Ernesto Fantozzi in 1961. The photo appears to be a view towards the Via Biscegli in Milan from the west or south west where the frozen ground fits the imagery of Eliot’s opening lines for The Waste Land. This attention to detail reflects the care in which the album has been put together. It’s altogether a really satisfying and very fine piece of work.


Hollowscene by Hollowscene is available on Black Widow Records BWR207









By ProgBlog, May 29 2018 06:10PM

One of my Record Store Day 2018 purchases, that is one of the limited editions specially produced for the occasion rather than one of the albums I happened to buy as I wandered through the stalls set out in Cremona’s Corso Campi on the day itself, was a 40th anniversary edition of UK by UK. My original vinyl pressing of this album is in perfectly good condition and I think it’s a well produced record but I was seduced by the promise of the booklet and intrigued by the idea of an Eddie Jobson re-mastering; I’ve not listened to the original LP for some time so I can’t be certain but I think the individual instruments are more discernible on the new release – it has a nice clarity.



Eight years on from the birth of progressive rock in the form of In the Court of the Crimson King, the genre was getting a little tired and large numbers of the record-buying public were getting tired of prog. Not helped by self-imposed exile from the UK for tax reasons but surely driven by creative burn-out to a great extent, the hiatus between studio albums meant that the three really big players in the field slipped out of the music paper headlines and created a void to be exploited and filled by the standard-bearers for Punk, claiming that the excesses of prog indicated how out-of-touch these bands were.

It wasn’t enough to simply release a ‘best of’ (though Yesterdays, released in 1975 was really my introduction to the first two Yes albums and something I still like.) Following the completion of the British leg of the Relayer tour in May 1975, bar an appearance at the Reading Festival in August that year, there wasn’t another UK appearance by the band until October 1977, though all five members of the group issued a solo album. ELP might be perceived as being the worst offenders, not playing on UK soil for 18 years after their 1st May 1974 show in Liverpool and though they performed in Europe and the USA later in 1974, they were absent from the stage between 21st August 1974 and 24th May 1977 with only a Christmas single (I Believe in Father Christmas, Greg Lake, 1975) and a near-novelty single (Honky Tonk Train Blues, Keith Emerson, 1976) to satisfy their fans. Pink Floyd seemed to have managed fans’ expectations quite well, despite the length of time taken between The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here, then Wish You Were Here and Animals and the lack of live dates, especially in the UK. Between 14th December 1974 and the first Wall show in Los Angeles on February 7th 1980, they undertook a three month long North America tour and then played Knebworth in July 1975, toured Animals around Europe including the UK with dates in London and Stafford and North America between January and July 1977. Two of the members also produced solo albums, David Gilmour and Rick Wright’s Wet Dream.


For my part, I was less satisfied with ELP’s Works Volume 1 and Pink Floyd’s Animals than I had been with their preceding records; Yes’ Going for the One was a radical departure from Relayer but I thought it was still high quality, with Awaken high up in the list of all-time great prog tracks. In the case of the former and the latter, I wasn’t over-impressed with the keyboard tones from the Yamaha GX-1 and Polymoog respectively; Animals featured far less keyboards than Wish You Were Here so that I hesitate to call it progressive rock. By 1977, other acts like Camel, Caravan and Gentle Giant had stopped writing epics and both Caravan and Gentle Giant had begun to lose their appeal to core fans; Focus seemed to have disbanded, having released an uneven album of studio scraps the previous year; and Genesis may have released Seconds Out but this coincided with the departure of Steve Hackett. I thought that the future belonged to jazz rock and bought my first Isotope LP.


Looking back, 1978 started on an exceptionally good note with the release of Bill Bruford’s first LP as a band leader Feels Good to Me and the eponymous debut from National Health, both records being examples of jazz sensibilities mixed with prog leanings which resulted in complex, melodious albums. I think Feels Good to Me has a more experimental feel, thanks to Annette Peacock’s vocals and using flugelhorn in a (broadly) rock context; National Health is more intricate and, in the tradition of the band’s forerunner Hatfield and the North, didn’t take itself too seriously.


A good way to start 1978 - National Health
A good way to start 1978 - National Health

Then came UK.

Following the demise of the trio version of King Crimson in 1974 which took Robert Fripp away from music for a couple of years, Bill Bruford and John Wetton continued their musical education by rotating through a number of different bands. I thought Bruford’s involvement with Gong and National Health were interesting and it was definitely quite pleasing to find him sharing a drum stool with Phil Collins for Genesis’ Trick of the Tail tour, as he appeared to be helping out all the right bands. Wetton’s move to Roxy Music and then Uriah Heep impinged less on my consciousness; I was never really interested in post-Siren Roxy and thought Uriah Heep’s music unadventurous. However, his touring arrangement with Roxy started before King Crimson officially ceased to exist . It was meant to be a temporary measure before Crimson was due to recommence touring, and served to introduce him to Eddie Jobson. The proposed 1977 collaboration between Wetton, Bruford and Rick Wakeman could have been amazing but its failure to get off the ground ultimately resulted in the formation of what was hailed as a ‘supergroup’: UK. Their eponymous debut is a slick progressive rock album with jazz rock styling thanks to Bruford and Holdsworth but the modern sound, courtesy of Jobson, made it seem quite different from long-standing progressive acts and newer groups from that time, like symphonic prog band England; the three-part In the Dead of Night is an indisputable prog classic though it’s only now that I’ve got the 40th anniversary edition, complete with lyrics, that I can distinguish the words. The song writing was mature, involving all the group members, leading to a truly coherent effort where equal weight was afforded to each individual and it’s my belief that this equality, the fluid guitar lines from Holdsworth, the power and precision of the rhythm section along with Jobson’s virtuosity on keyboards and violin, adding a contemporary feel but with a past tied to the early progressive era, that made the record stand out as something with significance for the whole genre, like a new In the Court of the Crimson King.




Jethro Tull’s Heavy Horses was also released in April 1978 and I really like this second offering in the prog-folk trio of albums, with an enhanced palette thanks to the guest violin of Darryl Way, though there was a distinct sense of continuity from Songs from the Wood rather than being something that stood out as unique. My copy of the LP, bought in Barrow, was a swap for King Crimson’s Earthbound which I had just bought but thought was disappointing. Thanks to the staff in Blackshaw’s for sanctioning the exchange.

Steve Hackett released his second solo album Please Don’t Touch which was quite different to 1975’s Voyage of the Acolyte, an album I rate higher than any post-Gabriel Genesis. I found it a bit of a mixed bunch and it’s that lack of consistency that marks it down – it’s not really UK progressive rock. Meanwhile, Hackett’s erstwhile bandmates released the decidedly thin end of the wedge ...And then there were Three... I first got a copy of Please Don’t Touch on cassette in 1981 or 1982 so I could also compare it to the excellent Spectral Mornings (1979); And then there were Three was acquired by a friend shortly after its release and I gave it a couple of listens before giving it the thumbs down. The seeds sown by the second-rate Your Own Special Way in 1976 were bearing a bitter fruit – Genesis could no longer be classed as a progressive rock band. Hackett’s other former colleague Peter Gabriel released the second of his self-titled albums which I don’t think can be called prog, either, though that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. Rather, it was an example of what we might today call post-rock, very much a successor of the first Gabriel solo album. If prog was to wither away, this would provide a reasonable alternative; the highlight has to be Exposure.

Van der Graaf Generator shed an organist, a saxophonist and the ‘Generator’ for 1977’s The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome, becoming more urgent sounding and, despite the excellent lyrics, more basic; it could even have been classed as prog-punk for sheer attitude. Bolstered with an appearance from David Jackson and with Charles Dickie on cello and synth, the group bade farewell (until the 2005 reunion) with a live album Vital. My brother went to see them in Leeds during that tour but it wasn’t until the reformation that I could really appreciate the intensity of the group. When I first saw Hammill performing solo in 1984 it was full-on but in a band context, it was off the scale.

Camel managed to keep one foot firmly in the prog idiom with Echoes and The Sleeper from their ’78 album Breathless but however good the melodies on the other tracks and the bright production, the relative brevity of most tunes makes it seem almost pop-prog descending into funk on Summer Lightning and outright silliness on Down on the Farm. This was another album bought by a friend at the time of its release but I don’t remember listening to it very often; I think we anticipated Peter Bardens’ departure because there appeared to be a tension between chief song-writers Bardens and Latimer, fuelled by an interfering record label, as they moved away from the early, classic Camel sound.

The cracks had not yet appeared in Yes but the cover of Tormato was a hint that all was not well. I bought the album on the day of its release, shortly before heading off to university armed with what I would discover was the best hi-fi in my hall of residence. I also managed to get to see them for the first time that October, in the round at Wembley Arena on the Tormato tour. The album contains some great ideas but the heavy-handed production detracts from the quality of the writing and the lack of a over-arching concept makes it appear devoid of a distinct identity. Taken on its own it doesn’t indicate the end of the golden era of progressive rock but it did suggest that Yes needed to rethink their future plans. The end of progressive rock was most starkly illustrated by Emerson Lake and Palmer with Love Beach. If the image on Tormato was a poor excuse for an album sleeve, the band photo on Love Beach was the antithesis of prog and that, more than anything else, meant I avoided the album until last year, and I only bought it then because it was cheap and I was filling a gap in my record collection. Even taking the best moments of Memoirs of an Officer and a Gentleman into account, it’s a really poor affair, succinctly exposing the true meaning of ‘contractual obligation’.


1978 ended with another National Health album, with a subtly different line-up to the debut but equally as good and, if anything, even more adventurous: Of Queues and Cures. National Health may get lumped in with the rest of prog but though the music conformed to many of the prog traits, the ease with which a substantial number of the musicians fitted into the British jazz and avant-garde scenes made them stand apart. Prog had withered without anyone to grasp the possibilities revealed by UK, whose 1979 follow-up Danger Money was a bit schizophrenic; reduced to a trio the material was a mixture of first-class retro-prog and verse-chorus-verse-chorus FM-friendly tunes played by progressive rock musicians.


The golden era of progressive rock was over.









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