ProgBlog

By ProgBlog, Jul 3 2020 07:42PM

By this time of the year in 2019, even with a slow start, I’d seen ten gigs and attended Steve Hackett’s The Edge of Light playback, hosted by the man himself. So far this year I’ve been to two and there’s little hope of adding many more to the tally until the autumn unless travel restrictions from and to the UK are lifted within the next couple of weeks: the Porto Antico Prog Fest is due to take place on July 11th.


It’s good to see Covid-19 lockdown restriction eased where the infection and death rates have dropped to low double figures or lower, provided there are sustainable test, track and trace schemes in place, but the UK isn’t one of them. The economy is being put before lives and it appears to be the same economic model that we were running before the pandemic, based on consumer spending rather than taking the opportunity to green our services and industries. For an all too brief period almost everyone could benefit from improved air quality but rather than applying anti-pollution conditions on loans to industries to tide them over until the crisis had passed, we’ve just returned to business as usual. If someone was candid enough to admit the true reason why opening up car showrooms was one of the first restrictions to be lifted I’d admire them for their honesty but point out that giant factory car parks filled with new petrol- and diesel-engine vehicles is an indication of a huge crisis in the automotive industry, not least because the manufacturers have made more cars than they can shift, and that there is a tangible nervousness in the UK’s £75bn car loan market, where 6.5m vehicles have been financed through leasing deals with monthly payments that are already proving unaffordable for individuals laid-off as a result of the coronavirus situation leaving Britain’s car market resting on billions of pounds of consumer debt.


Physical distancing to reduce the spread of infection has always seemed like a good idea (unless you’re on the right of the Conservative party) but one of the obvious downsides is that keeping a band, the road crew and the entire audience 2 metres apart is incompatible with a sustainable live music industry. The inaugural Music By Numbers report, an economic study by UK Music and its members published in November 2019, revealed that the live music sector made a contribution of £1.1bn to the UK economy in 2018, up 10% from £991m in 2017, and the overall employment in the music industry was at an all-time high of 190,935 so it’s clear that live music, as part of the entertainment and hospitality sector and the last piece of the economy to open, is missed not only by me.


In the absence of live events, there are always live recordings to listen to. I’ve used live albums as an introduction to a number of bands: Barclay James Harvest Live (1974); Genesis Live (1973); Gentle Giant Playing the Fool – the Official Live (1977); Be Bop Deluxe Live! in the Air Age (1977), allowing me to become better acquainted with an artist’s back catalogue. In a similar manner to my preference for buying a group’s albums in their home city, I make an effort to buy concert performances of gigs I’ve attended, should they become available, because it feels as though there’s a stronger bond between myself and the music. So as a lockdown exercise, notwithstanding my presence or absence at a particular concert slated for subsequent release, I thought that I’d examine what makes a great live album, illustrated by a list of my top 10. Factors like recording quality, essential for conveying the musical content; the material present on the release, providing an accurate representation of the band up to the time of the performance; and the relationship between the performers and the audience.


Yes - Progeny: Seven Shows from Seventy-Two (2015)


Progeny: Seven Shows from Seventy-Two
Progeny: Seven Shows from Seventy-Two

I’ve always loved Yessongs (1973) but I’ve never been truly happy with the sound quality. It has so much going for it – the triple gatefold with a series of some of the best Roger Dean illustrations for the band, explaining the narrative begun on Fragile (1971); it captures Yes at their creative peak, despite falling between two classic line-ups, covering all the essential songs that were instrumental in getting them to that point; and the musicians have clearly gelled for the performances, interacting well and playing brilliantly. So when the tapes that made up the source material for Yessongs were discovered and cleaned up for the fourteen discs that make up Progeny: Seven Shows from Seventy-Two (2015) I was blown away. The format of using the exact same set list over the seven pairs of discs may be even stricter than the content of some of the King Crimson box sets but it allows you to trace the sonic evolution of the nine tracks featured from each date; the between-song introductions, the recovery of Anderson’s voice following a bout of influenza, the subtle variations in each piece. All this is possible because of the incredible undertaking by Syd Schwarz, Brian Kehew and a team of engineers to rebalance instruments and voices that were lost in an arena mix. Though the content of Progeny is more limited than Yessongs, Progeny has become my favourite live album because without overdubs, it represents that moment in time when Yes were way ahead of the curve, all presented in a sonically accurate manner.



King Crimson - USA (1975)


USA (three different versions)
USA (three different versions)

Robert Fripp was able to beat the bootleggers, maintain an income stream and remain relevant in a cutthroat industry by releasing archive live material through official DGM channels and also, for material of less good audio quality, the King Crimson Collectors’ Club. Fripp and David Singleton even applied a form of bootleg amnesty to fill gaps where their tapes were lacking. As impressed as I am with the Great Deceiver (1992), The Road to Red (2013) and Starless (2014) box sets, plus the other DGM releases from the different eras of King Crimson, my favourite Crimson live album is USA (1975). I bought this as a student in 1979 – a cut-out from my local store Elpees in Bexley, and it remained something of a treasured possession even after I bought the more complete 30th Anniversary Edition (2004) on CD, and subsequently invested in the 40th Anniversary expanded edition on vinyl. I used to blast USA out of my room at university, posing at the window with my bass; it shows how powerful Crimson were as a live act and the track Asbury Park remains a high water mark in terms of improvisation although the full-length version wasn’t available until 2005 as a download from DGM – I now have the entire piece on the 40th anniversary vinyl edition.



Mahavishnu Orchestra - Between Nothingness and Eternity (1973)


Between Nothingness and Eternity
Between Nothingness and Eternity

Between Nothingness and Eternity represents the first incarnation of the Mahavishnu Orchestra at its most muscular and telepathic best and when I bought it in 1975 I had no idea that the tracks were from a shelved studio album. The quality of the recording, from the Schaefer Music Festival in Central Park, New York on August 18th 1973 is exceptionally good and the material, eventually given a studio release as part of The Lost Trident Sessions (1999), saw the band tilting towards the rock spectrum from their jazz-rock axis, a progressive rock direction. There’s a qualitative difference between Inner Mounting Flame (1971) and Birds of Fire (1972) but the intensity was upped even further on Between Nothingness and Eternity. The CD liner notes from The Lost Trident Sessions suggest that tensions were running high between band members, compounded by constant touring, but the decision to release a live album rather than the slated third studio album, taken because there was no consensus over whether the studio recordings were complete or required overdubs, meant that Between Nothingness and Eternity captured the band, in the words of Jan Hammer, as ‘working on all 12 cylinders.’



The Official Live Gentle Giant - Playing the Fool (1977)


The Official Live Gentle Giant Playing the Fool
The Official Live Gentle Giant Playing the Fool

Playing the Fool is a kind of ‘best of Gentle Giant’ that I first owned on pre-recorded cassette, my first Gentle Giant album. I’d heard In a Glass House (1973) not long after its release when my brother borrowed it from a friend, and was totally impressed by the title track from Free Hand (1975) when that was played on the radio by Alan Freeman – and frequently gawped at the cover of Playing the Fool when browsing in record stores, so I’m unsure why I never bought one of their albums, unless it was (for a prog band) the brevity of the individual songs, until I saw the Playing the Fool cassette at a price I couldn’t resist. I’m also not sure why I bought it on tape, a medium I’ve never particularly favoured, when I’d previously been entranced by what appeared to me as an intricate, complex constellation, the band’s tour route, on the inside of the gatefold sleeve. When I eventually took the plunge, Gentle Giant albums were an uncommon sight in shops, apart from Giant Steps – The First Five Years (1975), a 2LP compilation of the Vertigo produced records which came close to what I was after – but obviously didn’t contain anything from the Chrysalis-issued Free Hand. The arrangements on Playing the Fool are exquisite and the band were at their creative peak, gaining widespread appreciation in the US and mainland Europe but barely registering attention in their native UK. This is only album I’ve ever owned on cassette, CD and vinyl.



Van der Graaf Generator – Real Time (2007)


Real Time
Real Time

Real Time by the reformed Van der Graaf Generator, recorded at the Royal Festival Hall on 6th May 2005 and released in 2007, is documentary evidence of that auspicious occasion. In the sleeve notes Hammill reflects on pondering how it was going to pan out... and I can tell him because I was there: it was incredible. The band were on top form and the choice of material that made up the set was just right, the audience, gathered together from all over the world, were warm and responsive, and the sound was clean and forceful. It was a great gig and is a great live recording of the gig. Van der Graaf’s Vital (1978) is wild and raw, capturing the group in flux between the departures of Hugh Banton and David Jackson and splitting up; the post-Jackson VdGG gigs from this millennium have also been a band that seems to be teetering on the edge of chaos but somehow, the Festival Hall performance in May 2005 contained and channelled a sonic energy that felt like it was pinning me to my seat. The recently released Live at Rockpalast (2020), recorded at the end of the 2005 tour from the Leverkusen jazz festival is another impressive album, but with a truncated set compared to Real Time it lacks the emotional clout of the inaugural performance of the reformed band, even though I have the 3LP set.



Five more live albums for lockdown will appear in part 2

By ProgBlog, Feb 25 2019 09:36PM

My first visit to Amsterdam was as a 20 year old, the first stop on a month-long journey around western Europe by train with university friend Nick Hodgetts, where we attempted to find examples of the cactus Lophophora williamsii on the barges tied up along the canals – archetypal botany student behaviour or an unconscious nod towards Happy Nightmare (Mescaline) from the Focus debut album In and Out of Focus – botanical gardens frequently featured in our itinerary as though we were in some sort of competition to tick off the most jardin botanique in a short time. Perhaps the most striking memory is being caught up in a housing riot, a tale related to a family friend on my second visit to the city earlier this month. What Nick and I witnessed was a flare-up of the Vondelstraat Riots which began on 29th February 1980 and lasted for four days, prompted by the eviction of large numbers of squatters from a building on the corner of Vondelstraat and Eerste Constantijn Huygensstraat. A second episode of violent street protest coincided with the coronation of Queen Beatrix on 30 April and other, smaller outbreaks occurred in August, September and December and into 1981 and 1982. What we saw, quite close up, was a running battle between riot police and youths wearing crash helmets for both disguise and protection from tear gas armed with baseball bats; the police had a strategic advantage as they manoeuvred their barge-mounted water cannon along the canals, so Nick and I retired to an area of safety.


Amsterdam, August 1980
Amsterdam, August 1980

The 24 hours spent in the city in 1980 was perhaps not as much of an eye-opener as you might imagine, even though the basic hotel where we stayed (the Schreierstoren Hotel, named after the 15th century tower which formed part of the medieval city walls, but apparently no longer present at least under that name) was in the middle of the red light district; the area in front of Amsterdam Centraal involved numerous approaches from individuals enquiring if we’d like to buy drugs but my first day in central London as a fresher a couple of years before was no different and, unlike the seedier Soho, Amsterdam’s Walletjes didn’t really have a threatening atmosphere, possibly because it was bright and sunny, appearing more open-to-all touristy.


The opportunity to return, long overdue after an almost 39 year absence, came about as a consequence of FOMO. My wife had visited the city with friends just before Christmas and based on her description of the architecture and various cultural attractions, together with my belief that there was a rich seam of Dutch progressive rock to be found in Amsterdam’s legendary vinyl record shop scene, I signed up for a two-night exploratory weekday visit, with Susan entrusted to act as some form of guide.

Amsterdam isn’t a big city so we didn’t need to be based in a particular location. We chose the museum quarter where there was a suitably comfortable NH hotel in easy reach of Centraal station by a number 24 tram, and because I’d expressed a desire to visit the Rijksmuseum, specifically for its King Crimson connection. Travelling by Eurostar meant there would be no restriction on baggage allowance so I did some forward planning, cross-referencing reviews of prog bands from the Netherlands, compiled a wish list, and packed two canvas bags for vinyl purchases.



Though we had an early start (the 08.16 from St Pancras International, a direct service to Amsterdam) we encountered a problem somewhere between Belgium and Holland and had to be diverted onto a local service route, reaching Amsterdam Centraal 83 minutes late and desperate for a coffee. Despite the delay, we met up with the family friend at a bar near the Opera House at the scheduled rendezvous time and had a pretty awful coffee. Fortunately, our hotel bordered the Pijp district, a bohemian area characterised by Middle Eastern eateries, artisanal craft shops, old school pubs and cafés where, after checking in to the NH and dropping off our luggage, we came across the exceptionally good Locals Coffee on our way to the first of the record shop stops.

Situated on a corner plot, Locals Coffee has a double aspect through large windows, making it bright and airy. The interior was clean and unfussy with contemporary decor; the counter, channelling Rem Koolhaas’ Fondazione Prada in Milano, is a thing of beauty! Even before stepping inside I was attracted by the sign in the door 'baristas wanted', suggesting that they were serious about coffee. It's really not easy to find a decent espresso-based coffee in mainland Europe outside of Italy but the friendly and helpful staff were all trained to a high standard and produced consistent high quality espressos and cappuccinos. They use Italian roasted beans (Buscaglione of Rome), and their model of espresso machine was the one I was trained on. We made it our local coffee shop, stopping in a couple of times each day, taking time to sample the cakes (excellent) and the pancakes (ditto!)



The local record store, Record Mania (Ferdinand Bolstraat 30) turned out to be another great find where, over two visits I ticked off the top two albums on my hit-list, Glory of the Inner Force (1975) and Beyond Expression (1976) by Finch along with more from my list: Marks (Alquin, 1972); At the Rainbow (Focus, 1973); Royal Bed Bouncer (Kayak, 1975); To the Highest Bidder (Supersister, 1971); plus a couple not on my list which I couldn’t resist, Introspection 2 by Thijs van Leer (1975) because it was in perfect condition, in the €2 bin, and In a Glass House by Gentle Giant (1973), which I’ve wanted on vinyl for some time. This really is a must-visit for anyone into music; well-stocked, friendly and helpful.

There wasn’t much time to seek out other stores before closing time but I did manage to rootle through the bins in Record Palace (Weteringschans 33A) as the owner was bringing in his stock from the pavement for the night. Opened in 1988 and considered to be the vinyl shop of Amsterdam, the Netherlands rock section was quite small but there was a section dedicated to progressivo Italiano which contained a few albums I was tempted by. Feeling a little under pressure as the clock edged towards 6pm, I came out empty-handed, the Supersister compilation being in too poor condition to warrant purchase.


Record Mania, Amsterdam
Record Mania, Amsterdam

As with all our family city breaks, the trip had to include activities for everyone so the next morning, following a hotel buffet breakfast and a coffee at Locals, we made our way towards Anne Frank House starting from the south-westerly edge of the Museumplein with another King Crimson reference, the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, past the modern art Stedelijk museum and the Van Gogh museum (saved for another trip), past the Rijksmuseum (saved for later), and past the not-yet-open Second Life Music (Prinsengracht 366). Tickets for Anne Frank House are timed and are only obtained online, though this wasn’t clear from our 2019 guidebook or leaflets from the I Amsterdam tourist information; we had (incorrectly) assumed that getting tickets on the door for a pre-lunchtime visit on a Tuesday in early February was going to be simple and straightforward, so our plan for the day was adapted according to circumstance. Watery sunlight had begun to break through the cloud so we took the opportunity to be real tourists, crossing the IJ by ferry and ascending the A’DAM tower to the Lookout and the Over the Edge swing. This formed one of the a modern architecture sessions of the visit – the former Toren Overhoeks was a modernist icon designed by Arthur Staal (completed in 1971) and the regeneration of the Overhoeks district now includes the angular EYE Film Institute (Delugan Meissl Associated Architects, 2012), a building that rather fittingly appears to be in motion.



We were attempting to take in as much of the city as possible by foot, and as I didn’t have any recollection of the Oude Kerk, Amsterdam’s oldest building, founded in the early 13th century, I considered it a must-see. It’s located in the red light district which, thanks to the efforts of the city council who direct visitors to museums and bars and other attractions, appeared quite sanitised. With time getting on and the Begijnhof, the next stop on the agenda beckoning, I skipped Redlight Records (Oudekerksplein 26) but found Records and Books (Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 371), a shop that had been on my list, closed. To compensate I was allowed to visit Waxwell Records (Gasthuismolensteeg 8) which I’d also singled out as a potential cornucopia for prog, and it was. I came out with another Dutch classic Mountain Queen (Alquin, 1973) and added to my UK-centric vinyl collection with Free Hand (Gentle Giant, 1975); Out in the Sun (Patrick Moraz, 1977); Sorcerer OST (Tangerine Dream, 1977); and World Record (Van der Graaf Generator, 1976). I’d recommend it for its range of stock and the helpfulness of the staff.



I made a lightning visit to the Rijksmuseum on Wednesday morning, arriving not long after opening and beating the crowds. The building, originally designed by Pierre Cuypers in the late 19th century underwent modern but sympathetic redevelopment by Spanish architects Cruz y Ortiz alongside French architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte and restoration architect Van Hoogevest, between 2003 and 2013. With an ‘All the Rembrandts’ exhibition opening two days later, the museum was in the final stages of preparation but the painting I’d gone to see, Rembrandt’s Night Watch (1642), was accessible. It's rightly a world-famous canvas but most importantly from a prog point of view, a track from King Crimson’s Starless and Bible Black, originally recorded in the Concertgebouw but largely over-dubbed because of a malfunction with David Cross’ Mellotron during the live performance.



Day three was also a modern architecture day, specifically featuring Renzo Piano’s NEMO Science Museum (opened 1997) which provided panoramas of the city from its rooftop. The return to the hotel to pick up our luggage was planned to include some gift shopping and, on the same canal-side street, Second Life Music. This was too cluttered for my liking and though there was a section for Netherlands rock, most categories were randomly scattered and, due to the piles of records, sometimes inaccessible. It would be nice to recommend the shop but the two members of staff behind the counter were both deep in conversation with a customer or friend so that it was difficult to speak to them or get served. I took a punt on Ton Scherpenzeel’s Le Carnaval des Animaux (1978), in perfect condition, for €7.


And so our rather successful Amsterdam trip ended. While in Waxwell discussing the remarkable number of record shops in the city, I was informed that the population of Amsterdam is a little over 820000 people, with numbers swelled by tourists (6.7 million foreign hotel-booked tourists in 2017) and that there might be some people who would say there were too many record shops... Not me. I’ve still got the early Kayak albums to look out for and, if it ever resurfaces, Present from Nancy by Supersister. I’ll be back.







By ProgBlog, Nov 19 2018 02:31PM



Contrary to my previous pronouncements about the availability of prog in Venice, I can now reveal that there is a relatively new record store in the city, Living in the Past, Sestiere Dorsoduro 3474, 30123 Venezia, and it’s pretty good. Venice was where I first made a conscious effort to collect Italian prog, in 2005, when there were two shops to choose from. My diary from that particular trip reveals that sometime after lunch on Wednesday 13th July, the second day of the holiday (my wife’s first time in Venice), we began winding our way back towards San Marco via the side streets of Dorsoduro, a slow but purposeful journey in the afternoon heat. Anyone familiar with the city will appreciate how you find yourself doubling back on your tracks as you seek a bridge over a canal so that what looks like a straightforward journey on a map devoid of detail is in fact fiendishly complex. I maintain that undertaking adventures through Venice’s maze-like alleys is the best way to explore the unique city, where you come across well-known tourist spots and less recognised gems by accident. That particular trek resulted in the discovery of what looked like prog heaven, despite its name: Discoland, a music shop with all manner of progressive rock CDs in the window, including the entire 2005 re-mastered catalogue of Van der Graaf Generator; Egg; King Crimson; Gentle Giant; Steve Hackett and more... but it was closed for lunch! A quick check of the time revealed that the store was due to reopen in 15 minutes so I popped into the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition in the Chiesa di San Barnaba until the shop owner returned, late. I asked if he had any Italian prog, but he said no. Rooting around did reveal that he had a couple of CDs by The Trip so I picked out Caronte, reissued in a cardboard sleeve, the first Egg album, and The Least we can do is Wave to Each Other, H to He, Pawn Hearts and Godbluff from the VdGG selection.


Though considered a classic progressivo Italiano record, I’m not actually such a great fan of Caronte (1971), a concept album based on the ferryman character Charon from Dante’s Divine Comedy who initially objects to taking Aeneas, a living man, on his boat; Charon is re-interpreted by The Trip as a metaphor for conformity. It’s steeped with psyche/blues characteristic of proto-prog, so comes across as more Iron Butterfly than The Nice. The Trip were actually founded in London in 1966 and included Ritchie Blackmore on guitar but the future Deep Purple guitarist had departed before the arrival of Joe Vescovi, whose keyboard style, influenced by Keith Emerson, is the best feature of the band. The other Venice music shop was Parole & Musica in the Castello Sestiere where I bought an early PFM live compilation The Beginning 1971-1972 Italian Tour. A day trip to Treviso on that 2005 holiday also involved finding a record shop where I bought Concerto Grosso n.1 and 2 by New Trolls, the very disappointing Donna Plautilla by Banco, and an album I’d really wanted to buy in Venice itself, Contrappunti by Le Orme, because that was where the band formed. Originally a beat group, they underwent some personnel changes and then released what many regard to be the first RPI album, Collage, in 1971. I managed to get to see the current incarnation earlier this year in Brescia with David Cross as a guest musician. The album that I most associate with the city is actually Le Orme’s Florian, released in 1979, named after Caffè Florian, alleged to be the oldest establishment of its kind in Europe, dating from 1720 and located under the Procuratie Nuove in piazza San Marco. A two-year hiatus following 1977’s Storia o Leggenda allowed the group to prepare for what seemed like a radical departure from progressive rock, where the electronic instrumentation was replaced with acoustic and early instruments. The result is still recognisable as Orme (they dropped the definite article from their name for the release) even though it should more correctly be referred to as chamber music or chamber prog; the original idea is said to have come from keyboard player Tony Pagliuca who realised that audiences were turning away from prog but didn’t want to subscribe to the mediocrity of commercial pop. The pieces on the album are effectively a protest against destructive economic forces within the music industry and those in the wider world choking other aspects of Italian culture. The lack of a record shop on the island(s) meant I had to look elsewhere for a copy, eventually finding the CD in Vicenza’s Saxophone record store on a day trip out from Venice in 2014; I found a second-hand vinyl copy earlier this year, on Record Store Day, on a stall in Cremona.



I spent a couple of days in Venice during the summer of 1980 on a month-long Interrail trip, staying on Giudecca in a youth hostel, and was blown away by the city. During that stay PFM were playing somewhere in Mestre but I didn’t have the wherewithal to organise getting to see them. On 15th July 1989 Pink Floyd famously played on a barge floating in the Grand Canal, nearing the end of the Momentary Lapse of Reason tour. This was broadcast live on Italian TV and precise timing restrictions meant that some songs had to be curtailed before their natural ending. I recorded this performance when it was shown on UK TV but that disappeared in a clear out of VHS tapes years ago – it’s now available as an unofficial DVD release Pink Floyd ‎– Pazzia & Passione - Live In Venice '89 from Room 101 Entertainment.

The closest I ever got to live prog in Venice was seeing the construction of a stage for Peter Gabriel playing an open air concert in piazza San Marco in 2007; we were staying less than 50m away in the Albergo San Marco but our flight back to the UK was a matter of hours before the performance – apparently Signal to Noise and Washing of the Water were played at the sound check in the early afternoon, where Gabriel acknowledged the fans who had begun to gather around the square after realising that he was present on stage. If that had happened in the last couple of years I’d have found accommodation for an extra night and bought a flight for the following day.






Despite the presence of Living in the Past and the historic connection of Le Orme to the city, Venice doesn’t really appear to have much of a connection with the modern prog scene apart from being somewhere bands like to perform – King Crimson finishing their mainland continental European tour with two dates at the end of July this year at Teatro La Fenice, for example. The ubiquitous newsstands of Italian cities, normally packed full of journals and periodicals, handy for picking up copies of Prog Italia and maybe the DeAgostini classic rock progressivo 180g vinyl reissues, are filled with tourist tat in Venice. Last year my wife found a copy of Prog Italia on Lido for me but there was nothing on any newsstand in any of the main Sestiere this year, or in any of the larger Tabacchi.


Apart from the basic accommodation on Giudecca, I’ve previously only stayed at hotels close to the piazza San Marco when visiting Venice. This trip was a departure from that norm, splashing out on an NH hotel in Dorsoduro abutting neighbouring Santa Croce, an area largely tourist-free but filled with students; there are two universities in the area, Università Ca’ Foscari and IUAV, the architecture school, contributing to the really good vibe. There’s a relative paucity of Venetian gothic and a noticeable presence of more modern architecture, which may explain the lack of visitor interest despite its proximity to the cruise ship terminal, Santa Lucia station and the bus terminus, one of only two places where cars are allowed (the other being Lido) but there are still dozens of friendly restaurants and bars where an Aperol spritz is half the price you pay in London. It wasn’t supposed to be a prog trip – we’d gone for the Architecture Biennale – but there does seem to be more than a passing link between architecture and prog, beginning with the early years of Pink Floyd at Regent Street Polytechnic.


However far removed from modern prog, the city is still able to turn up references to the genre in some of the oddest places. Hats Off Gentlemen it’s Adequate have just released a new CD, Out of Mind which includes the track De Humani Corporis Fabrica, named after Andreas Vesalius' treatise on human anatomy from 1543 which challenged the prevailing doctrine proposed by the Greek physician Galen in the second century AD. I’m a particular fan of the song because it features some of Kathryn Thomas’ gorgeous flute and also includes a passage in 13/4 time, so when I came across the Mario Botta Architects’ installation in the Corderie at the Arsenale, a tactile, circular timber structure where the work of students was presented as tabernacle-like architectural research, I was amazed to find a section labelled De Humani Corporis Fabrica!


Like all cities Venice continues to change. Living in the Past was previously a second hand bookstore but was revamped in 2017 as a shop selling books and second-hand vinyl. There’s a decent selection of Italian prog along with a good selection of international prog and classic rock. Handily, it was a five minute walk from the hotel where we were staying and though I didn’t imagine that I’d find any records on this trip, I still had my cotton LP bag to hand for my purchases: Par les Fils de Mandrin by Ange and David Gilmour’s About Face, an album I’ve never physically owned in any format but once had a tape recorded from a friend’s LP. The shop is certainly a welcome addition to the Venetian landscape, a retail gem amongst some of the most stunning architecture in the world.








By ProgBlog, Oct 18 2018 07:02PM

I’ve just finished reading Will Romano’s analysis Close to the Edge: How Yes’s Masterpiece Defined Prog Rock (Backbeat Books, 2017) which deals in the minutiae of how the album came to be made, with input from many of the participants, both musical and non-musical. Apart from being a really enjoyable read for a fanatic like me, i.e. someone who believes Close to the Edge is not only the definitive progressive rock album but also the best album, ever, it touches on the impact the record had on other musicians and some (American) celebrities, and raises the question of inter-band rivalry.



The idea of ‘rivalry’ between the original cohort of progressive rock bands is something I originally thought about not long after discovering the genre in 1972 after hearing Close to the Edge for the first time, though in the context of fan affiliation. The Nice were the second band I listened to, who by that stage had already been disbanded for two years, followed by Pink Floyd and Emerson Lake & Palmer and then hosts of others. At some time in the early 70s I must have read that Hawkwind fans didn’t like Yes music (though I’ve never believed Hawkwind were a progressive rock band) and, from a personal perspective, I don’t appear to have had any inclination to listen to Genesis, based on some non-specific prejudice or resentment, until one of my friends bought a copy of the compilation LP Charisma Keyboards (released April 1974) which included the Nursery Cryme track The Fountain of Salmacis; then I was hooked. This sudden appreciation of Genesis also allowed me to view the entire genre as something inclusive with myriad bands all bringing something of value to the progressive rock world.


With two showman-like stars in Rick Wakeman and Keith Emerson, the music papers of the time gossiped about Yes-ELP rivalry which at the time I interpreted as a suggestion of enmity. Will Romano covers this in his book but the two keyboard players themselves have elsewhere written about and discussed their friendship, with Wakeman explaining how the two used to lunch together and laugh about their perceived competitiveness, with fans debating which of them was the better. The explanation put to Romano by Emerson was that any success of Yes would spur ELP on to greater things, whether that was song concepts or live sound. Wakeman has pointed out that the two friends came from different stylistic backgrounds, Wakeman himself from classical and Emerson from jazz, so that any ‘who is the best?’ argument boils down to the listener’s preferred style. In the October edition of Prog magazine (Prog 91), Emerson pips Wakeman in a readers’ poll for the best keyboard player...


It was fairly evident, even to a naive youth in 1972 or 73, that intra-band relationships could involve enough tension to tear the band apart; this probably being when I came across the risible term ‘creative differences’ for the first time. A review of the history of Yes, even at that moment in the early 70s, was enough to demonstrate the Machiavellian designs of certain band members intent on reaching their personal goals at whatever cost. I would come to realise that this behaviour wasn’t restricted to Yes, though later versions of the group could be equally brutal; it was sometimes difficult to discern whether ego or musical direction was a cause of conflict. On the other hand, gifted musicians left groups for perfectly understandable reasons like illness, stage-fright or an inability to reconcile family life with constant touring. However, it seemed to me that the overall scene was one of relative stability: Bruford had already left Yes when Close to the Edge was released; Pink Floyd had long put the dropping of Syd Barrett behind them and whatever personality differences were simmering under the surface wouldn’t rise until the end of the decade; the ELP juggernaut rolled on; Genesis had formed the classic quintet and were yet to begin shedding members; Gentle Giant had a settled line-up; Jethro Tull also had a settled line-up. Focus may not have been the most stable of bands, with a rhythm section that was frequently reinventing itself, and there were seismic changes in the pre-Larks’ Tongues in Aspic King Crimson, played out before I got into them, but the one glaring exception to the seeming constancy of the movement, at least among those represented by the music that I owned or listened to, was the flux within the Canterbury scene.


Soft Machinery - from Pete Frame's first volume of Rock Family Trees
Soft Machinery - from Pete Frame's first volume of Rock Family Trees

From a progressive rock fan’s point of view, the first major upheaval I felt was Wakeman leaving Yes for a solo career in 1974 and his eventual replacement, Patrick Moraz, breaking up Refugee. Their eponymous debut, one of my top five albums of all time, came out three months before Wakeman’s split and based on the quality of Refugee, I could only rue the loss of such a promising musical force. With the decommissioning of the 60’s – 70’s King Crimson in 1974 and the self-imposed temporary withdrawal of Yes, ELP and Pink Floyd from the scene in 1975, a number of musicians were left to occupy themselves outside of a group context, some releasing solo material with assistance from quite diverse sources. That meant that any rivalry that may have existed disappeared in an atmosphere of collaboration.


Friendships were formed when bands toured with one another and it wasn’t terribly unusual to come across a fellow act paying in the same city while touring; mutual respect between musicians is frequently quoted in biographies, creating a network of potential players for a ‘solo’ work. I mapped this network, based on musicians featured on albums in my record collection from the late 60s through the 70s and including two from the 80s, for a short article ‘What is Progressive rock?’ which accompanied a self-compiled 2CD set presented to a friend who was rediscovering prog in 2004. Though hardly comprehensive, it did indicate that even within a narrow range of groups, there was a healthy degree of interconnectedness.


Prog connections - in its original colours!
Prog connections - in its original colours!

I’ve not attempted to update or redraw this chart because the post-millennium revival of prog has resulted in an explosion of new bands, the reformation of old bands (sometimes with an extensive cast of new talent) and even instances where the assistance of an established musician is enlisted to help out with a less well-established act (João Felipe’s Amber Foil project enlisted the help of Manuel Cordoso, formerly of premier Portuguese 70’s symphonic prog band Tantra, who added guitar parts and produced the An Invitation EP.) Also, the original chart only covered three non-UK bands, Focus and Trace (Netherlands) and PFM (Italy). Any new review of the information would have to include more Italian bands to reflect my growing collection of progressivo Italiano, which I have recently discovered have their own extensive networks. There’s even a series of ‘supergroups’ with their own identity though they exist simultaneously with the groups that act as the main vehicle for the individual musicians.


The swelling number of connections between groups has to be due primarily to the increase in numbers of album releases and the additional bands that have appeared in the last 45 years, but the interest in the genre following a period when ‘prog’ was a dirty word seems to have had an unexpected positive effect, bolstered by Prog magazine and books from people like Will Romano, allowing the movement to become a large, happy family, almost encouraging bands to offer guest appearance slots to other musicians. This extended family idea, where guesting on different albums or joining a touring band, possibly in addition to being in their own group, facilitates earning a living as a professional musician. The days of the multimillion-selling prog album are over, along with self-imposed tax exile status, a huge advance for the next release and limitless studio time, so unless there’s another income stream, even if that means playing in the backing band for some pop act, it’s unlikely that music alone can pay the bills.


To challenge myself, I've begun the October ProgBlog album playlist based on the notion of interconnectedness. I've chosen direct connections between artists on a particular release, using an artist once only for a link to another album. For example, Patrick Moraz’s i features Jeff Berlin on bass, so the next album in the sequence also features Berlin and the next link is through a different musician on that record. This exercise predominantly features 70’s music but some of the LPs covered are from more recent incarnations of 70’s bands. The results will be available for scrutiny at the beginning of November...







By ProgBlog, Sep 24 2018 03:48PM

The weekend starting on Friday 14th September was rather busy. After finishing work at 5pm I arranged to meet family for a meal at Canonbury Kitchen, conveniently located close to Highbury and Islington station and the Union Chapel where I’d got tickets to see Gryphon’s album launch gig for ReInvention, their first studio album for 41 years. For anyone requiring a pre-Union Chapel gig meal, Canonbury Kitchen is a modern, informal Italian restaurant with exposed brickwork and high ceilings that’s been around since 2010, offering both traditional and contemporary cooking at competitive prices and with very friendly and attentive staff – it comes with a ProgBlog recommendation. My brother Richard was the only other one of the family attending Gryphon and he didn’t know what to expect, either from the music or the venue itself.


There was no queue outside the chapel when we approached, about 15 minutes after the doors opened (unlike for Tangerine Dream earlier this year where there was a human chain snaking around the block) but the pews in the central seating block were almost entirely filled or reserved with articles of clothing while their owners frequented the bar. After a brief stop at the merchandise stand for a copy of ReInvention (currently only available on CD) and an ‘Ashes’ T-shirt, with lyrics from the penultimate track on the new album, we took our place close to the front in the pews to the right of centre. Richard was impressed with the setting, but who wouldn’t be? I saw the band at the Holy Trinity Church in Claygate in March this year and thought that was a fitting venue, despite the secular style of Gryphon’s music; however, the Union Chapel is something else, a unique architectural gem.



The present building dates from 1876, when the foundation stone for a design by architect James Cubitt was laid. Cubitt had some renown as a designer of non-conformist churches and based his design for the Union Chapel on the medieval cathedral of Santa Fosca on the Venetian island of Torcello, proclaiming that he wanted to “step out of the enchanted circle of habit and precedent... ...to break through the tyranny of custom.” The chapel was inaugurated in 1877, but the spire, part of the original plan, was subject to delays over cost and work on a modified design didn’t commence until 1881, eventually reaching completion in 1889. The incumbent minister responsible for the rebuild, Dr Henry Allon, expressed a desire to put music at the heart of the new chapel and the magnificent rose window, with its angels playing musical instruments, is a reminder of those wishes which continue to hold true.



What we got was a performance of almost all of the new album, plus early favourites Kemp’s Jig, Estampie, The Unquiet Grave, The Astrologer and a medley of material from Red Queen to Gryphon Three; back in March they had only played a couple of new tracks, one of which was Rhubarb Crumhorn. The other difference between the Claygate Musical Festival and Union Chapel performances was that bassist Rory McFarlane was temporarily unable to play so his part was taken by Rob Levy. I think the new material is more closely related to the first album, despite a couple of songs being written for, but not making it onto, Raindance which were re-recorded for the ReInvention.

The main attraction of the band’s music to fans of progressive rock, apart from the incredible musicianship, was surely the dense textures created by Richard Harvey’s ever-expanding keyboard set-up that included some distinctly non-early musical instruments. Of course prog-heads weren’t averse to medieval instrumentation which also formed an integral part of the Gentle Giant sound, and even the whimsy and humour, a constant strand running through Gryphon song titles, fitted in with a prevailing appreciation for Monty Python’s Flying Circus. I just think that the band’s trajectory, from Gryphon (1973) to Treason (1977) was in an ever-more (progressive) rock direction, leaving behind the early music and folk adaptations that had, to a greater extent, made them stand out. If I were to make one criticism of the self-penned 70s material from Midnight Mushrumps onwards, it would be that there wasn’t always a satisfactory resolution to their pieces even though Red Queen to Gryphon Three remains my favourite Gryphon album; I think that some of the compositions lose their way. On the other hand, the first album and ReInvention include music that sticks more closely to a song format with distinct beginnings, middles and ends, like The Unquiet Grave, a traditional tune with a haunting, other-worldly bassoon section and an agreeable ending or even instrumental Hampton Caught from the new release. Part of the reason for this return to early music form must be down to multi-instrumentalist Graham Preskett who first appeared with the band in 2009. With quite a few song-writing credits to his name on ReInvention, his use of violin and mandolin, and a hefty dose of harpsichord patch have pulled the ensemble’s sound back in a more folk-rock direction. Richard did comment that he thought it might have been a bit more rock-y and was surprised that Graeme Taylor didn’t use his Telecaster very much.


Their sound was fairly well balanced from our seating position and though the performance seemed looser than at Claygate where they played more of the full Gryphon repertoire, the clear individual instrumental lines demonstrated the complexity of the music. The one song that didn’t quite work, possibly because of the frequent switches between keyboards and woodwind, was The Euphrates Connection and I was a little disappointed with Hospitality At A Price...(Dennis) Anyone For? – a throwback to 1920’s music that could serve as a sequel to Le Cambrioleur est dans le Mouchoir from Raindance.


The between-song banter, an alleged democratic endeavour shared equally between the members while allowing Brian Gulland and Andy Findon to change instruments, was apparently undermined by humorous interjections from their colleagues. However, we were given to understand that percussionist David Oberlé was dissatisfied with the characters he’d been chose to voice: the serving girl in The Astrologer and the Aged Man in Haddock’s Eyes, amidst suggestions of type-casting! We listened to the CD on Saturday, a beautifully produced album that must have caused huge technical problems getting the right levels for such an array of instruments, and where The Euphrates Connection works perfectly.

Gryphon continue to carve out their own niche with a blend of early music and modern. The crumhorn may be their USP but I’m personally in favour of more bassoon in progressive rock – it has such a beautiful tone – and Gulland’s quotations from Over the Rainbow, Chattanooga Choo-Choo and other well known melodies during Estampie is a great crowd-pleaser. It was a very enjoyable gig and it’s a great CD. Unfortunately for me the vinyl is on its way so I’m going to have to buy that, too!










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