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ProgBlog reflects on the current state of prog metal

By ProgBlog, Feb 4 2019 10:27PM

Whether by conscious choice or directed drift, the latter part of 2018 saw me adopt what the media are calling ‘flexitarianism’. My son had started out on this road towards the end of last year but quickly shifted to a full vegan diet and when he’s invited to dinner, I prepare vegan food for the whole family.


Not yet prepared to give up meat entirely, this casual vegetarianism is an attempt to reduce my carbon footprint by taking a more environmentally sustainable approach to what I eat by consuming less meat. For someone who shuns almost all fast food (I eat supermarket pizza, occasionally go to pizza restaurants, I might have takeaway fish and chips once every couple of months or buy-in an Indian takeaway perhaps twice a year) and is entirely happy in the kitchen, it’s not as onerous as many might imagine. If statistics are to be believed, 26% of Millennials are either vegan or vegetarian and supermarkets, eager to maintain market share, have been quick to produce suitable ranges of ready-to-cook vegan dishes; the fad has also been matched by the availability of varied recipes. I mostly cook from scratch which means it’s fortunate that the Co-op, our nearest supermarket, is one of the better outlets for identifying vegan produce but it’s equally handy that Coughlans, our local bakery chain, has an extensive range of vegan cakes. My first visit to Coughlans with the specific aim of buying an appropriate treat for my son involved an almost conspiratorial approach from another customer, a young woman who asked me if I was vegan like her and her young son; I fear she was a little disappointed with my truthful response that I hadn’t increased the number of vegans in Addiscombe. Rather than go the full extreme, I attempt to eat a balanced diet and if my comparative zoology lectures taught me anything when I was a student, we have the ideal dentition for an omnivorous diet, although I admire anyone who chooses to go vegan for ethical reasons. The recent family skiing holiday to Bardonecchia showed how well veganism has spread; I needn’t have feared that we weren’t going to find suitable foodstuffs to cook on the two hotplates and small oven that served as our apartment kitchenette – Carrefour (which has a supermarket near-monopoly in the resort) carried a wide range of alternatives, including one awarded a ‘product of the year’, for our vegan skier.




The best known examples of prog vegetarians are Yes. It’s well documented that in the early 70s all the members of the band bar Rick Wakeman, along with many of their road crew, stopped eating meat, initially influenced by producer Eddie Offord who was already into health foods. This chimes with the cosmic image of Jon Anderson, the man primarily responsible for the band’s mystically-themed lyrics and concepts which include recurring motifs of environmentalism, pacifism and pantheism. Anderson let his vegetarianism slip, though in a 2006 interview with Howard Stern he spoke of maintaining a healthy diet. In fact it was Steve Howe who was the first of the band to stop eating meat and continues to maintain this stance; In the January 1992 edition of Vegetarian Times he related that the group was in New York during the 1972 Fragile tour when he ordered his last chicken dinner but was unable to eat it.



I’m not sure what the musical equivalent of flexitarianism is, but over the last couple of weeks I’ve allowed myself to be exposed to genres other than symphonic prog and progressivo Italiano, from a Philip Glass CD received as a Christmas present to the protest folk-psyche of Twilight Fields who invited me to listen to their forthcoming release Songs from the Age of Ruin which featured in a recent ProgBlog DISCovery post (their track Prologue: The Ruined City is included on the covermount CD of Prog 95). The lesson is clear, although it’s unlikely to have any environmental impact: it’s good to listen to a wide spectrum of musical genres.




Compared to last year, live prog has not yet featured heavily in my schedule for 2019 but the two events I have attended were not run-of-the-mill gigs. A last-minute decision to see London-based electronica musician Amané Suganami (who performs under the stage name Amane) at Camden Assembly for an event tagged as ‘the spirit of Brian Eno’ was my first ever prog date and the first time I’d gone to a gig with my wife since Chris Rea at Wembley Arena in December 1988! Strictly sticking to Eno’s ambient music with interpretations of Ambient 1: Music for Airports, Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror (with Harold Budd); Ambient 3: Day of Radiance (Laraaji, produced by Eno) and Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks, of which I only recognised An Ending (Ascent) from the latter, this was an enjoyable, well-attended event with a distinctly un-prog demographic, spoiled only by the suggested start time of 7pm – doors were at 7.30 and the performance began at 8pm.



The second event wasn’t really a gig and it wasn’t strictly live; it was Steve Hackett’s At the Edge of Light album preview held at the Everyman cinema in Crystal Palace, a run-through of the record in 5.1 surround sound four days before the official release, organised by Prog Magazine and Inside Out records. I ‘won’ tickets by sending Prog a selfie, holding a copy of Prog 94 with Steve Hackett on the cover, taken in my dining room (photos of the magazine taken in newsagents were disallowed!) I’d been to two King Crimson playbacks in the mid-late 90s for the releases of the Epitaph box set and The Night Watch CDs, both unmissable because they were relatively small gatherings of like-minded fans and featured the assembly of the musicians responsible for the performances but which also included fascinating side events: the offering of home-made cakes (I baked a date and walnut loaf); a Mellotron display; and John Wetton performing a solo acoustic version of Book of Saturday. An even more exclusive gathering, the At the Edge of Light playback was a chance to hear the latest Steve Hackett release before the general public and had the distinct advantage of being held on my doorstep, a short 410 bus journey from home.



When I lived in Crystal Palace/Upper Norwood the former Rialto Cinema, opened in 1928, was being used as a bingo hall. The cinema had shown its last film in 1968 and Gala Bingo, in a restructuring exercise following diminishing profits and questionable financial viability partly blamed on the 2007 ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces, closed the premises sometime around 2009. It was bought by Kingsway International Christian Centre but they failed to gain planning permission for change of use to an evangelical church partly because the development would result in the loss of an important leisure venue, deemed to be "harmful to the social, cultural and economic characteristics of the area." Repurposing as a church also incurred opposition from an active local group, founded in 2010, who campaigned to return the prominent Art Deco building to its original function and so, with the building listed as an asset of social value (ASV) ensuring KICC had no prospect of planning approval, they decided to sell up in 2017.

The building has been lovingly restored and given a new lease of life by Everyman, with the original main auditorium divided up to form four screens. Screen 4, the venue for the playback, seats 75 on plush two-seater sofas and provided a warm, intimate setting for the event. I had wondered why Hackett and the record label had chosen Everyman Crystal Palace but Steve Hackett’s live film Wuthering Nights: Live in Birmingham was given a screening at Everyman King’s Cross on 15th Jan 2018, prior to its official release eleven days later; Marillion’s 2017 Royal Albert Hall concert film was screened at Everyman cinemas around the country in March 2018 prior to the release of the DVD/Blu-ray for home consumption; and Steven Wilson held a pre-release screening of Home Invasion at Everyman King’s Cross last October. There’s a rumour that someone high up in the Everyman organisation is partial to prog...


It’s unclear how many ordinary punters were present, not industry insiders from Inside Out music or Prog magazine or members of the Hackett family (Steve’s wife, Jo; brother and collaborator John; their mother; aunt Betty) but regardless of status we were all treated to a signed card from Steve and some Green & Black’s chocolate. Prog magazine editor Jerry Ewing commenced proceedings with a short introduction, declaring At the Edge of Light the best offering from Hackett for 20 years; he handed over the mic to Hackett who thanked quite a few people present and said a little bit about the music and the guest musicians, and then we settled down to listen.


Having already watched three available YouTube videos and being fully aware of Hackett’s diverse styles through building up a comprehensive library of his recorded output, I wasn’t surprised by any of the material. It’s a natural successor to Night Siren though with a more cohesive sound despite the eclectic mix and, as Ewing suggested, probably his best album for many years. The fact that it’s not all-out prog is one of the album’s strengths, the eclecticism providing an almost commercial level of accessibility but without being ‘commercial’. My least favourite track was Underground Railroad although I do love the story of the inspiration behind the song. It was written following a visit to Wilmington, Delaware, where he found out about the network that helped slaves escape in pre-Civil War America, spearheaded by people like Harriet Tubman; it’s just that I’m not a great fan of the Blues or, however well it’s played, harmonica.

I thought that there were a number of highlights; from the brief opening tune Fallen Walls and Pedestals with its archetypal guitar sound to the prog mini-epic Those Golden Wings to the three numbers forming a kind of suite closing the album, Descent which channels Holst or King Crimson, Conflict, and Peace but the overall quality of song writing on the album is really high, including the infectious prog-pop of The Hungry Years! At times I was reminded of Cured-era Hackett which I think has a distinct overall sound. On completion of the album presentation he remained in the auditorium and chatted to the attendees, graciously posing for selfies with fans.



More than just the music, I admire Hackett’s viewpoint, expressed in both Prog 94 and in his explanation for the album’s title. He described the thread linking the songs as different interpretations of the contrast between light and dark, expressed at its most basic on Beasts in Our Time as good versus evil, but also the more mystical interplay of dark and light magically combining in cultures such as that which provides the heartbeat of India (Shadow and Flame). In summary, Hackett takes a hopeful stance: “In these dangerous times, deep shadows feel even sharper than usual and we find ourselves standing at the edge of light. Ultimately, this album embraces the need for all musical forms and cultures to connect and celebrate the wonder of unity in this divided world."


I think it’s time for us all to go culturally flexitarian.









By ProgBlog, Apr 21 2015 07:53PM

It’s indisputable that progressive rock was a genre of grand concepts from the straightforward interpretation of classic novels (Camel’s Music Inspired by The Snow Goose, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this month for example, based on Paul Gallico’s novella); the search for enlightenment (that’s my personal take on Tales from Topographic Oceans); the stresses of everyday life (Dark Side of the Moon); or allegory (The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.) Though The Gift released Awake and Dreaming in 2006, a project that began in 2003 following the invasion of Iraq by a US-led coalition and which features a multi-part suite concerning the savagery of war, I find it somewhat surprising that during the golden era of prog there wasn’t an entire concept album about the horrors of warfare. I witnessed The Gift perform at the Resonance Festival in Balham last year and was impressed by Mike Morton’s musical depiction of the madness and futility of global conflict – I resigned as a member of the Labour Party because of Iraq.

Folk music was one of the keystones that enabled prog to form but in the UK, it seemed to be folk associated with tradition that informed prog, and this often tended to be dark; it was US folk that evolved into protest music because of both the inequality suffered by large numbers of the country’s own citizens and the prevailing American foreign policy from the 50s onwards. The Peace movement and the counter-culture were directly opposed to the American Dream, its imperialistic tendencies and its consumerism, and the ideals of these dissidents were imported to England when musicians, who acted as agents for change, crossed back and forth across the Atlantic. In this way John Lennon’s Give Peace a Chance became an anthem of the American anti-war movement following the release of the single in 1969 by the Plastic Ono Band.

The Nice used America as a form of protest, getting banned from the Royal Albert Hall in the process, though this wasn’t about combat on foreign soil; they also included the track War and Peace on their first album, The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack but this had started out as a tune called Silver Meter, played when Emerson was a member of the T-Bones. A live show staple, War and Peace was described by one critic as an ‘instrumental which seems to run like a hell-bound train through war inflicted landscapes.’ I sympathise with that view – the song is fairly raw and features some serious Hammond abuse and Davy O’List guitar histrionics.

When Greg Lake joined up with Keith Emerson in ELP, he brought with him some of the hippy ideals of Peter Sinfield. Though In The Court of the Crimson King isn’t an anti-war album, it comes across as anti-totalitarian and in 21st Century Schizoid Man Sinfield’s lyrics clearly point out the evils of contemporary warfare: “Innocents raped with napalm fire”. Though Lake had left Crimson before 1970’s In the Wake of Poseidon he did provide the vocals for the three-part Peace, the ultimate part of which follows The Devil’s Triangle, an instrumental track based on Gustav Holst’s Mars, the Bringer of War; despite a lack of an explicit condemnation of warfare, the final words on the album are “Peace is the end, like death / Of the war.” One of Lake’s defining contributions to the eponymous first Emerson, Lake & Palmer album was the acoustic ballad Lucky Man that though he claimed was written when he was 12 years old, contains imagery that can only have been forged later in his life, painting a picture not just of the futility of acquiring possessions but also the stupidity of war. There are a number of oblique references to war throughout the early ELP albums; one interpretation of Tarkus is that the animal-machine hybrid represents totalitarianism, crushing culture, spirituality and freedom, and technology that has gone out of control (a subject revisited on Karn Evil 9 from Brain Salad Surgery, where Sinfield had been reunited with Lake to provide lyrical ideas.) According to William Neal, who provided the cover artwork, the name ‘Tarkus’ is an amalgamation of Tartarus (gloomy pits of darkness used for punishing angels that sinned, mentioned in 2 Peter 2:4 from the bible) and carcass, indicated by the album title written in bones on the cover. Consequently, he suggests the title track refers to the "futility of war, a man made mess with symbols of mutated destruction" but I think his explanation has been fitted in retrospect; it may reflect his painting but the music and lyrics can be interpreted in a number of ways.

Jon Anderson reprised John Lennon on I’ve Seen All Good People from The Yes Album (1971.) I’m almost ashamed to admit that it wasn’t until I saw Yes playing live that I picked up the words “All we are saying is give peace a chance” during the Anderson-penned Your Move section, some three years after I’d bought the album. My only excuse is that despite the track being a favourite of most fans, it doesn’t actually move me at all; it’s too simplistic, especially the All Good People part. I even prefer A Venture where the bass line is far from conventional. The Yes Album does in fact contain one of the most explicit anti-war songs in the progressive rock canon: Yours is no Disgrace. Jon Anderson has said that the meaning of the song is recognition that those fighting in the Vietnam war had no choice other than to fight, in effect carrying out the orders of a government with policy based on dogma. As the first track on the album it gains added importance for being the first of the long-form Yes songs.

Yes returned to the theme of war with The Gates of Delirium, the side long track from Relayer (1974). It has been said to have been inspired by Tolstoy’s War and Peace which both Anderson and Patrick Moraz had been reading but Anderson has simplified the concept to a battle scene with a prelude, a charge, a victory tune and a peaceful resolution leading to hope for the future; he has further suggested that it wasn’t an explanation of war or a denunciation which makes the piece more descriptive than protest. I love the aggressive feel of the composition, the crashing scrap metal and the strident guitar and keyboards which give the piece a jazz rock edge.

Maybe I’d been looking for the war concept album in the wrong place. Given the political state of Italy in the early 70s and the alignment of most progressivo Italiano with left-wing ideology, it can come as no surprise that there are a number of anti-war songs in the sub-genre, music that I’ve only recently discovered. The first Banco del Mutuo Soccorso album contains the track R.I.P Requiescant In Pace where the music and words conjure a battlefield scene, aptly summed up by author and prog reviewer Andrea Parentin as a bitter reflection of the inhumanity and uselessness of war and glory. Another feature of Italian prog is the number of bands who only ever produced one album. Tuscany based Campo di Marte took their name from a suburb of Firenze and, according to band leader, composer and guitarist Enrico Rosa that name, Field of Mars, allowed them to write lyrics about the stupidity of wars. Their only, self-titled album features a cover depicting Turkish mercenaries inflicting wounds on themselves to demonstrate their strength; the sleeve notes of the 2006 AMS remastered version inform us that the entire composition was arranged with specific purpose of pointing out ‘the absurdity of war and people’s complete impotence at the mercy of violence’. Another one-album group (another self-titled album, too!) was Alphataurus, with a release from 1973 that relates a disturbing dream of the threat of nuclear war but is balanced by the hope that we don’t have to follow that path and we can start over again. The incredible cover painting, a triple gatefold, appears to include a small homage to William Neal – a stegosaurus on caterpillar tracks.



By ProgBlog, Oct 26 2014 09:39PM

The ProgBlog didn’t appear last week due to a combination of circumstances. Firstly, the weekend was taken up with the TUC Britain Needs a Pay Rise march in central London followed immediately by Crystal Palace vs. Chelsea at Selhurst Park, with domestic duties transferred to the Sunday and secondly, because I had writers block.

The ProgBlog is intended to form the basis of a book, A personal Guide to Progressive Rock, should any publisher be willing to take up the idea. After all, Prog magazine has been going for over 5 years and there is a growing library of progressive rock-related literature. I’ve amassed around 60000 words in blog posts and a further 15000 in gig reviews, aiming to write about 1100 words each week. I’ve stuck to this formula pretty well, taking breaks for holidays when necessary and using the holiday experience to form the basis for a post.


The Genesis documentary continues to provoke umbrage amongst prog aficionados. A conversation with brother Richard, who is coming down from Cumbria to London to see Steve Hackett next Saturday, was dismissive of Genesis: Together and Apart because of the lack of input from Hackett and included nothing at all about the guitarist’s extensive solo output. Speaking to Jim Knipe on our way to see West Bromwich Albion vs. Crystal Palace yesterday (Jim is a Baggies fan and when Palace and West Brom manage to be in the same league, we both do the home and away fixtures) he also referred to the TV programme and reiterated his comment posted to the blog that he thought it was outrageous that the band continued to call themselves Genesis when their output in the 80s and beyond was such rubbish. Richard had suggested the next blog should be about when prog bands stopped playing prog; Jim had derided rump Genesis for not being prog...

The golden age of prog ended in 1978 for reasons covered in a number of my posts. Many of the less successful acts simply disbanded but of the major prog bands that continued, Yes changed musical direction following the perfectly acceptable Drama with a modern-sounding rock; an established three-piece Genesis continued to strip their music of complexity and churned out soft-rock; Pink Floyd succumbed to control by Roger Waters and, despite the brilliance of their studio trickery dropped any pretence of symphonic prog and became a run-of-the-mill rock band with lyrics that seemed to attempt to out-snarl the punks, who had themselves largely disappeared; ELP broke up following Love Beach (1978) and made two brief almost reunions as Emerson Lake and Powell in 1985 and 3 (Emerson, Palmer and Robert Berry) in 1988 that didn’t really approach prog territory. The album Emerson Lake and Powell has two tracks running at over 7 minutes and also includes an adaptation of Holst’s Mars, something that Lake had performed when he was in King Crimson, running in at just less than 8 minutes; To the Power of 3 has one 7 minute plus song; following a prog-folk trilogy that ended with Stormwatch in 1979, Jethro Tull also modernised their sound and, in contrast to the stable line-up of the band since 1976’s Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die adopted a policy of changing musicians for subsequent albums. Though originally intended to be an Ian Anderson solo album, A was released under the Tull moniker and with short, contemporary songs (4WD [Low Ratio], Fylingdale Flyer, Protect and Survive) it really wasn’t prog. The Pine Marten’s Jig forms a sonic link to the three preceding albums but the other tracks are stylistically closer to material that appeared on Anderson’s 1983 solo album, Walk into Light. Tull’s 1982 offering, The Broadsword and the Beast featured Walk into Light collaborator Peter-John Vettese on keyboards, strikes me as being closer to Stormwatch that to A because the subject matter is less ‘modern’ and the concept of Beastie is suggestive of folklore. I thought Under Wraps was uninspired and simply disappointing.

The other major act, last seen in 1974 following the famous announcement that King Crimson “had ceased to exist” made a surprise return in 1981. Quite different from previous incarnations and more aligned with art-rock thanks to the inclusion of former Talking Head Adrian Belew, this Crimson, originally testing the water as Discipline, were most definitely prog; different, but certainly prog. It’s deeply ironic that it was King Crimson who returned as standard-bearers for the genre (from the perspective of someone who listens to and buys progressive rock music) as the other main proponents changed to conform with a bland music industry but, as the neo-prog movement briefly burned bright and faded, Crimson also broke up in 1984 after three albums of remarkable originality. A ten year hiatus, during which time prog was re-evaluated and subsequently deemed less toxic than it had been at any time since the mid 70s saw not just the reappearance of King Crimson but also of former acts and an amazing roll call of new bands from all over the world.

The issue of retaining a band’s name has resulted in more than one legal battle. Jim suggests that it’s shameful that Banks, Collins and Rutherford should have continued to call themselves Genesis. Though I agree with this sentiment, bearing in mind that Banks and Rutherford brought in vocalist Ray Wilson for the 1997 Genesis album Calling All Stations that also included drumming provided by US prog royalty, Nick D’Virgilio of Spock’s Beard, Banks and Rutherford were two of the founding members of the band. The Yes saga was resolved with the union of Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe and the Squire-Rabin LA based Yes but, rather like Jim and his issues with the post-Hackett Genesis, I have a problem with the 90125 band taking on the name of Yes. Originally a project that went under the name of Cinema (hence the track Cinema on the album) they only became Yes after the late inclusion of Jon Anderson. The temporary disagreement between Tony Kaye and producer Trevor Horn and subsequent hiring of Eddie Jobson might have put the adoption of the name Yes in (legal) jeopardy but Kaye was brought back into the fold and Jobson, not wanting to share keyboard duties, stood down. I think there’s a qualitative difference between the music pre- and post 90125; Drama, though lacking Anderson and Wakeman, is stylistically similar to the preceding albums and is undoubtedly symphonic prog. 90125, on the other hand, is a very different sonic beast that also demonstrates a shift away from the spiritual and ecological themes that characterised Yes musical territory up to Drama. Jim’s point is that the post-Hackett Genesis is stylistically and thematically divergent from the pastoral symphonic long-form pieces based on mythology that required input from all band members, not least Steve Hackett who had to treat the guitar quite differently from that used in normal rock bands, to make it stand out from the keyboard melodies. Though The Lamb appeared quite different at the time, you can detect motifs originally aired in Selling England and, perhaps more importantly, this was the classic prog Genesis line-up.

The Gilmour-led Pink Floyd ended up in a legal battle with Roger Waters but again, despite the inclusion of founding members Rick Wright and Nick Mason in the Momentary Lapse line-up, Gilmour’s resurrection of the Floyd name should be allowed on the grounds that A Momentary Lapse of Reason is a return to the symphonic prog last expressed on Wish You Were Here. The post-Barrett Floyd were a very different kettle of fish from the whimsy psychedelia that dominates Piper. Wright and Gilmour were together responsible for the more progressive leanings that emerged from the fledgling space rock of Saucerful; Waters seemed to be hooked on simplistic acoustic guitar riffs that are detectable on his solo portion of Ummagumma, through the short tracks on Atom Heart and Meddle and that re-emerge on the tracks Wish You Were Here and Pigs on the Wing, then dominate The Wall, The Final Cut and his first solo album The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking. Despite its success, I don’t really regard The Wall as a genuine Pink Floyd album in a musical sense because of the domination of the ideas of Waters and how the concept was delivered to the rest of the band. The live performance was a wonderful piece of theatrics but it wasn’t prog. I don’t imagine there are too many other people who think like that...


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