ProgBlog

By ProgBlog, Jul 8 2020 09:42PM

Live albums for lockdown (part 2)

While a live album can’t compare with being physically present at a gig, the best of them are able to convey a sense of outstanding music frozen in time; this is what the band were performing at that moment, this is how good they were live. In the absence of live concerts, video performances and live albums are all that are available to us to attempt to connect with the feeling live music conveys. This is the second part of ProgBlog’s list of favourite live albums, for lockdown or anytime



Camel - A Live Record (1978)



I got into Camel in 1975 after hearing Music Inspired by the Snow Goose, an album I believe to be one of the finest orchestrated rock albums of all time thanks to David Bedford’s intelligent arrangements. One of my best friends had copies of both Rain Dances (1977) and A Live Record and it was a bit of a mystery why there wasn’t more of the (then) recently released Rain Dances on the live set, though the sumptuous Royal Albert Hall performance of Snow Goose took up half the 2LP the space for more of the latest album was limited by the inclusion of a collection of some of their most memorable tracks from their back catalogue up to that time. I used to have a copy of the original-length album on CD before it was replaced with the 2002 remastered and expanded edition, which provided an even better potted history of the band; I always felt the subsequent albums up until Harbour of Tears (1996) were driven more by commercial interests than musical, though that’s not to say there was no decent material produced after Rain Dances, and Pressure Points: Live in Concert (1984) was a decent live portrayal of the more modern Camel repertoire. A Live Record features a version of Skylines, one of the most highly rated tracks from Rain Dances, captured from their performance at Leeds University on October 3rd 1977 – I wasn't there but I’d encouraged my brother who was studying at Leeds to attend – but taken as a whole A Live Record presents Camel at their melodic best.



Genesis - Live (1973)



As an introduction to (early) Genesis, Live really hit the spot. My copy of the LP is a cut-out distributed by Canadian imprint Buddah Records, bought in Leeds in 1976, though I added the 1994 CD some years later. I don’t remember if I’d heard The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974) at the time - which was my brother’s first Genesis album – but I do remember discussing The Lamb when it was toured with a school friend who managed to get to see it performed live in Newcastle, and being impressed with the story of Rael. On reflection, it’s easy to chart the path from Foxtrot (1972) to the almost punk-attitude Lamb via Selling England by the Pound (1973); Selling England is pivotal in the development of Genesis band because it marks Tony Banks’ first use of the ARP synthesizer and his distinctive lead synth lines. This means Live, recorded in February 1973 and released in July that year as a stop-gap while Selling England was being recorded, marks the end of an era.

The sound quality isn’t the best, prompting Peter Gabriel to point out that the recordings were done quickly without much regard to the sound, but it’s an inspired collection of their early material in a live setting. Issued as a single LP, it’s rumoured that a few 2LP promo versions were pressed, including a version of Supper’s Ready from the Leicester performance that made up the bulk of the material. It’s also noteworthy for Gabriel’s ‘tube train’ story, which was almost reason enough for buying the album. Seconds Out (1977) is a decent cut which also marks the end of an era with the departure of Steve Hackett during mixing, but the conciseness of Live is an advantage - and got me into Genesis.



Premiata Forneria Marconi – Cook (1974)



Cook was my introduction not just to PFM, but to the sub-genre of progressivo italiano, and is therefore probably the record that has had the most profound effect on my life after Close to the Edge. While I can’t remember exactly how PFM came across our radar I know I saw their performance on BBC TV series The Old Grey Whistle Test, and Alan Freeman must have played them on his Saturday afternoon radio show. Cook was the first of their records that I bought but I was also listening to Photos of Ghosts, Chocolate Kings and Jet Lag, blown away by the musicianship and intrigued by the Italian take on prog. What was also interesting was the revelation that there was a ‘really first Italian album… …sung in Italian’, as the live introduction to Dove… Quando…, a personal favourite, informed us. It would take more than 30 years for me to get my hands on a CD copy of Storia di un Minuto and a further 12 before I bought a copy on vinyl. I also owned the Italian version of Cook, Live in USA, on CD before it became redundant following the 2010 3CD Cook reissue, where discs two and three feature the entire Schaefer Music Festival performance from Central Park.

I’ve been fortunate enough to see PFM live on three occasions, plus original bassist Giorgio Piazza once, where the set list was predominately selected from the first three Italian releases plus the first two English-language counterparts. Cook represents a snapshot of early PFM that set me off on a long road of discovery involving a large number of Italian cities, for which I’ll forever be grateful.



Caravan – Live at Fairfield Halls, 1974 (2002)



I didn’t really get into Caravan until the early 80s, when I first heard Nine Feet Underground. I’d bought Better by Far (1977) on cassette a couple of years earlier but was seriously unimpressed, and could barely remember For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night (1973), which I’d heard around the time of its release. Prompted by Dave Sinclair’s side-long masterpiece I bought the Canterbury Tales compilation 2LP from 1976, an excellent introduction to their early material. Tucked away on side 1 of Canterbury Tales is a live version of Can't Be Long Now / Francoise / For Richard / Warlock, from September 1st 1974, part of a Croydon gig recorded for promotional reasons for an upcoming tour of the US.

I’d been quite happy with my CD copy of Caravan & The New Symphonia, a single LP recorded live with orchestra at Drury Lane and originally released in 1973, but when Decca began to reissue expanded CDs from the Caravan back catalogue in the early 2000s, the entire Croydon concert tapes were discovered. I love this album because it’s got a great set list, the sound is incredibly good (the Fairfield Halls are noted for the excellent acoustics), and because I live in Croydon. A 2LP vinyl version had been issued by Terry King’s Kingdom Records in France, The Best of Caravan Live (1980) but this went under the radar because most people thought it was a budget compilation – it would be brilliant if Decca could sanction a vinyl release.



Pink Floyd – Live at Pompeii (1972)



Both The Delicate Sound of Thunder (1988) and Pulse (1995) are well-recorded live albums but they contain material from The Wall which doesn’t particularly interest me. I am, however, a fan of the live half of Ummagumma (1969) where Pink Floyd demonstrated why they were the premier space rock band on the four classic early tracks Astronomy Domine, Careful with that Axe, Eugene, Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun, and A Saucerful of Secrets. It could be considered cheating to include Live at Pompeii in a list of live albums because my version is an audio recording of the 2002 DVD, played on a PC with Dolby sound and recorded on a laptop using WavePad sound editing software, rather than the official release on disc 2 of Obfusc/ation 1972 (2017) which doesn’t include Mademoiselle Nobs, but this 1971 recording with the audience made up of the road and film crews captures the group as they shift decisively towards prog. Three of Ummagumma’s live tracks are represented (the best three) and these are supplemented with Meddle material, the throwaway Mademoiselle Nobs, One of these Days, and the epic Echoes. The Pompeii film was an early favourite of mine, and I remember the long queue outside the cinema where it was showing, wondering if I’d get in to see it - and Pompeii was a 'must visit' on my first trip around Italy as a student. If live albums represent music frozen in time, then Pompeii is history frozen in time. The site is atmospheric and moving, so it's no surprise that David Gilmour returened to perform in the amphitheatre, with an enthusiastic crowd, 45 years after Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii.



It’s interesting to note, reading through my thoughts above, that my favourite live albums with the exception of Real Time, all feature recordings made during the first wave of progressive rock. It’s not that I don’t possess any recent live albums – my three-drummers King Crimson collection may not be complete but it is substantial; I’m also the proud owner of a copy of Topographic Drama and Steve Hackett’s Genesis Revisited Live at Hammersmith but once again, with the exception of some King Crimson pieces, all the compositions are from the golden age of prog. Real Time itself is made up from 70’s material and two tracks from 2005’s Present.

One explanation for this is familiarity. In part 1 I explained that I sometimes bought live albums as an introduction to a particular group but I’m also both more used to the earlier material and more appreciative of it; more recent concerts are likely to contain more modern material that I don’t think is as good as the output during the 70s, and with more music to choose from it becomes harder to please me because some of my earlier favourites will get dropped from the set list. It’s important for a band to reinterpret their music for a live setting, something King Crimson were at pains to point out during their 50th anniversary tour, but personnel changes inevitably bring about different arrangements. From the ten albums I’ve listed not one of the bands, if they’re still active, has the same current line-up; fewer members, different personnel, or an expanded line-up.

A short, finite list invariably means some of my highly-regarded live albums have not been covered, but I didn’t have to think too hard about which albums to choose. It’s unlikely anyone else would pick this same ten, because there are thousands of live recordings, each with a special bond to its audience. And in the absence of live music, we need something to keep us going.



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, 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, Jun 11 2018 01:43PM



The resurgence of prog in the 90s was in no small part down to two seminal Swedish bands, Änglagård and Anekdoten. Änglagård’s Hybris (1992) was on my wish list for a couple of years before I managed to get hold of a reissued CD in 2014 for a sensible price from a stall at the Prog Résiste festival in Soignies, when up until that point the CD was selling for in excess of £30 on Amazon, but I first bought Anekdoten’s Vemod (1993) as a download in 2010 having read somewhere that the album sounded like King Crimson would have done had they not ‘ceased to exist’ after Red, due to their use of Mellotron; the album title, which roughly translates to ‘melancholy’, is very fitting. Wheel would have fitted very nicely on Red, especially as it includes cornet played by guest musician Pär Ekström.

I managed to see Änglagård on their first ever UK performance at the Resonance Festival later in 2014, something of a coup for the organisers of the event, and was more than impressed, subsequently being given Epilog (1995) and 2014’s Prog på Svenska - Live in Japan as presents. My wife traditionally asks if there’s any music she can get me on her annual New York trip, so on the occasion a month after buying the download, I asked her to look out for a physical copy of Vemod. Unable to locate a copy in a record store-depleted Manhattan, she phoned me from the States to tell me the bad news but that she had seen Anekdoten‘s 2009 2CD compilation Chapters and asked would I like that instead? I said yes. I then added Nucleus (1995) to my wish list and that arrived as a Christmas present in 2011. I’m attracted to the density and darkness of the music, and fully agree with the imagined post-Red King Crimson theory, so when Massimo Gasperini, the owner of Black Widow Records in Genoa contacted me to say he’d signed up Anekdoten to headline his Prog On evening at the FIM Fiera della Musica in Milan, it proved difficult to resist.




My experience of the FIM Fiera was in 2014, one of three times it was held in Genoa, where the line-up of bands for the prog stage over three days was really stellar, indicating the importance of the city for Italian prog. In 2016 and 2017 the Fiera was held in Erba (near Como) due to redevelopment of Genoa’s exhibition site and landed in Milan, at the Piazza città di Lombardia (the largest covered square in Europe) this year, with Prog On and other more formal presentations held in the adjacent Auditorium Testori.



This being a family trip, I’d identified a couple of other nearby cities to visit, to tick off more medieval squares and interesting churches, but the day of our arrival was dedicated to Milan. We wandered off towards the FIM venue via the Porta Nuova development, just to see what was around, immediately coming across the Black Widow Records stand where Massimo pointed out the one drawback with the piazza – June sunlight streaming in through the glass canopy and no shade. He then gave me a preview of the Auditorium Testori where ex-PFM guitarist Franco Mussida was giving a lecture to local schoolchildren, Cos'è davvero la Musica? (What really is music?); education in all aspects of music was a major part of the theme this year and Mussida, born in Milan in 1947, founded the CPM Music Institute in 1984, an organisation that offers 400 different programmes in music from certified instrumental courses to journalism to studio techniques.




It’s impossible to visit Black Widow Records, wherever it pops up, and not buy anything. I couldn’t say no to an LP I’d been interested in since I’d seen it had been re-issued by BTF earlier this year: a vinyl copy of Concerto delle Mente, the only release by Pholas Dactylus from 1973. I also bought re-issued vinyl copies of Museo Rosenbach’s Zarathustra (1973) and the pre-Goblin Cherry Five (1975) by Cherry Five and picked up the just-released Broken Coriolanus by Hollowscene (formerly Banaau) who were on the Prog On bill.

The day of the gig was mostly spent in Pavia, a short train journey away from Milan though I popped into Libraccio, the book and record store next to our hotel to buy Maxophone’s La Fabbrica delle Nuvole from 2017 and a Record Store Day picture disc of Tormato by Yes. We had lunch in Pavia’s Piazza della Vittoria looking out at the Broletto, the 13th Century town hall, then wandered off in search of Matrix Music only to find it had recently moved, to within 50m of where we’d had lunch, right by the cathedral. They were still unpacking and stacking when we visited and, because it’s getting ever more difficult to find progressivo Italiano that I don’t already own, I only bought a copy of King Crimson’s Live in Vienna CD from earlier this year.


Back in Milan, I set out to the FIM Fiera after a bite to eat and headed for the Black Widow stall, correctly believing that I might be able to find a copy of Vemod on vinyl but also buying the recently-released Rings of Earthly... Live CD by Ancient Veil. I couldn’t find anywhere to buy the album on-line but the band is on the Black Widow label and Black Widow were promoters of the two gigs at Genoa’s La Claque where the performances were recorded; my applause features throughout this release because I was present at both of those concerts.

While hanging around Black Widow I was introduced to another Genovese band, Fungus Family, whose music sits somewhere between the prog and psyche camps and relies on improvisation then, just as we were chatting en route to the beer tent, I bumped into Mauro Serpe and Giorgio Boleto, respectively the vocalist/flautist and bassist from Panther & C. Deep in conversation with Fungus Family about their forthcoming album and an unannounced change in running order meant that I missed some of Hollowscene’s set but what I heard was impressive – some nice Tony Banks-like synth runs and some moments of complexity akin to National Health. Prowlers, hailing from nearby Bergamo, have had a stop-start career and have been releasing music since 1994. Their Prog On performance featured songs from last year’s Navigli Riflessi but, apart from their last song which had sections in 7/4, they didn’t really conform to prog and the performance lacked dynamism. This was disappointing when you consider that in the past they recorded versions of Camel’s First Light and ELP’s The Sage for tribute albums. The contrast with La Fabbrica dell’Assoluto, on next, couldn’t have been greater. Plying their brand of heavy, high energy prog tinged with psychedelia and utilising a vast array of keyboard patches, the passion associated with RPI was forcefully clear; apart from drummer Michele Ricciardi they even dressed up in boiler suits to perform, a humorous reference to the band name. Witnessing them play live made me think of Museo Rosenbach, something I’d not really detected while listening to the record 1984: L’Ultimo uomo d’Europa. I spoke to the band at the end of the evening to congratulate them on an excellent set and, like all the other members of Italy’s prog community I’ve met, they were really easy-going and a pleasure to chat to.



Anekdoten have recently expanded to a five piece with the addition of British guitarist Marty Willson-Piper, best known for his work with Australian band The Church, but who was a guest on Anekdoten’s 2015 album Until All the Ghosts are Gone, and his playing adds even more depth to the sound. Communicating largely in English, the audience was reminded that 2018 was the 25th anniversary of Vemod so we were treated to not just a good proportion of the album, but Anna Sofi Dahlberg also played cello, something they’d not used live for some time. Though there’s a progression from foreboding, brooding dark prog to almost Radiohead-like post-rock through the albums, with each subsequent release involving a subtle change, I still prefer Vemod to the others when many commentators see Nucleus as their definitive release as it includes more mature writing than its predecessor, so I was very happy with the set list. The Rickenbacker bass, seemingly something of a staple in Scandinavian bands, provided by Jan Erik Liljeström along with the drumming of Peter Nordins are equally as important as Nicklas Barker’s angular guitar lines played over Dahlberg’s Mellotron (which was under-mixed for the first couple of songs) in defining the band’s sound. I personally prefer Liljeström’s singing to Barker’s because it complements the plaintive lyrics, much like John Wetton on Fallen Angel. Willson-Piper’s guitar provided extra density (if that’s possible) but he also helped out on percussion duties when his guitar was not required, and generally served as a source of energy propelling the ensemble onwards. My favourite moments were The Old Man and the Sea and Karelia but it was an all-round excellent performance; a major triumph for Massimo Gasperini (who was thanked by the band) and well worth the trip to Milan.



I was also very pleasantly surprised to see prog-fixer Marina Montobbio who had made the trip across from Genoa. Slipping easily between Italian, French and English she was involved in highlighting Plongée au coeur du rock progressif italien by Louis de Ny, a French book about Italian prog, and trying to persuade me to attend the 2 Days of Prog + 1 Festival in Veruno in September.

Fortunately it was only a short walk back to the hotel so I managed to get a decent night’s sleep despite an early start the next day: a trip to Bologna. This was mainly for the architecture because the record stores were all closed, and to see if it was worth a longer visit (it is.) Our flight home on Monday was late in the evening, the last flight out of Malpensa which meant we had time to explore some more. Monza was about the right distance away so we spent a full afternoon there. Though quite pleasant, I wouldn’t have recommended anyone making a special trip there if we hadn’t visited Carillon Dischi. A fifteen minute walk away from the centre under humid June skies, Carillon is another of the brilliant record shops that you find in small Italian cities; walls lined with classic rock and prog posters, plenty of vinyl and CDs including some rarities, a good range of memorabilia, plus a friendly, helpful and knowledgeable owner, Massimo. Browsing was restricted by train times, otherwise I’d have listened to some first US tour live King Crimson, I bought Un Biglietto del Tram by Storm Six (1975), something I’ve been after for a few months and an In the Court of the Crimson King T-shirt. I’d return to Milan any time and Monza really isn't out of the way...









By ProgBlog, May 22 2018 06:20PM



With an ever expanding selection of progressivo Italiano on vinyl and CD (vinyl, either new or second hand being my preferred choice) and a library of Prog Italia magazines plus a set of Italian texts on progressive rock, I seem to have found my niche obsessive compulsive disorder. The listening and reading material is sourced on the family trips to Italy, which means I’ve also amassed a substantial digital image collection taken at all the stops I’ve ever made around the country; the Trenitalia app is one of the most used apps I have on my phone. It gets worse: I’ve even imported coffee beans from a small artisan roaster in Venice, Torrefaziano Cannaregio, which I’d recommend to any coffee drinker who finds themselves in the city. Perhaps I’m subconsciously working towards citizenship for when the UK plunges out of the EU...



I was aware of a ‘Little Venice’ region of London, so-called because it’s centred on the conjunction of the Grand Union and Regent’s canals, having started a year-long post-graduate course in Biomedical Sciences immediately after commencing work at the South London Blood Transfusion Centre. One day each week I’d travel from Streatham up through central London, by bicycle in good weather, to Paddington College, an establishment close to the canals and waterways of Little Venice that taught the mysteries of hospital laboratory science. However, it wasn’t until very recently that I discovered London’s Little Italy, on a family outing to the Postal Museum, recently shortlisted for the Art Fund Museum of the Year award – the museum opened the former Mail Rail 610mm narrow gauge railway system to the public last summer.

Desperate for a decent coffee on a cold Easter Sunday, by chance we came upon Terroni of Clerkenwell, which turned out to be the oldest Italian delicatessen in England, not just London, having been established by Luigi Terroni in 1878. Before the influx of (mostly) southern Italians the area bounded by Clerkenwell Road, Farringdon Road and Rosebery Avenue was known as Saffron Hill but subsequently became Italian Hill or the Italian Quarter, before Italians from the north of the country migrated to England and settled in Soho. Terroni’s was busy but we were still able to get a seat at a table, then shortly after our coffees and selection of cannoli had arrived, a huge queue formed at the counter as families poured out of the church next door, the grade II* listed St Peter of all Nations - conceived in 1845 by St Vincent Pallotti, designed by Irish architect Sir John Miller-Bryson modelled on the Basilica of San Crisogonoin in the Trastevere district of Rome, and consecrated in 1863.


Little Italy was transplanted to Islington last week, as Italy’s best-known progressive rock export checked in to play one night at the O2 Academy. It was suggested by Peter Sinfield, who provided the first English lyrics for the band and produced Photos of Ghosts (1973), that non-native Italians wouldn’t understand the group’s name Premiata Forneria Marconi (the first-class Marconi bakery, where the band rehearsed) and that they should call themselves PFM. Drummer Franz di Cioccio explained to Will Romano (in Mountains Come Out of the Sky, Backbeat Books, 2010) that this didn’t really work out at the time because the band members became a bit tired of everyone asking what the initials P.F.M. stood for! It’s interesting that the band name on releases after their signing to Manticore/Asylum Records are a bit schizophrenic: the cover of Photos of Ghosts includes both the full name on the front and the acronym in the form of a recognisable logo on the back but both 1974’s L’Isola di Niente and English version The World Became the World use the band’s full name; Live in U.S.A. (Italian release) uses only the band’s full name whereas Cook (UK/US release) uses PFM; the Italian version of Chocolate Kings (1975) has a large ‘PFM’ at the top and ‘Premiata Forneria Marconi’ in small font at the bottom of the front cover but the chocolate bar pop art of the UK/US release only uses PFM; my Manticore printed Jet Lag LP uses PFM but my Italian CD (on Sony) with its subtly different paper aeroplane cover, has PFM and includes the full name in small text. Even the releases from 2013’s In Classic onwards vary in their use of their full title; this was the first album to feature a consistent logo, utilised through the ‘re-imagined’ albums up to and including last year’s Emotional Tattoos.


I finally managed to get to see them at Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa last year and was really pleased that the set was primarily comprised of early material. They’ve been touring ever since and added two UK dates to their itinerary; the London show, and one in Southampton. I’d never been to the O2 Academy Islington before, in any of its former guises, but it’s easily accessed from Angel tube station and there’s a pub selling decent beer and food just over the road, The York. On arrival in the hall, a standing-only venue, the first thing to strike you was the noise from the air conditioning unit, so that when Andy Tillison appeared for his solo support slot, from my position the machinery could be heard above his keyboard and vocals. Though I’ve been following prog for over 45 years and Tillison has been playing prog for around 40 years, I’ve not knowingly come across the music of Parallel or 90 Degrees or The Tangent, though I’ve seen articles about the man himself and The Tangent in Prog magazine. Three of the four songs he played, The Music that Died Alone (a Tangent song from their debut album of the same name in 2003), Blues for Lear (from The Time Capsule by Parallel or 90 Degrees, 1998) and the debut performance of Sanctuary in Music, were primarily blues-jazz but the other song was a very interesting instrumental along the lines of early Tangerine Dream. He didn’t provide us with the title of this piece, explaining that it meant ‘progressive rock’ in German, as though his pronunciation would upset the guests from his German record label. He’s not got a bad voice and his keyboard playing was quite impressive, but what came across most of all was that his heart is in the right place; Sanctuary in Music reflected on religious fanaticism and the prohibition of music. The other nice bit of between-song banter was a tale of buying PFM’s Per un Amico from a record store in Florence when he was 13 or 14 years old, asking for some progressive rock and being told it was the only kind of music they sold! It was quite evident he was really honoured to be the opening act for the Italians.




It’s hardly surprising, this being a continuation of the Emotional Tattoos tour, that the set list was very similar to that I’d seen in Genoa. They began with Il Regno, the opening track from Emotional Tattoos (in Italian) and then performed a string of early classics: Four Holes in the Ground (from The World Became the World); Photos of Ghosts; Il Banchetto (from Per un Amico but which also appears on Photos of Ghosts), then four of the iconic tracks from their debut album Storia di un Minuto (1972): Dove... Quando... part 1 and part 2; La Carrozza di Hans; and Impressioni di Settembre. They returned to Emotional Tattoos with a song that kind of linked to Tillison’s Sanctuary in Music, La Danza degli Specchi and followed that with the instrumental Freedom Square, a song that harks back to the classic period of the band in the mid 70s.

This is where this concert deviated from the material performed on the Italian leg of the tour. There had been an intermission at this point in Genoa, restarting with Quartiere Generale and the little-known in the UK Maestro della Voce from the 1980 album Suonare Suonare; Islington was treated to Promenade the Puzzle (from Photos of Ghosts) and, from an album unrepresented in Genoa, Harlequin from Chocolate Kings. I think the UK got the best deal!

Though Franz Di Cioccio, the only remaining original member of the band, is indisputably the leader of PFM, Patrick Djivas is a long-term member and is put on equal footing to Di Cioccio. It fell to Djivas to point out the importance of classical composers to PFM music and joked that though they didn’t have an orchestra on stage they were still able to play Romeo e Giulietta: Danza dei Cavalieri which had been covered on their 2013 PFM: In Classic album. This neatly set the stage for Mr. Nine Till Five appended with Five Till Nine including their crowd-pleasing interpretation of Rossini’s William Tell Overture. It was no surprise that the encore was Celebration (from Photos of Ghosts) which included a playful drum duel between Di Cioccio and Roberto Gualdi.


One of the other differences from last November’s gig was that Di Cioccio spent more time behind his drum kit and left most of the vocals from early PFM material to Alberto Bravin, though when he did sing he displayed the same level of energy as he had done last year. I was a bit surprised to find the sound at the O2 better balanced than at Carlo Felice with its impeccable acoustics; Alessandro Scaglione’s keyboards were nice and distinct and utilised some authentic-sounding patches and you could hear how good Marco Sfogli’s technique was as you watched his fretwork. The only technical hitch was during Il Regno when Lucio Fabbri couldn’t get his violin amplification to work but one of the roadies eventually did something to an effects pedal and everything was OK for the rest of the performance.


This was probably the gig of the year so far for me, and I enjoyed it more than the Teatro Carlo Felice show. The standing audience and the ability to get close to the stage helped the atmosphere – the boarded-over orchestra pit in Genoa made the septet seem quite far away, even when Di Cioccio ran around in the empty space – but the London set list was better suited to a UK audience and the playing was out of this world. During the show it dawned on me that La Carrozza di Hans strongly reflects the original PFM influences, with fast stop-start breaks reminiscent of 21st Century Schizoid Man, a track they used to play at the beginning of their career, and that the old material was full of counterpoint which is less evident on Emotional Tattoos.


It was good to see a number of Italians in the audience (far more than there were Brits in Genoa!) and with the entire venue filled with appreciation for the band and their music, a small corner of Islington was turned into Little Italy for one night.




Grazie London! Grazie PFM!
Grazie London! Grazie PFM!

(Photo from the Offical PFM Facebook page)



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