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, May 13 2019 10:31PM

I have a soft spot for the Barrett-era Floyd, where the psychedelic whimsy found on The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is tinged with a darker edge, and for those of us who weren’t able to see this version of the band play live, there are recorded hints of Pink Floyd as sonic pioneers in Astronomy Domine and Interstellar Overdrive – the vanguard of space rock. Having bought Relics around the same time as acquiring Dark Side of the Moon, my next Floyd purchase, within a week of its release, was A Nice Pair. I may have heard bootlegs of Atom Heart, Meddle and Dark Side but at that time I was more familiar with their earlier oeuvre and as much entranced by the gatefold sleeve of A Nice Pair and Nick Mason’s architectural sketch for the cover of Relics as I was of Dark Side’s prisms.


A Nice Pair
A Nice Pair

By the time I first got to see the Floyd play live they’d dropped almost all intimation of their progressive rock sound even though the scope and realisation of The Wall shows was totally incredible. The 1988 Momentary Lapse of Reason show I saw at Wembley Stadium concentrated on Dark Side, Wish You Were Here, The Wall and their current release and while 1994’s Division Bell tour included dates where they played One of These Days or Astronomy Domine, it was only the former that featured on the leg of the tour when I got to see them on October 14th, the earliest piece of music that I’d seen them play.


I went to see early-Floyd tribute act Ummagummaa who played at Croydon’s Ashcroft Theatre in May 2004 because, being a proponent of music in local venues, I thought it would have been churlish to miss it. Ultimately, I came away disappointed and vowed never to watch a tribute band ever again. This was a bit unfair on the group, who weren’t bad musicians and rather than play the material note-perfect, which is possibly what I was expecting having never attended a gig like that before, they improvised around the song themes which was entirely in keeping with live early Pink Floyd; I wasn’t too sure about the vocals which didn’t sound like any of the original members but it may have been the inclusion of songs like If and San Tropez in the set that most concerned me, straying from my personal viewpoint as to what conformed to ‘early’ Floyd, despite playing undisputed classics like Astronomy Domine, Careful with that Axe Eugene, A Saucerful of Secrets, Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun, One of These Days, Echoes and finishing with Arnold Layne and See Emily Play. They even had an appropriate ‘liquid light show’ to provide an accurate reminder of the period.



(Early) Pink Floyd tribute act Ummagummaa, Croydon May 2004
(Early) Pink Floyd tribute act Ummagummaa, Croydon May 2004

I stupidly turned down the opportunity to see Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets on their opening tour, unwilling to join the on-line ticket queue and pay what I thought was rather a lot of money to stand and watch a band that included an ex-member of Spandau Ballet. I reconsidered for the current leg of the tour, reasoning that £50 for a seat at the Roundhouse wasn’t too bad and the chance to see one original band member performing this material was actually too good to miss. I must have become aware of the Chalk Farm Roundhouse from browsing music weeklies in the mid 70s but it’s unlikely I made the connection to the Pink Floyd story until sometime later, including its significance to the beginnings of UK counterculture; the first cultural use of the Roundhouse was as the venue for the launch party of the International Times (IT) in October 1966, a multi-media all-night rave and happening billed as a ‘pop-op-costume-masque-drag ball’, featuring performances from Pink Floyd and Soft Machine plus screenings of films and poetry readings; the Roundhouse and early Floyd are intrinsically connected.


poster for International Times launch party
poster for International Times launch party

Built between 1846-7 for the London and North Western Railway by Branson & Gwyther as a building for turning round railway engines, the Roundhouse has been recognised as a notable example of mid-19th century railway architecture and was listed in 1954, amended to Grade II* in January 1999, then declared a National Heritage Site in 2010. 24 cast-iron Doric columns arranged around the original locomotive spaces support a conical slate roof and the columns are braced with a framework of curved ribs, imbuing the internal space with a distinctive industrial Victoriana. The recent refurbishment respects the structure while making it fit for purpose as an events venue – it was my ‘venue of the year’ in the 2018 Prog magazine readers’ poll.


The Roundhouse, May 2019
The Roundhouse, May 2019

I have mixed feelings about the gig. On the one hand I was pleased to be there to see Nick Mason’s ensemble in that particular setting because of its historical rock and sociological relevance; on the other I was seated in a better position than for the Portico Quartet performance last year but I thought the sound was not nearly as good, and it didn’t appear to have been too good on the main floor either, demonstrated by loud crowd murmurings when Mason was making an inaudible announcement between songs; at times it was difficult to hear Dom Beken’s keyboards, an essential part of the early Floyd sound. I also thought they weren’t very tight as a unit even though Mason’s drumming sounded as good as I’d ever heard it. I was possibly expecting a tone of naivety in the vocals, but neither guitarist Gary Kemp or Lee Harris, nor bassist Guy Pratt did wonderment and this detracted from the earliest songs. That’s not to say I disapproved of the treatment of See Emily Play or Lucifer Sam and I fully appreciated their version of Vegetable Man, written by Barrett in 1967 and originally scheduled as a B side to putative single Scream Thy Last Scream which was never released; it was finally officially put out on The Early Years (1965-1972) in 2016. It may actually have been the brevity of the majority of pieces they played that I found too strange to handle, along with the interpretation of ‘early’ Pink Floyd. My favourites from the evening tended to be longer material; opener Interstellar Overdrive, Astronomy Domine, One of These Days, Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun, A Saucerful of Secrets, the excerpt from Atom Heart Mother; what I wasn’t too keen on, and I have to stress this is personal opinion, was the inclusion of If from Atom Heart Mother which bookended the title track, Fearless from Meddle and the Obscured by Clouds songs, all of which are low down in my listening priority and, as the writing partnership between Gilmour and Wright evolved and Waters was developing a distinct style, don’t conform to what I would describe as early-sounding.


Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets, Roundhouse 3/5/19
Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets, Roundhouse 3/5/19

Ticket for Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets, Roundhouse 3/5/19
Ticket for Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets, Roundhouse 3/5/19

Apart from providing Floyd enthusiasts with material that’s unlikely to be played by any current or former member of Pink Floyd ever again, Mason is currently presenting a nine-part series for BBC radio: A History of Music and Technology, https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w27vq4h7 Produced in association with the Open University, it’s something on which his role in Pink Floyd has bestowed the appropriate qualifications. He also has an excellent voice for radio and the programme, which charts a history of the innovations which have shaped popular music, should be compulsory listening for anyone into prog. Episode 1: The Story of Sound Recording related the attempts to capture sound, from an oral tradition to Edison’s phonograph and it’s replacement by the gramophone, from vinyl to magnetic tape and eventually the CD, driven by cost and convenience rather than the quality of the technology. Episode 2: Electronic Music Pioneers may have covered some of the material from Robert Berry’s The Music of the Future (Repeater Books, 2016), a quest to find today’s musical futurists, but I found it totally fascinating; Thaddeus Cahill’s Telharmonium from 1896 which is not only believed to be the first electromechanical musical instrument but it could also be considered to be the precursor of streaming, sending a signal through wires which were translated into music through large paper cones acting as a form of primitive loudspeaker. There was some good coverage of the Theremin, an instrument that may have defined science fiction soundtracks but still features in the current prog scene. The ondes Martenot (1928) came about when Maurice Martenot exploited the overlap in tones generated by military oscillators, producing a cello-like sound. The instrument he devised was touted around European conservatoires and features in over 100 classical music compositions; George Jenny’s ondioline was a cheaper version of the ondes Martenot which began production in Paris around 1940 and became destined for a more commercial market thanks to the talents of former medical student Jean Jacques Perrey who released the seminal Prelude au Sommeil in 1958, allegedly as a form of sonic tranquilizer for patients in mental hospitals; the hymnal music incorporated minimalist motifs that were later developed by Philip Glass and Terry Riley and could be considered the first ambient music.




Touching on musique concrète and tape manipulation, on Raymond Scott’s automatic music machines which played sequences of differently arranged patterns, the programme reminded us that though we might think electronic music is relatively recent, it’s now well over 100 years since the first electronic instruments appeared. The next episodes cover the electric guitar and the Hammond organ. Well worth a listen.








By ProgBlog, Oct 30 2016 08:16PM

I’ve just spent an enjoyable couple of days in Genova and the surrounding area, escaping the early morning mist and fog covering the south east of England for the pleasantly warm, sunny skies of the north west of Italy, all in the name of prog.

The idea for an October trip to Genova dates back to a hint by Fabio Zuffanti, shortly after the release of Höstsonaten’s Cupid & Psyche earlier this year that the music would be performed live as a ballet. I made sure the proposed date was clear and began searching the theatre’s web site for tickets but was unable to find any link to the event. Fast forward a few months, not having found evidence for the Höstsonaten performance, I came across a post on twitter directing me to Event ’16, a tribute to the live performance by Area at Milan's Università Statale on October 27th 1976 and released three years later on LP as Event ’76. Being a fan of Area and also wanting a short break from work, I convinced myself that this was probably a gig to replace the Cupid & Psyche show and booked my ticket to Genova.




It’s important to realise that Event ’76 wasn’t a straightforward Area gig, even though the band’s music is always challenging. Ares Tavolazzi and Giulio Capiozzo had temporarily left the band at the time of the concert (though they did return a few months later) so the gig was performed with notable improvising musicians Steve Lacy on saxophone and Paul Lytton on percussion, and represents a cross between a psychedelic event (think Pink Floyd circa 1969 0r 1970) and an extreme RIO performance. The original album contained only two tracks, Caos 2nd part, split between two sides of the original vinyl into a (roughly) 20 minute section and a (roughly) 10 minute section, and the title track, a variation of the track SCUM (Society for Cutting Up Men) from their 1976 concept album Maledetti. For Caos, each musician was given a single word on piece of paper, "sex", "irony", "violence" and had to interpret it for three minutes before changing the sheet of paper. The result varies between outright weirdness and melodic jazzy lines played over the top of weirdness but it’s fair to say that audience reaction in Milan was very favourable.

In an era where classic albums are being recreated by both original bands (not necessarily in the original configuration of the group at the time of the release), and by enthusiastic tribute acts with an appreciation of the cultural significance of the music, it was not unreasonable to recreate the Milan concert almost exactly 40 years after the event. Fabio Zuffanti pieced together a sympathetic ensemble comprised of Luca Giovanardi, sometime member of the band Julie's Haircut on guitar and Theremin effect; drum teacher and performer Beppe Mondini on percussion; multi-instrumentalist Nicola Manzan who has worked with many members of the Italian independent music scene on violin; and Michele Orvieti on piano and radio, the keyboard player for Incident on South Street and contributor to Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream - The Letters - An Unconventional Italian Guide To King Crimson.

The show was at the Teatro Altrove, down a narrow alley that opened out into the tiny Piazzetta Cambiaso in Genova’s historic centre. Teatro Altrove is situated in the former Palazzo Fattinanti-Cambiasso, overseen by a consortium of seven different artistic associations, each with a longstanding cultural bond to the Maddalena district. Finding the venue in the daylight wasn’t too onerous but when I retraced my steps in the dark I somehow went wrong on more than one occasion and Google Maps wasn’t at all helpful. It wouldn’t have mattered too much if I’d been late because the musicians were somewhat laid back about the 21.30 hrs start time.



Though not a strict musical recreation of Event ’76, the performance was certainly true to the spirit of the Area event; less jazzy and more generally spacey, this recreation was closer to the improvised psychedelia of Pink Floyd, sometimes creating a nice groove with violin drones and aggressive percussion. Zuffanti, who at one stage wore a mask, directed the pieces, counting down the end to sections and rarely using his bass in a conventional manner, but hitting the strings with spoons, utilising a rubber chicken and a pair of small frying pans. The words were placed on Zuffanti’s music stand which came in for a bit of abuse from Manzan during his personal interpretation of ‘Violence’ where he stalked the stage, shouting at the other performers and smashing the frying pans into Mondini’s cymbals which looked very much worse for wear at the end of the performance. Mondini’s drum kit was enhanced with fan blades and beer bottles and Orvieti tuned into a radio that he had to hand. For Event ’16 (as I suppose the final track should be called) Giovanardi controlled his sounds with a hand-held remote device which acted like a D-beam or a Theremin on what was the most coherent track, coming across as improvised space rock.

The band evidently enjoyed themselves and the relatively sparse crowd, who all seemed to know each other from the Genova music scene, was suitably appreciative. This was an intimate event held in a really nice theatre and though undeniably challenging it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, especially as it’s something that is unlikely to ever be repeated.

No trip to Genova would be complete without a trip to Black Widow Records and I had dutifully set out with an idea of what progressive Italiano I wanted to buy. Unfortunately, I was greeted by closed shutters and was told by the proprietor of the record shop next door (specialising in metal) that Black Widow was to be closed for three weeks. Not to be defeated, I set about a fairly well worn trail to firstly Genova Dischi, which caters more for the classical music market though it did have some promising-looking CDs in the window, including Steven Wilson’s Transience and Marillion’s FEAR, on to Taxi Driver Records (more metal plus a bit of modern psychedelia) and then around the myriad second hand stalls, all without turning up anything I wanted. Back in my hotel I did a Google search for record stores and discovered that there was a large branch of the books and music store La Feltrinelli five minutes’ walk away. I’ve visited stores around Italy before and though their stock isn’t brilliant, there’s always the chance of finding something worth buying, and I knew that they had begun to stock vinyl. This branch was particularly good and I came away with five CDs, having seen an Italian Prog box set and searched for individual discs absent from my collection. I also picked up the new Metamorfosi album, a follow-up to Inferno from 1973, Purgatorio, which I had been hoping to find on vinyl in Black Widow.




I also like to explore the surrounding area and, having previously headed south along the Liguria coast to visit the northern portion of the Cinque Terre, I decided to head inland, to Alessandria in Piedmont, just less than an hour away by train. This sedate, elegant city boasted the fantastic W Dabliu record shop run by the knowledgeable and very helpful Roberto Mocca, which I came across quite by accident, a treasure trove of old and new vinyl in the University district which included some very interesting rarities. I was very tempted by an original copy of PFM’s Storia di un minuto but at €80 I thought I’d hold out for a reissue on 180g vinyl. Needless to say, I came away with a special box set of Area’s Caution Radiation Area containing vinyl and CD versions plus a series of postcards (for thematic continuity), the 2014 live performance of Per un Amico (titled Un Amico) on vinyl with a CD included, plus a copy of Gentle Giant’s eponymous 1970 album.










All in all and despite finding out that I'd missed out on Hostsonaten, it was a successful few days. Looking forward to my 2017 visit...





By ProgBlog, Jun 20 2016 10:24PM

ProgBlog attended the Stone Free Festival on Sunday 19th June so there was no time to write a full post


Though nothing comes close to the first time I heard progressive rock, partly because it was Close to the Edge, in September 1972, there are still moments when you hear something and you think, wow, how did I miss that?

I can’t remember where the suggestion came from exactly, other than that Schicke Führs and Fröhling (SFF) appear as a brief reference in a couple of my books and that I have been browsing the Esoteric Records website recently, where their 1975 debut Symphonic Pictures has been re-released, so this was an entirely speculative purchase which turned out to be one of those ‘how did I miss that?’ situations, where none of my friends had any idea this existed either.

Released in 1975, just as their compatriots and fellow UK-symphonic progressive rock school adherents Triumvirat were gaining a following outside of their native Germany, it has quite rightly been hailed as a classic. This isn’t Kosmiche or Berlin-school electronica, or sub-Floyd space-rock (Eloy, Nektar) and whereas it’s common to draw parallels between Triumvirat and ELP, SSF don’t fit into that mould either, being far more adventurous, despite both bands being, on paper at least, a keyboard, bass, drums trio. Part of this is down to the twin Mellotron approach of SSF. Heinz Fröhling created a double neck, six-string and bass, from a Gibson Les Paul and a Rickenbacker but also plays acoustic guitar and Mellotron, clavinet and string synthesizer. There are some Yes-like moments on Tao but there are also hints of Greenslade and live (my CD comes with a contemporaneous live recording from the ship-building town of Papenburg) they have a King-Crimson exploratory like vibe, achieved through fine musicianship, technical dexterity and working out all the compositions very carefully. It’s perhaps surprising that a German symphonic prog band doesn’t borrow from Bach or Beethoven but the inspiration appears to come from 20th Century composers like Bartok and Stravinsky, incorporating shifting rhythmical meters and angular motifs and straying into jazz territory.

It’s really good and there’s nothing quite like it.




By ProgBlog, Mar 13 2016 10:34PM

Already 2016 seems to have been blighted by more high-profile musician deaths than previous years. I was still reading articles about Sir George Martin’s legacy as late as Friday last week when news began to filter through about Keith Emerson. Is the death of a septuagenarian rock musician especially surprising? As I type this the single rumour that his death might have been suicide has gained more credence and though tragic for family and friends who might think they could have done something to prevent such an horrendous outcome, it comes across to this fan in the UK as shocking; the world of prog has lost a genuine pioneer.

After Yes, The Nice was the next band I became familiar with and though this was in late 1972, two years after their demise, it was before I discovered Emerson, Lake and Palmer. The Page family Nice collection was acquired in roughly reverse chronological order, beginning with either Elegy (1971) or Five Bridges (1970.) Tony was responsible for these purchases and it was only when I was a student in London that I bought my own copies. I remember that Nice (1969) was relatively difficult to come by; we called this album ‘red cover’ to distinguish it from the other releases as well as the group itself even though it had an ‘official’ alternative title, Everything as Nice as Mother Makes It. My copy of The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack (1967) was a 1976 reissue on the Charly label with a Magritte-like cover illustration of a grand piano breaking through ice, credited to P Larue (Patrice Larue?)

I’d class most Nice material as proto-prog but the first two albums, Thoughts and Ars Longa Vita Brevis (1968) are psychedelic, with a link to another early British psychedelic act, Pink Floyd, through guitarist Davy O’List who stood in for an incapacitated Syd Barrett. The short songs are largely throw-away, not as original or as good as the early Floyd efforts, but Rondo, War and Peace and Dawn hinted at the greatness to come. Keith Emerson’s ability to blend jazz, rock and blues with classical music was the basis of the success of the Nice and subsequently, ELP. Whereas Pink Floyd developed space rock and dallied with the avant garde, Emerson took another route: rocking the classics. Equal parts virtuoso and showman, Emerson stood out as the first important keyboard player in rock; having ousted guitarist O’List as unreliable he showed that a keyboard trio was equal to any guitar-based band and influencing a number of other fledgling progressive acts. Bassist Lee Jackson and drummer Brian Davison were solid enough and would later show they were more than capable in Refugee with Patrick Moraz but the Nice was really all about Emerson. The Dylan adaptations were barely recognisable as songs by Bob Dylan, who I didn’t like but She Belongs to Me was a bit of an epic in the hands of Emerson, Jackson and Davison; Country Pie on the other hand was only acceptable because of the inclusion of Bach. The classical excerpts morphed into rock interpretations of lengthier pieces, so that the intermezzo from The Karelia Suite by Jean Sibelius, the tune used for the current affairs TV programme This Week became a staple live number and forms the track of main interest on side one of Ars Longa Vita Brevis, acting as a neat prelude to Emerson’s first recorded orchestral piece, the title track taking up the entirety of side two; there’s a naivety about this composition and it’s not really helped by poor production but I really like it.


If the Nice helped Emerson cut his arranging skills they were perfected early on, with more challenging compositions, in ELP. Their eponymous debut album remains high up in my personal prog top 10 and though I do like Take a Pebble and Lucky Man, it’s for the beautiful, flowing piano and the marvellous Moog respectively. Emerson may have dabbled with the modular Moog while still with the Nice and played the instrument from the beginning with his new trio but it’s on Emerson, Lake & Palmer (1970) where it makes its stunning first recorded appearance. Emerson’s ‘sound’ was defined as much by his synthesizer work as his organ or piano and the use of the ribbon controller allowed him to incorporate showmanship into his Moog playing, in the same way that attacking his L100 with knives and wrestling it to the floor or playing it from behind demonstrated his incredible ability on organ or sitting at a piano that revolved around in the air enhanced the live performances. School friend Keith Palmen was converted into a big ELP fan and it was probably at his house that I first heard Pictures at an Exhibition (1971), a brilliant example of both the excitement that the band could generate live and of the interpretative skills of Emerson.

In 1973 or ’74, when I started to become interested in ELP, I became aware how ELP divided opinion, such that my original vinyl collection included second-hand copies of Tarkus (1971), Pictures, Brain Salad Surgery (1973) and Works Volume 1 (1977) as disgruntled friends decided they’d outgrown the bombast and turned to either punk or smooth jazz. It could not be disputed that the 1974 tour promoting Brain Salad was something of a monster because it was turned into a road documentary and a triple live album. The version of Aquatarkus on Welcome Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends (1974) remains one of my favourite ELP tracks; the solid rhythm of Palmer and Lake allows Emerson to really shine on organ and Moog, reminiscent of the backing provided by Jackson and Davison in the Nice.

The subsequent studio hiatus signalled the beginning of the end for ELP; while they toured and rested punk was hoiking over music fans. ELP came back strongly with a pretty good effort but the decision to allow one side of the double LP Works Volume 1 to each of the members and only one side of real group collaboration may, on reflection, have been the wrong approach. Emerson’s Piano Concerto No.1 is very enjoyable, building on his previous orchestrated pieces with the Nice and reflecting his admiration for Aaron Copeland but the ELP side has an updated sound, coming from the Yamaha GX1. Emerson is reported to have been quite smitten with this keyboard, eschewing Moog and organ on side 4 in favour of the new piece of technology. I find the sound thin, like so many late 70s and early 80s synthesizers, and would have preferred it if he’d stuck to his analogue instruments.

Having been unaware of the Royal Albert Hall gig in October 1992 that resulted in the excellent Live at the Royal Albert Hall (1993) I thought that I’d never get to see them play live. I’d managed to get to see the reformed Nice during a period of ELP disbandment in 2003 at Croydon’s Fairfield Halls, the venue for the recording of much of Five Bridges where the band were augmented by guitarist Dave Kilminster. Though at times the sound was quite poor and there were problems with Emerson’s Moog, it was a fantastic occasion, with the performance divided into a Nice portion and an ELP portion where Jackson and Davison stepping back to allow two other musicians to take over on bass and drums.

I finally got to see ELP at the High Voltage festival in 2010, the 40th anniversary of the debut album and though I’d have preferred a more intimate venue than London’s Victoria Park, it was an occasion not to be missed. The music was incredible and the atmosphere was rather special at this huge event. This would be the last time that the three would play together.



Jim and I went to see the Keith Emerson Band with the BBC Concert Orchestra at the Barbican last year, the highlight of which was an orchestrated Tarkus, but it was good to see Emerson taking the conductor’s baton for the encore Glorieta Pass. I believe this was Emerson’s last ever concert performance and though he seemed to relish his raconteur role as much as his musical contribution, he did appear somewhat unsteady. If it’s true that there were no more live concert appearances, I feel quite privileged that I attended two significant events, even though I missed out on classic ELP back in 1974 and only discovered the Nice two years after they’d broken up.



Emerson was an inspiration to keyboard players. He will be sadly missed.


Keith Emerson b. 2nd November 1944 d. 10th March 2016



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