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ProgBlog reflects on the current state of prog metal

By ProgBlog, Mar 12 2017 07:55PM

The Burning Shed email announcing pre-orders for a 4LP King Crimson Live in Toronto box set is rather tempting, especially if the audio quality is of the same order as Radical action to unseat the hold of monkey mind. I’m a fairly avid record and CD collector but my criteria for choosing music are somewhat rigid, so that my music library isn’t really very big at although I’m pretty sure I have a progressivo Italiano collection that’s as good as anyone’s in the UK. In the past it wouldn’t have been unfair to label me as completist as I was prepared to invest in an album that I knew was substandard in the hope I’d get around to liking it, Talk and Open Your Eyes, both poor fare compared to Yes’ early benchmark being prime examples but over time I’ve accepted that tastes and musical directions change, so I don’t have to like everything by a particular group.



The bulk of the material that makes up my library is symphonic progressive rock and RPI with a bit of jazz rock, jazz and RIO thrown in, the majority of which is from the golden period between 1969 and 1978 but I’m now shifting towards new vinyl (if possible; hence my interest in Live in Toronto) and I’m becoming a sucker for special editions. I’ve got the Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, the Starless and the Road to Red box sets and, having seen Crimson play the Hackney Empire on the same tour as the Toronto and Radical Action recordings, I bought the special edition 3CD, 2DVD, 1 Blu-Ray box set of Radical Action. I have a copy of the original Great Deceiver box set and picked up my 4CD Epitaph box set when I attended the Epitaph playback in London. I was never a member of the King Crimson Collectors' Club even though I was interested in the ProjeKcts and virtually everything else DGM were doing at the time; I have a couple of these releases and have heard more – my brother Richard subscribed in the early days of the KCCC and I think if the series restarted I’d probably now sign up.


So what is it about collecting different versions of the same material? The answer, in respect to Crimson, relates to a couple of things: the historic-cultural-sociological value of the music and the innate variation-development of each individual song. In relation to Yes, up until the release of Progeny: Seven Shows from Seventy Two, there was no live recording from any part of their history which fully captured both the sound and the spark of the band in full flight. The dynamism of Yessongs was hampered by muddy production but the discovery of the master tapes used as source material for Yessongs a couple of years ago meant that, with the benefit of current digital editing, a sound accurate to the original instrumentation, including radio interference on Rick Wakeman’s Mellotron, could be presented to the listener for the first time. The packaging of this box set does full justice to the audio from nine tracks presented on each date, which over three weeks display a subtle musical development as the group becomes ever more familiar with presenting complex songs to each audience. It’s also clear how Jon Anderson’s voice becomes stronger as he recovers from influenza!


The first Yes gig I attended was a matinee performance at Wembley Stadium on October 28th 1978. I had thought that the concert had been broadcast live on BBC radio and that the Yesshows version of Don’t Kill the Whale was from that afternoon’s performance but Alan Freeman’s last ever Saturday Rock Show was broadcast two months previously, on August 26th 1978. A check of various sites suggests there were multiple radio broadcasts and it’s likely that the Yesshows version of Don’t Kill the Whale came from the evening show, which was broadcast on Tommy Vance’s first ever Friday Rock Show on November 24th. I did buy an official copy of the Yes gig on November 17th 2009 as I walked out of the Hammersmith Apollo post-performance, saved onto a USB memory stick, and had to download the encores later.


There was a bit of a craze for producing immediate post-concert releases around this time and I also bought a copy of a Caravan gig, a performance to mark the 40th anniversary of In the Land of Grey and Pink, the majority of which was burned to CD during the show at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire in October 2011. Unfortunately, Pye Hastings appeared to have a cold and his vocals suffered as a consequence.



I don’t own any live Crimson recordings at which I’d been present. If any was to be released, I’d immediately buy it without a second thought. This constitutes fanaticism and I’m a little ashamed by such obsessive behaviour which is certainly unnecessary and borders on the irrational.

I’m not interested in any form of material value of these releases based on their rarity and however limited their print runs are, but I do get a feeling of deep satisfaction listening to music that I like. I’m far more interested in ensuring the artists get the best deal possible so I prefer to buy through Bandcamp or a store like Burning Shed where it’s possible to pick up a limited edition that might come in coloured vinyl or come with a poster or postcard. When AMS re-released the English version of Le Orme’s Felona and Sorona this came on blue vinyl and their re-release of Terra in Bocca by i Giganti, one of first and most difficult to find progressivo Italiano records came with a poster on red vinyl; Anderson-Stolt’s Invention of Knowledge came with a CD of the album and, also from Burning Shed, Kaipa’s re-released self-titled debut came on blue vinyl and included a CD of the album; Höstsonaten’s Cupid and Psyche came on red vinyl, with a postcard and signed by Fabio Zuffanti. One more example, though there are plenty more, is the limited edition box set of Caution Radiation Area I bought in Alessandria last October which came with a vinyl LP, the CD and a set of postcards featuring the individual band members.


There’s not usually any extra charge associated with ‘special releases’ but they do demonstrate more of an engagement with fans. I first noticed this extra effort when Dark Side of the Moon came out in 1973 which included posters and stickers. This was the start of my acquisition of progressive rock-related memorabilia and though the posters and stickers eventually found their way into the bin, having become torn after application and removal from too many bedroom walls as I moved around London as a student and during my early employment. Fortunately, the 40th anniversary vinyl edition included reproduction posters and even my 20th anniversary CD came nicely boxed with individual pieces of specially commissioned artwork. I still have the Wish You Were Here postcard and robot handshake graphic from the black shrink wrap, stored in a Mr Men scrapbook along with other bits and pieces which charted my adolescence. Despite the fall in popularity of prog during my student days, I still managed to fill the scrapbook with ticket stubs and flyers from a variety of events, each announcement and receipt marking a point in time of particular personal relevance; a source of reference for the future. I was fairly impoverished as a student and my prudent streak extended into my early working life, since NHS laboratory work wasn’t particularly well-paid. Instead of buying an official tour program when Pink Floyd played Wembley Stadium in August 1988, I picked up an unofficial program for half the price. As the 90s wore on and it was once more possible to seek out regular suitable gigs, DGM issued a number of promotional postcards alongside a couple of sampler CDs which I collected.



There was a short time where I’d buy a T-shirt instead of a program, rarely both, and when musicians realised that there was a viable livelihood from playing more intimate venues, the post-show merchandise stand became a place of engagement between artist and fans, acting as an encouragement for the audience to perhaps spend a bit more money than anticipated; prog-mate Gina Franchetti had a long and involved conversation with Thijs van Leer about Italian cuisine at the Focus merchandise stand after a gig at the Beaverwood Club but you can also pick up some unusual objects. I’ve liberated A3 sized posters from the walls of venues on my way out after the show on more than one occasion and even got Sonja Kristina to autograph one of these, a Curved Air promotional poster, for me.

I used to have a large collection of badges until I got rid of it about 20 years ago. This included a few rather obscure items like a Brand X crocodile (from Do They Hurt) a Gradually Going Tornado pin and an Enid Touch Me pin but I’ve started to buy badges again – for no obvious purpose. I’ll continue to buy T-shirts and programs but it’s most worthwhile to buy the music at the gig; the signed copy of at the last Steven Wilson Concert; the official release-date copy of Invisible Din by ESP. On another occasion I was all fingers and thumbs attempting to remove the shrink wrap from a just-purchased Anna Phoebe EP so that she could sign it; in the end she did it for me. It’s this degree of connectivity and personal generosity that makes the prog world stand out as a beacon of inclusivity and which makes it worthwhile doing the collecting.












By ProgBlog, Jul 5 2015 07:31PM

Chris Squire died last weekend aged 67, a couple of weeks after announcing that he was being treated for Acute Erythroid Leukaemia. A true giant of the bass and the last original member of Yes, the only one to have appeared on all the studio albums, he leaves an astounding sonic legacy and will be sorely missed; it was nice to read Jon Anderson’s tribute considering the way Anderson had been moved out of the group following his hospitalisation with acute respiratory failure in 2008 but he had some generous words for his co-founder of one of the most long-lasting and best-loved progressive rock acts: “I feel blessed to have created some wonderful, adventurous, music with him. We travelled a road less travelled and I'm so thankful that he climbed the musical mountains with me. Throughout everything, he was still my brother, and I'm so glad we were able to reconnect recently. I saw him in my meditation last night, and he was radiant. My heart goes out to his family and loved ones.”

It didn’t take me long to work out he had a distinctive style and was by far the best bassist of all the bands I started off listening to. As someone who used to pick up musical instrument catalogues and check out guitar manufacturers and models it was a bit of a novelty to see him play a Rickenbacker 4001 when most of his contemporaries owned Fenders or occasionally a Gibson. The trebly sound and the harmonic and contrapuntal lines were something of a trademark that even in 1972 I recognised was one of the defining features of Yes but I’m now going to suggest something that might be unpopular with some readers: I believe Squire’s influence was diminished after the arrival of Steve Howe. The Yes Album was the beginning of the Yes breakthrough with all the material written by the members including four long compositions but the one track on the record that I think best represents Squire’s writing, I’ve Seen All Good People, is in my opinion the weakest track, with a structure that conforms more to normal rock. Roundabout from the next album Fragile is almost an exercise in setting out the template for Yes music that followed and was written by Anderson and Howe despite the inclusion of two other extended-form pieces on the record, the heavy South Side of the Sky and the sublime Heart of the Sunrise, both of which were co-written by Squire. It’s the presence of Rick Wakeman that enables Yes to realise their full potential and though he isn’t given many writing credits, his ability to turn the ideas of the main composers into reality coupled with his embrace of keyboard technology and the potential to integrate their sounds into the band’s written material, launched the band to the forefront of symphonic prog.

Jumping forward a couple of years to the hiatus of 1975, Squire recorded the brilliant solo album Fish out of Water that I think has a feel closer to The Yes Album than any of the three studio albums which appeared between these two. It could be argued that there’s a sonic link between Fish out of Water and Going for the One because of the inclusion of Parallels in the latter which, if I remember correctly, is based on material left over from the former. Certainly Parallels has a strong analogy with Hold Out Your Hand but it has been put through the Yes-machine and includes some clear, soaring guitar from Steve Howe; Fish out of Water is quite notable for its absence of guitar (you can pick out some 12 string electric from time to time) and absence of complex keyboard parts. It’s almost as though Squire has gone back to basics, the pipe organ from Barry Rose hints at Squire’s church music background and the Hammond, played by Patrick Moraz, is reminiscent of the uncluttered Yes featuring Tony Kaye. The orchestration, possibly in lieu of multiple keyboard parts, is highly effective, especially the section at the beginning of Silently Falling where the wind instruments conjure images of leaves spiralling from trees in an autumn breeze. This, along with the pianos, was provided by old friend Andrew Pryce Jackman.

When you think of Yes lyrics you immediately think of Anderson flights of fancy and obscure images but it’s important to remember that Squire had the same outlook, who also writes about seeking higher attainment and cosmic harmony but tends to use language that is more grounded in the everyday. This attitude can also be found in the music, where Eastern influences come across in the multiple false endings of Safe (Canon Song). One of the minor surprises of Fish out of Water is the list of guest musicians. Alan White may have been unavailable, working on his own solo project and Squire was reunited with former band mate Bill Bruford on drums; the King Crimson connection is strengthened with the inclusion of Mel Collins on saxophones and Peter Sinfield who made suggestions for Safe; Canterbury stalwart Jimmy Hastings adds some beautiful flute. Squire’s voice is solid throughout and his multi-tracked harmony parts, reflecting the influences that shaped him as a musician, work really well. The worst thing about the album doesn’t relate to the music, which deserved a better sleeve. Brian Lane’s Polaroid of Squire is rather poor and the album would have looked much better had the stained-glass fish picture, which was included in the original LP as a full size poster that graced a number of my bedroom walls at home and then as I moved around as a student and a young adult, been placed on the cover rather than the back.

I think that Chris Squire was able to influence the direction of the music once again when Anderson and Wakeman departed before Drama. There were a number of factors that came into play, outside the sphere of the musicians themselves that shaped Yes music. I’m no fan of 90125, Big Generator or Talk and I don’t listen to Open Your Eyes or The Ladder. I’m ambivalent about the studio tracks on the two Keys to Ascension CDs and I do like Magnification, more than Fly from Here. The relationship between the band members around the time of Union can’t have helped the creative process and apart from The More We Live – Let Go I much prefer the ABWH tracks; I would have waited for Ever, on which Squire lends his vocals, harks back to the classic Yes sound. I guess I’m suggesting that in the Anderson-free Yes, Squire, through no fault of his own, was captaining the ship on a downward course. I don’t intend to buy a copy of Heaven & Earth because the band moved away from creating innovative and challenging music. Fly from Here had provided a glimmer of old Yes with the multi-part title track but that’s because it was based on music conceived around the time of Drama. One problem I have with that particular album is that rightly or wrongly, I associate Squire with the decision to axe Oliver Wakeman from the line-up at that point.

Extrovert and often seen wearing stage gear as outlandish as anything Wakeman could come up with when performing – feather boas sticking out of high boots was one outfit I remember from a concert programme, Squire was quiet and thoughtful off stage and, according to my friend Neil Jellis who encountered Squire at a Rick Wakeman gig in Buxton, he’s very pleasant to chat with. Squire’s remarkable talent of helping to flesh out Anderson’s sketchy visions, an incredible ability on the bass and an aptitude for harmony gained through his choirboy youth made him an irreplaceable member of Yes and a genuine prog luminary. The progressive rock world has lost a very gifted individual.


Christopher Russell Edward Squire b. 4th March 1948 d. 27th June 2015



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