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ProgBlog reflects on the current state of prog metal

By ProgBlog, Jan 16 2018 08:52PM

I’m just back from a couple of days skiing in Chamonix, what I hope will turn out to be a warm-up event to a full week somewhere else later in the year. The town itself is very pleasant and though I’ve skied in the area three times before, we’ve always been based a little higher up the valley in Argentière and whereas we’d previously driven down to the resort, this time we flew to Geneva and took a transfer from there. We’d drive through Chamonix at the beginning and end of holidays and to get to some of the ski areas, scattered from just south of the town up to Balme at the head of the valley; we’ve even stopped there to see a screening of the second of the Lord of the Rings films, The Two Towers in English. So for the first time since our inaugural trip in March 2000, I managed to get a feel for the place, somewhere I’d read about in climbing accounts by Don Whillans, Joe Brown and Dougal Haston when I was a youth and somewhere I felt I knew well enough to base one of my O Level English Language exam essays.


Chamonix
Chamonix

I’m pretty sure there has been a lot of change since I read mountaineering books in the mid-70s, a time when young rock climbers used to name routes after prog tracks: The Gates of Delirium grade E4 (6a), described by UK Climbing as ‘magnificent’, Relayer (another E4) and Close to the Edge E3 (5c) are all climbs on Raven Crag, Thirlmere, in the Lake District and there’s also a Gates of Delirium in Yosemite; Genesis are represented by Hairless Heart, a grade E5 (5c) slab climb on Froggatt Edge in Derbyshire first ascended, solo, by John Allen in 1975 but there are others. There’s a thread from 2012, now closed down, on the UK Climbing site which asked why “an unnaturally high proportion of route names reference Pink Floyd, other dubious prog rock, or Tolkien.” The one sensible answer suggested that prog coincided with an explosion of new routes, though I did like the response “What's wrong with Prog rock? Or J.R.R. Tolkien? Many people have been inspired by the writings of Tolkien and the music of Pink Floyd, Genesis, Rush, Led Zeppelin, Yes etc. The fact is that both tend to ramble on a bit, but are ultimately rewarding in the end.” The erection of a new sports hall at my school included a short, under-used climbing wall and along with a couple of others I was allowed to climb during PE lessons. Access to Lake District routes in Coniston and Langdale was facilitated by Honda 550, with me sitting pillion and carrying the gear but I wasn’t nearly as good at climbing as I’d hoped. However, progressive rock and rock climbing seemed intrinsically linked as I flicked through Crags and High magazines listening to Alan Freeman’s Saturday Show on the radio, ticking off another prog-inspired route name.



I imagine there has also been some considerable change since I was last in Chamonix in 2005, even though the journey through Argentière up to La Tour was punctuated with familiar buildings. As someone who fully subscribes to the Italian version of coffee culture and will quite willingly frequent the sort of independent coffee shop that plagues hip areas of London and London commuter towns, I’ve found it difficult but not impossible to locate a decent espresso on my last couple of skiing trips to France. Last year, Val d’Isère had the Arctic Cafe and this year we found La Jonction Coffee, set up by two people who couldn’t find a decent coffee... The name of the cafe refers to the confluence of the Glacier des Bossons and Glacier de Taconnaz above the town at 2589m.
I imagine there has also been some considerable change since I was last in Chamonix in 2005, even though the journey through Argentière up to La Tour was punctuated with familiar buildings. As someone who fully subscribes to the Italian version of coffee culture and will quite willingly frequent the sort of independent coffee shop that plagues hip areas of London and London commuter towns, I’ve found it difficult but not impossible to locate a decent espresso on my last couple of skiing trips to France. Last year, Val d’Isère had the Arctic Cafe and this year we found La Jonction Coffee, set up by two people who couldn’t find a decent coffee... The name of the cafe refers to the confluence of the Glacier des Bossons and Glacier de Taconnaz above the town at 2589m.

I didn’t expect to see any record shops in Val d’Isère but I did think there might have been one in Chamonix, with its population of around 9000, a little less than that of Auray where I bought my first Ange CD Le Cimetière des Arlequins (from 1973.) Unfortunately there weren’t any so apart from listening to Semiramis’ Frazz Live (2017) on my mp3 player, the only music I got to hear was piped from restaurants and on one occasion, a truly awful singer-guitarist at the Irish Coffee bar across the road from our hotel. I don’t have much winter- or snow related music in my collection; I own a copy of Rick Wakeman’s White Rock (1977), the soundtrack to the official film of the 1976 Innsbruck winter Olympics and regard it as a return to form after Journey to the Centre of the Earth and The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. My favourite track is Lax’x and my next favourite is the definitive prog track on the album, Ice Run but there are a number of snippets of music used in the film that form a sonic link between the different Olympic disciplines that don’t appear on album tracks, some of which are very Yes-sounding. The album’s instrumentation of keyboards, percussion and choral backing provides an effective, coherent narrative that works well for both audio and cinematic formats, linked by the melodic ‘searching for gold’ keyboard motif. I really like Wakeman’s full use of a range of keyboards and think it’s that which makes the album stand out from its immediate predecessors; there’s a much broader range of tonality, even though there’s no guitar or bass guitar.


Wakeman was an integral part of the band for Fragile (1971), as Yes came close to perfection. Roundabout, with its imagery of mountains that ‘come out of the sky’ from ‘in and around the lake’ could represent somewhere like the Lake District or the Swiss Alps but this doesn’t necessarily suggest winter, unlike the lyrics to the angular, driving and somewhat overlooked South Side of the Sky with its message that natural forces can be brutal. It’s ironic that White Rock was recorded in Wembley but when Wakeman rejoined Yes in late 1976, the band had decamped to Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland to record Going for the One (1977), where Wakeman subsequently recorded 1977’s Criminal Record.

ELP were another band who combined a tax-break with recording in Montreux for parts of Works Volume 1 (1977) and though Fanfare for the Common Man wouldn’t normally fit into a ‘winter’ category, the video for the truncated version released as a single which reached no.2 in the UK charts was filmed in the futuristic Montreal Olympic Stadium (where they were rehearsing for the Works tour in a basement car park) after Greg Lake emerged from rehearsals for a breath of fresh air and was immediately struck by the vision of the snow-covered arena.


Another apt piece of music that I own is Winterthrough (2005) by Höstsonaten, part of a season-themed set of luscious melodic symphonic Italian prog albums. The standout track is Rainsuite which also featured in Fabio Zuffanti’s Z Band set list; it’s made up of a number of linked melodies which I think puts it in the Focus or Camel bracket. Camel had their own winter-related mini-epic Ice from I Can See Your House from Here (1979) which I hummed to myself on the skiing trip as we visited an ice cave carved into the Mer de Glace. Both the ice cave and the track have a stately beauty; witnessing Camel play the track live when they were promoting the album and the experience of being inside a glacier had a similar awe-inspiring effect on me.



The story of Fang in White Mountain, my second favourite Trespass (1970) track after The Knife, is an obvious snow-related story but is One for the Vine from Wind and Wuthering (1976), enough of a winter- or snow and ice themed song to count in my list? One of the songs being played at a restaurant where we stopped for a late morning chocolat chaud certainly doesn’t fit into the list but it did force me to reconsider my opinion of reggae. I’m obviously aware of the significance of Bob Marley who, after the demise of The Wailers in 1974 relocated to England and, with music infused with spirituality, became not only a multi-million selling artist and also came to symbolise Jamaican culture and identity, letting a ray of Caribbean sunshine into the world, but I don’t go out of my way to listen to reggae. What I heard that morning at Les Houches, played at decent volume through Bose speakers seemed like a long single track, divided into subsections rather like prog. A quick Shazam app search revealed that part of the song was Rastafari Leads the Way by Lutan Fyah and I suspect that the music was a Warrior Musick production Think Twice Riddim, featuring a host of different artists with an amazing, positive vibe; a rejection of violence and a call to rethink a way of life which chimed with the ethos of progressive rock. The sun was shining, the snow conditions were perfect and I was skiing some long and some challenging runs with my family, and a little bit of reggae made it even better.



Perfect skiing conditions at Les Houches
Perfect skiing conditions at Les Houches






By ProgBlog, Apr 17 2017 09:20AM

The scourge of anyone writing an essay is the charge of plagiarism and though I may have put personal academic involvement behind me, in a career that began pre-PC when my undergraduate essays were hand-written, I retain a professional training role and have a duty to check the work of a couple of my colleagues. The easiest way to avoid accusations of cheating is to use multiple sources, fully reference your work and include a comparative analysis as a summary to indicate your understanding of the subject. There are no shortcuts to essay writing when there is a multitude of plagiarism-checking software, free on the web, for use by both markers and students.

As an experiment, I ran the first 100 words of this article through Quetext which suggested I may have copied the sentence “The easiest way to avoid accusations of cheating is to use multiple sources, fully reference your work and include a comparative analysis as a summary to indicate your understanding of the subject” from a Wikipedia article on Fair Use! It may sound paranoid but I’ve written blogs and reviews on subjects that subsequently appear in Prog magazine where my phrasing and ideas, which I believe are characteristic of my personal style, have been included. There’s actually a rational explanation for this phenomenon: I mostly write about contemporary events, about artists touring or releasing material or appearing in the news for another reason, such as the support of Pink Floyd for the ‘Women’s boat to Gaza’; I’m writing about progressive rock so it’s likely to be something experienced by a fairly limited number of people who have similar expectations; our commentary will be largely based on audible and visual observations, though these may be perceived differently.

The feeling that just when you think you’ve come up with a great idea, somebody comes along and steals it took a further twist this week, following an article in the main section of The Guardian reporting that Ed Sheeran had settled out-of-court for $20 million after a plagiarism claim. My colleagues tend to tune into the radio at work, playing nothing that interests me and some things which really infuriate me (Sigala’s Sweet Lovin’, for example, which has undergone subtle mutations and is still being played as though it’s a current hit even though it originally came out in December 2015.) To my ears, a large number of pop songs are indistinguishable and this lack of musical diversity in pop music in general is a result of commoditisation, manufacturing and packaging which stifles creativity. The potential ground for borrowing the work of other song writers, particularly within dance music, gave me an idea for a blog and I emailed myself a few ideas and a rudimentary plan so I wouldn’t forget. Imagine my dismay when I opened G2 on Friday, with a front page headline “Has pop run out of tunes?” and a lengthy article inside the supplement by Peter Robinson The songs remain the same, dealing with the complexity of copying and plagiary.


The first time I noticed an obvious similarity between songs was not long after I’d seriously started to listen to music. Block Buster! by The Sweet (written by Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman) was released in January 1973 and I thought that the main riff was heavily derivative of David Bowie’s The Jean Genie, released a couple of months before in November 1972; with fairly good reason, It transpires that the Jean Genie riff has itself been compared to The Yardbirds’ cover of Bo Diddley’s I’m a Man.

The mixture of influences on progressive rock make it an ideal genre to scour for appropriation, though in its nascent form the influences were far less likely to be other rock bands than from the jazz and classical worlds. Rondo on the debut album by The Nice, The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack was a reworking of Dave Brubeck’s Blue Rondo à la Turk but, according to Martyn Hanson in Hang on to a Dream – The Story of The Nice, Immediate Records boss Andrew Oldham somehow managed to credit the band with the composition, but never explained how. The main difference between the two pieces was Brubeck had composed the piece in 9/8 time but the Nice played it in 4/4 but when I first heard the Nice version in 1972 or 1973, it was instantly obvious that they had lifted, wholesale, Brubeck’s piece. According to Hanson, the band had never considered claiming composition responsibility. Whether through naivety or by design, Keith Emerson would go on to have further issues with the lack of credit for other composers when he started ELP.



Peter Robinson’s G2 article touches on the legal arguments used to define plagiarism and it seems likely that a plaintiff will lose their case if they themselves have borrowed from a source that is out of copyright. This means that Emerson didn’t have to credit JS Bach for The Three Fates (on the first ELP album) even though he’d previously name-checked Bach, and other composers, on various Nice albums. When I eventually got around to buying Passio Secundum Mattheum by progressivo italiano band Latte e Miele and listened to the track Il Calvario it sounded like a note-for-note rendition of Emerson’s Clotho, indicating the original source.



Surprisingly enough, the next instance where I detected what I thought was undue influence was listening to Relayer at 12’47” into The Gates of Delirium, at the moment the battle sequence commences to resolve. At this point Patrick Moraz plays a lead synthesizer line that I thought was straight out of a Beatles song book but, when put into context where there’s so much going on in the Yes song, it’s obviously not The Beatles. At the time I was becoming aware of the spread of influence of the Fab Four and it didn’t seem such a ridiculous notion.

Robert Fripp famously made an out-of-court settlement over a plagiarism dispute with the producers of soft-core porn film Emmanuelle for misappropriation of Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (part II). There are at least three short pieces of music credited to Pierre Bachelet and Herve Roy that occur in the film, which are remarkably close to Fripp’s instrumental piece. A more recent example of possible copying a King Crimson song is on Astra’s 2009 release The Weirding, where the title track comes close to quoting from Cirkus on Lizard. Of course this may be accidental, but it’s evident the band are inspired by early Crimson because apart from the use of doom-laden Mellotron there is a great deal of Sinfield-like imagery in the lyrics: ‘All the blind sight kills the white light / Fire blood raven screams / Spreading influence through waking dreams / The world spins out of tune / And there's nothing we can do...’ and again: ‘Blindly follow twisted tales / It seems forever without fail / Cat's paws mind their fairy stories dear’. Kanye obviously got around any potential problem by including the appropriate credits to his song Power, which sampled 21st Century Schizoid Man.



The distinction between copying and source of inspiration may appear to be a grey area but, as Robinson points out, you can apply maths to the problem. In this way, based on pitch, rhythmic placement and harmonic context, you can make a statistical judgement whether two pieces of music are similar. The chances of two songs, independently written and sharing an identical 39-note sequence backed by similar chords and with the same rhythmic accentuation is really remote; this was the case with Sheeran’s Photograph and Amazing by Matt Cardle. Inspiration is something entirely different. Marillion used to be labelled a Genesis-clone and though the original members will no doubt admit that their music was informed by Genesis, and (ex-) vocalist Fish used to apply grease paint and, to a lesser extent don costumes for his adopted persona in the manner of Peter Gabriel, the similarity remained superficial. I’m more interested in Fish’s lyrics because he’s spoken of Peter Hammill as being one of the musicians who influenced him. Hammill recorded Flight from A Black Box in 1980 which includes the lines: ‘The lines on the road trail the arrow in the sky/ I search for the mote in my brother’s eye’ and four years later Fish penned the words to IncubusYou played this scene before, you played this scene before / I the mote in your eye, I the mote in your eye’. These are the only two lyrical references to a mote in an eye that I can think of but that doesn’t mean that Fish has copied Hammill.


There appear to be more cases of alleged plagiarism going to court than ever before, something I think is a reflection on the current state of the music business. I genuinely find it difficult to distinguish between many of the songs played on daytime radio, and find it even harder to like any of them. The idea of the music star and celebrity means that a record company has to invest in protecting the image of artists and the sum of $20m (£16m) was obviously worth it to Warner to ensure that Sheeran’s reputation and artistic integrity wasn’t too badly affected by alleged copying – unless the money came out of his own pocket. Such ridiculous sums of money spawn a culture of claims and that can’t be good for music, as money is diverted into the legal aspects of the industry rather than nurturing creativity. On the other hand, if it means we get less manufactured music, which stands more chance of accusations of copying, then that would be a great deal better.


There’s only one sure-fire way to avoid accusations of copying: cite your references.


Peter Robinson’s article appears here:

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2017/apr/13/has-pop-finally-run-out-of-tunes-ed-sheeran-plagiarism







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