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Regarded as a prog metal classic, Dream Theater's Metropolis pt.2: Scenes from a Memory is now 20 years old

ProgBlog reflects on the current state of prog metal

By ProgBlog, Oct 5 2014 07:56PM

I don’t watch very much television. Broadcasting corporations don’t really cater for my tastes and commercial stations are nauseating because you get meaningless adverts every 15 minutes; the advertising industry is really over-regarded and badly regulated. I’ll watch the odd documentary, Have I Got News for You, Crystal Palace appearing on Match of the Day and Dr Who, though I’m still unsure about Peter Capaldi. I think his Doctor has potential and this potential is helped by some more sinister storylines but I think I may be getting a bit old to make time to watch the programme. I think Matt Smith initially carried the sonic screwdriver pretty well but towards the end of his tenure I was less convinced of his suitability for the role. The writing and Who mythology weaving is admirable and, as fantasy series go, it’s pleasant escapism and easily watchable and touches on that evasive quality of ‘Englishness’ but when I start actively thinking about the suitability of the actor in the lead role, then it’s probably time to move on.

My wife is responsible for informing me of programmes that I should watch, so I was a bit shocked when I got a text from my friend Mark Franchetti yesterday, hoping that I was watching the Genesis evening on BBC2. I’ve known Mark since university and though his musical taste is far, far removed from mine (rock ‘n’ roll) his wife Gina is into progressive rock and has accompanied me on many a mission to seek out and enjoy live prog. The Franchettis frequently remind me of impending musical documentaries but I’ve normally been handed the TV remote and left to get on with it. Yesterday was different but the by-line in the Radio Times may provide Susan with an excuse; the Saturday Choices article on Genesis: Together and Apart begins: “At the vanguard of prog, uncaring of cool, Genesis wrote radio unfriendly epics about lawnmowers and failed Scottish uprisings” but concludes “while the tediously de rigueur rock-doc dissing of the group’s early oeuvre – for many, a thing of rich musicality – is largely shunned.” She may have misread this as meaning the early material was overlooked in the documentary because, when I switched over to watch the programme, 20 minutes or so after it had started, they were just skipping through Selling England on to The Lamb.

This period coincides with the start of my personal appreciation of the band. School friends Alan Lee and Geoff Hinchley were more into Genesis and my first purchase, in 1976, was the token gesture Genesis Live as a cut out distributed by Buddah Records because it covered their early history. I don’t remember where I picked up this item. It seems unlikely that Barrow had any record stores dealing in cut-outs so my guess would be that I bought it in Leeds, possibly Virgin Records, when I went to visit brother Tony at uni. I subsequently went to see Genesis twice, in Liverpool on the Wind and Wuthering tour and at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1982, after winning tickets in a Capital Radio competition. Part of this prize was a signed copy of Three Sides Live, which had been released four months earlier and which I later sold to a friend, Mike Chavez, for £5.

From the moment I began watching the documentary, the narrative closely followed that set out in Mike Rutherford’s autobiography The Living Years and Rutherford seemed to have more to say than the other members of the band. Steve Hackett barely featured, only commenting once after Peter Gabriel had told us that he’d often been congratulated for A Trick of the Tale. There was no mention of Bill Bruford. Not surprisingly, when you look at the Genesis timeline, there was a great dealmore about the post-Hackett Genesis which was of much less interest to me as they slid from prog greats to exceptionally successful middle-of-the-road soft rock. The definitive turning point, in my opinion, is the inclusion of Afterglow as the last track on Wind and Wuthering. Rutherford describes this album as displaying the feminine side of Genesis (he also labels Tony Banks’ chords as feminine) and though musically Afterglow comes across as prog, lyrically it’s venturing into the mundane. There’s no doubt that this lyrical style became more prevalent over the later releases and the complex, multi-section compositions with fantastical or mythical concepts were dropped. Prog isn’t about bearing your soul after a divorce, however painful, that’s more the realm of a more accessible rock medium like the Blues. Rutherford’s belief that he should handle guitar duties was originally somewhat misplaced but he developed a rather mechanical style of picking chords that came to represent a lot of 80s guitar playing; such that it was almost impossible to discern the songs he was playing in Genesis from those he was playing in Mike + The Mechanics. This process was compounded by the reduction in distinct keyboard sounds utilised by both Tony Banks and the Mechanics’ Adrian Lee and the generic soft rock available on the fledgling MTV. Some of the Genesis videos were truly awful.

I managed to watch the missing part of the programme which did include a few more words from Steve Hackett on BBC’s iPlayer. This included thoughts from original guitarist Anthony Phillips and another Charterhouse alumnus, friend and former road manager Richard Macphail. There was some archival footage of the band playing at the Atomic Sunrise festival at London’s Roundhouse, the only video documentation of Genesis with Phillips and drummer John Mayhew.

Despite what appears to be some unresolved rivalry between Peter Gabriel and Tony Banks, it was good to hear Gabriel talking about the band. The film was supplemented by commentary from comedian Al Murray, New Statesman arts critic Kate Mossman, author, former actor and stand-up comedian Mark Billingham, music journalist Chris Roberts and radio DJ Angie Greaves. Mossman interviewed Peter Gabriel for the New Statesman in October last year and she added some useful insight and analysis; the others offered opinion, Murray quite happy with the later, more commercial material.

The idea of Genesis, together and apart, was quite good but still left me feeling slightly unsatisfied. Hackett’s solo work, currently touring Genesis Revisited, was totally overlooked. I rate Voyage of the Acolyte, which features both Rutherford and Collins and easily conforms to prog form circa 1975, as good as A Trick of the Tail and better than Wind and Wuthering and all that came after. He’s the only one of the band that seems to regard their early 70s material as music that continues to deserve an airing, something that would have been worthwhile for the documentary to highlight.


By ProgBlog, Sep 25 2014 07:12PM

I’ve just had a birthday and was fortunate to receive a remarkable number of prog-related presents in the form of CDs, DVD and Books.

Andy Latimer announced at Camel’s Barbican show last year that it was being filmed for release and I’m now the proud owner of that DVD, In from the Cold. The ‘big’ present was The Road to Red, which is a really well-packaged box set – I haven’t had time to listen to any of it yet. Also new to my collection were Product by Brand X, an album I’d only possessed as a home-recorded tape before, which as some really good material but also has two weak, very Phil Collins solo album-like tracks that detract from some amazing playing; a 40th anniversary Darwin! by Banco del Mutuo Soccorso that contains a CD of the album performed live in 2012; the Oliver Wakeman solo album The Three Ages of Magick featuring Steve Howe which shows the virtuoso keyboard playing has been inherited from his father to such a degree that the synth solos are indistinguishable from those performed by Wakeman senior. This has a sonic connection to his father’s New Age output and another genetic trait seems to be an inability to fully realise some of the very good musical ideas, such that some tracks come across as a little aimless. This is a criticism that has been levelled at dad Rick, too, but I think it’s partly to do with band dynamics, the what you bring to a song to make the whole better than the individual parts; Three Ages is a solo effort, not music by committee. I also got Alt, Van der Graaf Generator’s experimental offering from 2012, a vocal-less set of edits and out takes that sort of calls to mind the somewhat maligned disc 2 of Present, but I can quite imagine this being classed as jazz. I also got some classic progressivo Italiano, Searching for a Land by the New Trolls, nicely repackaged by BTF, and a more recent offering from La Torre dell’ Alchimista, their second album Neo (2007) that is true to the spirit of RPI and 70s prog in general, with lengthy multi-part songs and plenty of classic analogue instrumentation. I also got the eponymous Let Spin CD, a showcase for the both the writing and playing of the four members. This is quality modern jazz played at a high tempo with a hefty dose of improvisation. This comes in a three panel cardboard gatefold sleeve with artwork by bassist Ruth Goller. If I have a choice, I like to buy CDs with mini album sleeves rather than the universal jewel case. I also like CD books, whether they conform to similar dimensions to a jewel case (Focus X; Journey to the Centre of the Earth) or if they are more book-like (my two new BMS acquisitions; Mainstream by Quiet Sun). Whatever the format, they don’t fit in my CD storage! In the week following my birthday I received the latest CD from Bill Burford’s band, the east Cumbrian-based Water’s Edge, entitled Silent Applause. This isn’t prog but Bill, the drummer in the first band I was in, has carved a niche as an intelligent adult rock musician and Water’s Edge feature a fair proportion of poignant social commentary.

I also got some prog-related books including a signed copy of Michael Rutherford’s The Living Years. I’ve always felt that Rutherford, despite his post-Hackett Genesis lead guitar playing when Genesis had become a soft-rock band, was very much a background figure. I’ve deliberately set out to listen out for his bass parts and concluded that there’s nothing flashy about his playing; it does what it has to do and it fits in well with what the other band members are doing, whether it’s short runs or his staccato style. He’s solid but not inspiring. His writing style is rather similar and the book comes across as a kind of print version of a family tree TV programme such as BBC TV’s Who Do You Think You Are?. He did once get a speeding ticket in Texas... Actually, his 12-string work with both Genesis and with original Genesis guitarist Anthony Phillips forms a very fitting part of the structure, in the context of the early, pastoral songs.

I didn’t own any books specifically about ELP until I received Emerson, Lake & Palmer: The Show That Never Ends by George Forrester, Martyn Hanson and Frank Askew for my birthday. I read Keith Emerson’s Pictures of an Exhibitionist and then I gave it away; I’ve got Martyn Hanson’s Hang on to a Dream: The Story of the Nice, so I’m not expecting any great revelations but I am looking forward to getting into that... I think that I’ve got a copy of the forthcoming biography of Robert Wyatt, Different Every Time by Marcus O’Dair, when it comes out at the end of October. I’m fascinated by Wyatt’s music and politics and, though he now appears to have attained the status of ‘national treasure’, I think that his opinions on the industry, life and music in general are totally relevant and valid.

One more new book that has just been added to my collection is Jerry Lucky’s 20th Century Rock and Roll: Progressive Rock. Apparently, and I’m sure my wife won’t mind me revealing this, the book has been spotted for £275 on Amazon but she got it, off the shelf, for £10. The seller suggested that the cover might be marked with some indentations but it really is in very good condition. I’ve used two of Lucky’s guides to progressive rock and, for the most part, they’ve been reliable indications of the quality of the music; they’ve certainly been helpful when I’ve gone off to Spain, France, Australia and even Italy to help me seek out indigenous prog.

This offering is an alphabetical list of the top 50 most influential prog bands. It expands on his history of each band in the Files and Handbook and provides his reasons why the bands are influential. Everyone is going to have their own personal preference so I’m not too worried that his choice doesn’t exactly coincide with mine – that’s one of the great things about fans of progressive rock. But I’m not sure that the text can have been proof-read because the grammar is very poor and, more worryingly, is the absence of checking of facts. Who let him publish a history of the Floyd with repeated reference to Dave Gilmore?

Pink Floyd obviously have a place in the top 50 most influential prog bands because their early material and studio mastery inspired many other bands. Gilmour’s guitar is very distinctive and they’ve made history with album chart longevity, so why the schoolboy error? That’s a hard question to answer, especially as Lucky began hosting a prog radio show, Exposure, over 35 years ago and is a renowned collector of progressive and psychedelic music. There’s a passing reference to Marc Bolen and his history of PFM, Van der Graaf Generator and Gentle Giant are spoiled by what I’d regard as terrible mistakes. Apparently, John Weathers took up drumming duties for Gentle Giant in 1976 for the Interview album... What does that say about the mini-biographies of the bands I don’t know very well?

I frequently flick through his Progressive Rock Handbook (which is more up-to-date than his Files) and I’ve noticed that he sometimes refers to other people’s impression of bands. There’s no shame in that as it would be almost impossible to have examples of music from all the bands he lists; it’s just good research and I’m thankful for him suggesting that RPI band Celeste would appeal to people who like Finisterre. This has opened up a whole world of Fabio Zuffanti projects for me to seek out and enjoy.


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