ProgBlog

By ProgBlog, Sep 14 2021 09:55PM



A year after my last attendance at a live music event, 346 days to be precise, I finally got to see bands playing again. I bought my ticket for Steve Hackett at Croydon’s Fairfield Halls, my local medium sized venue, due on Monday 4th October and thought that this was going to be the first gig of 2021 but I’d totally forgotten about the rearranged and re-rearranged HRH Prog X at the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire which took place over the weekend of September 4th and 5th. An indication that the country is genuinely gearing-up to what musicians, the support crews and fans hope will be business as usual was the presence of flyers at the venue, advertising another multi-band gig before I get to see Hackett – A Sunday in September at The Bedford, Balham SW12, and I’ll be heading off there too on the 19th, to see Abel Ganz, The Emerald Dawn, The Gift, IT, Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate and Tom Slater.


Business as usual? I’m not a fan of how the government has handled the Covid pandemic and I’m pretty sure that Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid were delighted to announce the end of all public health restrictions in England on July 19th, in effect washing their hands of responsibility for what has turned out to be a sharp rise in Covid-related cases and concomitant hospitalisations and deaths. How much would it cost to enforce mask wearing in enclosed spaces and to maintain measures to ensure physical distancing? It was interesting to note that during the Prime Minister’s statement on Afghanistan in Parliament all but six of the Tory MPs crammed onto the government benches were without facemasks, while almost all the opposition MPs were masked and observing some degree of social distancing. This was on a day when 41192 new cases of Covid infection were recorded along with 7606 Covid patients in hospital and 45 Covid-related deaths; if this is to be the new normal, I don’t really want to be a part of it. I’d rather gigs were postponed and all those in the industry were properly supported – the furlough scheme hardly touched musicians and the industry that supports live music. A truly radical Chancellor of the Exchequer would have used the pandemic to introduce a Universal Basic Income for all.


The Covid-prevention measures in place at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire were rational and well-organised. ‘Rock The Mask’ posters were everywhere and the organisers had sensibly signed up to the use of the so-called Covid Passport. The prog-watching demographic should mostly be covered by double vaccination and I like to think that if you think about your music you’re also likely to think about the benefits of being vaccinated and maybe subscribe to the view that it’s pretty important to ensure the rest of the world gets vaccinated before we head any further down the road to the old normality. Let’s be quite clear here, as much as I’ve missed being in Italy I’m not happy about travelling while cases continue to rise in the UK and less than 30% of the world’s population is double vaccinated. The virus is still circulating and sooner or later a vaccine-avoiding variant is going to emerge unless we respond globally, and quickly. Individuals need to get a grip – write to your MP and tell them to put people before the economy. I’d be happy for a circuit-breaker if that becomes necessary, on the condition that the Prime Minister, Chancellor and Culture Secretary all acknowledge how much the UK music industry generates for the economy and ensure that no one in the business slips through the support net again if live music has to temporarily stop.


My previous HRH Prog experience (HRH Prog 4 in 2016) was something of a mixed bag. The venue was fine, especially if you were in one of the apartments rather than a mobile home, and there is a lot to see in the Welsh countryside around the Hafan y Mor site when not listening to music. However, a major complaint aired by the three travellers in the car heading home at the end of the weekend was ‘where was the prog?’ I don’t mean to get into a ‘what is prog?’ argument but the unannounced replacement of Curved Air with Purson was a major disappointment because Purson played psychedelic-tinged rock. And who ever labelled Edgar Broughton as progressive rock? On the other hand, I did enjoy Caravan, Soft Machine, Focus and Ian Anderson though I’d certainly have been more reluctant to sign up to the event back in 2020 if I’d known I was going to see the line-up as it appeared this year.


Ticking off Soft Machine in 2016 was a milestone. Without any of the original members they were still worthy of the band name, with John Marshall, Roy Babbington and John Etheridge all having served time in the outfit during the 70s when the line-up was in near constant flux. This year’s equivalent was getting to see Colosseum, a band I've not seen before on my list as a ‘must-see’. I probably heard Colosseum II before I heard any original Colosseum and my collection still only consists of the Daughter of Time compilation CD and Valentyne Suite on vinyl, so my appreciation of the band, without Jon Hiseman who died in 2018 and Dick Heckstall-Smith who died in 2004 but also missing Dave Greenslade who retired in 2015 was largely going to be based on unknowns. Long-standing guitarist and bassist Clem Clempson and Mark Clarke were present along with vocalist Chris Farlowe, accompanied by Malcolm Mortimore (ex-Gentle Giant) on drums, Kim Nishikawara on saxophones, and Nick Steed on organ. I loved the two instrumentals at the start of the set but I'm not a fan of blues-rock which unfortunately made up the majority of their material, so I was a little disappointed with the rest of the performance, even though the playing couldn't be faulted.

One useless fact I picked up was Clempson and Farlowe are fans of the venue because neither had too far to travel; Clempson lives about 200m away!



Ozric Tentacles were another band I'd not seen before and one where I'd toyed with the idea of buying one of their early albums – my local second-hand record shop had a copy of Pungent Effulgent but by the time I’d made up my mind to obtain it, someone had got there before me. Suffice to say it wasn’t quite what I was expecting and no psychoactive substances on the planet could have helped me comprehend the music even though I’d describe myself as an old hippie. I thought it lacked tonality and was a little shambolic, exemplified by former member-now guest synth player Joie Hinton who couldn’t get his keyboard rig to work.



On Sunday the first act of note was Bram Stoker, a band formed in the late 60s who would acquire a 'Progressive-Classical-Rock-Gothic-Psychedelic Rock' tag over the next three years, later categorised by Black Widow Records’ Massimo Gasperini as 'dark prog'.

This was an enjoyable set dipping into the band's past - they disbanded in 1972 and reformed in 2009 but underwent a personnel change in 2014 and again in 2019, the one constant being Tony Bronsdon on keyboards. I recognised Fast Decay, Like Autumn Now and Joust from Cold Reading (2014), a collaboration with Tony Lowe which revisits a little of the material from the debut album, and having recently read Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, dubbed 'the first Gothic novel', loved Otranto from the 2019 album No Refection.



Atomic Rooster were another band I’d wanted to see and another band where I’d thought about buying either the eponymous debut or Death Walks Behind You because of their importance in the prog canon, but I’ve always been put off by their blues roots.

Formed in 1969 after splintering from The Crazy World of Arthur Brown (the preceding act at the festival, skipped for a trip into Shepherd’s Bush for something to eat), organist Vincent Crane was the only constant member of Atomic Rooster in a perpetually changing line-up until his death in 1989. His widow gave permission for the band to reform in 2016 with sometime members Pete French (vocals) and Steve Bolton (guitar), plus bassist Shug Millidge and drummer Bo Walsh, and the 2017 recruit Adrian Gautrey on organ, who managed to fill some pretty large boots. At the end of the set I was still reluctant to take a chance on one of the albums.



I hadn’t intended to listen to the Threshold performance but sat through what I thought was pretty uninspired prog metal. The bass was quite upfront, not necessarily a bad thing, but the keyboards were terribly under-mixed resulting in music lacking variation, more metal than prog despite the theatrical delivery. Johanne James’ drumstick twiddling deserves a mention because there was an awful lot of it!



The headline act was The Enid, who I’d been listening to since the mid-late 70s but didn’t get to see them play live until 1983 and witnessing The Spell premiered at the Hammersmith Odeon. I most recently saw them with Joe Payne in 2014 in Balham and 2016 at HRH Prog 4 and was disappointed on both occasions, but their performance at HRH Prog X was by far the best I've seen, including the poignant In the Region of the Winter Stars - a rearrangement of the familiar Summer Stars.



The Enid provided an excellent end to the weekend as HRH Prog X marked the beginning of a return to live prog. I’ve done my best to follow the scientific advice to minimise the spread of Covid and there was a feeling that most of the audience, certainly the others with VIP tickets on level 2 where face masks were evident if not always covering mouths and noses, took the step to normality with an appropriate degree of caution. The musicians were obviously relieved to be performing once again but I really don’t think we should rush into getting back to live events as they were up to March 2020, abandoning mitigating measures put in place to prevent the spread of the virus. Sure, the pandemic has been dragging on for 18 months now and we’re all getting antsy but it’s a careful approach, taken by each and every one of us, which will ensure we do finally emerge from the coronavirus nightmare without losing more family, friends and musicians unnecessarily.











By ProgBlog, Jun 5 2016 09:39PM

It wasn’t until I began to examine the causes of the demise of the first wave of progressive rock, in association with reading the essays written by Robert Fripp and printed in the sleeve notes of DGM releases at the commencement of the third wave of prog, that I really paid any attention to the record label. Part of this was due to the relatively wide range of record companies that oversaw the releases by the relatively narrow range of bands that I listened to and certainly during the early 70s it seemed that record companies, riding the lucrative wave of the 33rpm vinyl album, were content to let their charges do almost whatever they wanted as long as the coffers continued to be filled and furthermore, taking on a new act that wasn’t quite so successful wasn’t so much of a risk when there were some big acts in the stable who were guaranteed to produce hit albums.

At the time I think I was more interested in the graphic used to represent the record label, proudly applied to the centre of the disc that might give some more information about the music; the green, red/orange and white of Atlantic on my Yes albums that gave way to Roger Dean’s cover artwork on Tales from Topographic Oceans (1973) and Relayer (1974); the green lava-lamp blob, another Roger Dean design, representing the EMI progressive subsidiary Harvest on my copies of Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother (1970), Meddle (1971), A Nice Pair (1974) and Triumvirat’s Spartacus (1975), though the Floyd’s association with Hipgnosis and their approach to design resulted in Dark Side of the Moon (1973) boasting the iconic (triangle) prism; Wish You Were Here (1975) has a George Hardie robotic handshake and Animals (1977) has a fish eye lens dog on side one and sheep on side two. Roger Dean was evidently in demand by the progressive record labels because he also designed the replacement for the Vertigo swirl, with the UFO-like spacecraft and illustrated the first Virgin Records label, originally in black and white, and the closely related image, without the lizard, for the budget Virgin stable mate Caroline. My only copies Vertigo albums on vinyl are Octopus (1972) by Gentle Giant and the eponymous debut by Trace (1974), both of which feature the spaceships and all my albums on Virgin had a coloured logo which, by the time of Ommadawn (1975) had shed the lizard and was simply a stylised photo of the mirror girl.


I quite quickly recognised that there was one record company that appeared to have a monopoly on jazz-rock fusion, with CBS being home to The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report and Return to Forever but it wasn’t until I discovered the link back to Miles Davis that I understood why. When I picked up Neil Ardley’s Kaleidoscope of Rainbows (from 1976) on tape in the early 80s I wondered if there was a jazz rock thing going on with Gull Records because Isotope were also on Gull; I had all three of the Isotope studio releases but never realised that it was a label associated with Morgan studios because Isotope (1974), Illusion (1974) and Deep End (1975) were recorded at Advision, Rockfield and Trident respectively.


The only label that came anywhere close to indicating that their bands were all worth listening to was Charisma. After the demise of Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate label in 1970, The Nice released Five Bridges (1970) and the posthumous Elegy (1971) on Charisma. My second hand copy of Elegy has the original ‘scroll’ logo and my Five Bridges, bought new, has a bold block Charisma on a blue background surmounted by a small Mad Hatter. Almost everything else I have on the label on vinyl features the John Tenniel Hatter: Genesis, Van der Graaf Generator and Peter Hammill solo material, Refugee, Bo Hansson, Steve Hackett, Brand X; even my re-released English version of Le Orme’s Felona and Sorona, distributed by BTF in Italy, has the famous Mad Hatter image. The exceptions include Peter Gabriel Plays Live (1983) where there’s a small cover photo image of Gabriel in black and white, and sides two and four of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974) which feature the shattering glass photos from the Hipgnosis cover without any text. The Charisma roster was hand-picked by founder Tony Stratton-Smith and, without the corporate restrictions of the majors, featured a good range of like-minded artists; not that I was ever tempted to buy anything by Clifford T Ward. Almost all the major labels all had an imprint that championed alternative or progressive rock. EMI had Harvest; Philips/Phonogram had Vertigo; Decca had Deram (with Camel, Caravan and the Moody Blues on their books until the Moodies set up their own label and shops, Threshold); Pye had Dawn, home to Northern Ireland’s only progressive rock band Fruupp. RCA also had a short-lived specialist label, Neon, only ever releasing 11 albums, all in 1971 but which included the only, self-titled album by Tonton Macoute (very much on the jazzier side of prog), the Mellotron-heavy self-titled album by Spring and the proto-prog of Indian Summer with their eponymous album.



One of the first labels I came across was Manticore, set up by Emerson, Lake and Palmer in 1973 which wasn’t too long after I first started to listen to prog, conceived as a vehicle for not just their own music but also for acts that interested the trio but which were finding it difficult to get music released. Manticore brought Italian prog giants Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM) and Banco to UK and US consciousness and followed in the footsteps of the Moody Blues and Threshold Records, a sub-division of their old label Decca, formed in 1969 following the release of On the Threshold of a Dream. Manticore, named after the chimeric creature that appears on the sleeve of Tarkus pre-dated Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song Records by a year.


Gentle Giant switched record companies from Vertigo to the Black Sabbath label World Wide Artists before the release of In a Glass House but WWA folded following financial difficulties some time after the release of The Power and the Glory in 1974 and their next effort, Free Hand (1975) was released on Chrysalis. This deal came about after Gentle Giant toured in the US supporting Jethro Tull, Tull having been the reason for the formation of the label by Chris Wright and Terry Ellis when they couldn’t get a record deal in the late 60s. Another label independent of the majors, apart from overseas distribution deals, Chrysalis may have been a pun based on the founders’ names but the imagery, the stage prior to a butterfly emerging from its cocoon, captured the zeitgeist. Procol Harum were another prog band that released records on Chrysalis.


King Crimson were signed to EG music but their 60s and 70s material was released via distributors (independent) Island Records and Polydor, a UK subsidiary of Germany’s Polyphon-Musikwerke that was founded in 1913. The 80s incarnation of Crimson released three albums on EG and there were a number of other releases, called Editions EG, including albums by Robert Fripp’s League of Gentlemen, Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Brian Eno and Quiet Sun. EG ended up being distributed by Virgin who were then sold to EMI but in the mean time Fripp, who had been in a long-term dispute with EG, formed Discipline Global Mobile to release King Crimson and related material. From the outset DGM set out to provide an alternative business model to the majors which Fripp described as unethical and founded on exploitation. The main principle of DGM was to allow the artists to retain copyright of their material which meant that none of the DGM artists would have to go through the same process that Fripp had done with EG.


It would appear that the industry has changed. There may be only three majors now, after takeovers and mergers and there still might be multi-million dollar contracts, but the progressive rock community has witnessed to some innovative ways to release records, from the crowd-funded financing of Marillion to the founding of a progressive rock-specific label, Kscope, with the stated aim to be artistically focused and sympathetic to adventurous and explorative music. I always thought it was worth reading the label...







The blogs HRH Prog 4 Line Up (F+B) Keith Emerson at the Barbican Z fest ticket BMS Brescia A Saucerful of Secrets banner

Welcome to ProgBlog

 

I was lucky enough to get to see two gigs in Italy last summer while the UK live music industry was halted and unsupported by the government, and the subsequent year-long gap between going to see bands play live has been frustrating - but necessary.

The first weekend in September marked the return of live prog in England, and ProgBlog was there...

Banco ticket 050220