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ProgBlog reflects on the current state of prog metal

By ProgBlog, Dec 4 2016 11:47PM

Ten years ago I was sitting in an MBA tutor group, discussing the pharmaceutical industry and I casually announced my belief that the NHS should prescribe any drug which had a proven beneficial effect whatever the cost and that the production of medicines needed to be brought under state control; 30 years before that during a General Studies class, I made an observation on equality which provoked the teacher to ask if I was a Marxist. My world view is based on the advantages of co-operation rather than the destructive forces of competition and I favour hope over selfishness and greed. These are sympathetic aspects that I coincidentally detect in symphonic progressive rock but I don’t necessarily think they make me a follower of Marxist doctrine.




In the last 6 months my philosophy has been battered by some devastating political developments, most notably the decision by a small majority of the British voting public to leave the European Union and, on the other side of the Atlantic, the election of Donald Trump as US President (the EU Referendum was discussed in the post http://progblog.co.uk/the-blogs/4583484660/Referendum/10768128). As I write, counting of votes in the re-run Austrian Presidential election has just begun and there are a couple of hours to go before polls close in Italy, where voters have to decide between the political establishment and rising populist forces in a referendum called by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi; the political landscape of Europe may yet take another turn for the worse.

I don’t intend to criticise anyone for voting the opposite way to me but I’m deeply unhappy about our descent into a post-truth world, where both obvious lies and unsubstantiated opinion are presented as ‘facts’ which gain the gloss of validity when they are transmitted over and over again by traditional media, whether or not owned by vested interests, and the more insidious new media which is controlled by only a handful of giant corporations. Sometimes it seems the louder you shout, whatever rubbish you’re spouting but especially if you’re tapping into a source of insecurity, the more adherents you get. There is an obvious disconnect between elected members and the public they ostensibly represent, where in the UK becoming an MP relies more on impressing the party establishment than it does with understanding the concerns of constituents within the community. This is disturbing because communities which existed at the peak of UK manufacturing in the 70s were decimated by the policies of the Thatcher-run Conservative government in the early 80s and whatever new industry has appeared, such as the assembly of Japanese cars in the north-east, it has not compensated for the loss of the original manufacturing base. The reduction in output of physical product was originally partially met by the expanding service sector, best illustrated by organisations based away from high-cost areas in low-rent call centres, but the cost-savings of this model weren’t enough for many high street names who outsourced the work to the Indian sub-continent, creating a customer services debacle; most of these companies have now brought back their call centres to the UK. Even worse, our ability to provide apprenticeships for practical skills was allowed to wither, demonstrated by the defects present in the recently built submarines carrying our nuclear deterrent....

The world has moved on following the 2008 global financial crash but the same vested interests continue to pull the strings. Our current government boasts of record employment figures while failing to accept the consequences of the ‘gig economy’: unskilled work; low pay; underemployment; lack of job security; a failure to invest for retirement. These effects have been exacerbated by a commitment to austerity but resistance has been poor because of the reduced power of the unions and the voting public has swallowed the misdirection of the government and the press. The lexicon has changed where ‘welfare’, the state safety net for those unable to work, has become ‘benefits’ and instead of seeking out the millions owed by corporate tax avoidance, we want to punish the far smaller number of ‘benefit cheats’. Our appetite for buzz phrases like ‘workers and shirkers’ or ‘skivers and strivers’ plays into the hands of anyone who wants to divide the country. Politicians and the media know that in times of crisis it’s handy to have someone to blame, whether it’s immigrants or the disabled, just as long as it’s not them or any of their coterie running banks and big business; we’ve become lazy, falling for a catchphrase and victimising groups who most deserve our support.



There are a number of terms in music with positive connotations. Harmony describes different voices getting along together; the voices in counterpoint are harmonically interdependent but independent in rhythm and contour; even dissonance can be resolved. As a musical form, progressive rock explores and utilises these techniques in an effort to bridge the so-called high culture of classical music with the popular culture of rock, rejoicing in and incorporating other diverse influences. Prog rock emerged on the back of hope for a better future and was realised through innovative technical developments, indicating a close relationship between ideals and novel thinking. Many of the ideas expounded in the science fiction books I read as a youth are now reality but the concomitant idealism has been ground into the dust. So when did this positive vision dissipate and why? Almost all commentators agree that Yes were an affirmative musical force and when they began really hitting the big time in America during the Close to the Edge tour, Jon Anderson would introduce And You And I as a ‘protest song’ and encourage the audience to think about the importance of the message. Did any of that generation go on and vote Trump or were they the ones who have taught their children and grandchildren to value the environment and peaceful coexistence? Analysis of the demographic of the electorate in the UK plebiscite and the US Presidential election may be complex but I think whichever way Britons and Americans cast their ballot, it was influenced by voices which spoke to self-interest rather than an appeal for what was best for everyone.

You can call me naive or call me a Marxist but I still believe that music can influence people and prog in particular is an affirmative force. I call for all those who attended Yes gigs in the 1970s to spread the message of protest.


Post Script

I’ve just read that the far-right Norbert Hofer has conceded defeat in the Austrian Presidential election. There’s still hope for humanity!





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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