ProgBlog

By ProgBlog, Jun 12 2016 09:24PM

I remember the UK joining the EEC in 1973 better than I remember the last time the UK took place in a European referendum on the 5th June 1975. During an Art lesson at the time we joined the Common Market, we were given the task of illustrating the event and though my family quite happily discussed issues that laid the foundation for my own political awakening, I don’t recall how they voted in the 1975 plebiscite.

The first half of 1975 was relatively quiet for releases from major progressive rock acts. In April Camel released Music Inspired by the Snow Goose and Hatfield and the North released The Rotter’s Club the previous month but it wasn’t until late summer into autumn that the floodgates opened and Caravan finally managed to get an album in the charts with Cunning Stunts; Gentle Giant released the accessible Free Hand; Quiet Sun put out the phenomenal, off-beat Mainstream; Pink Floyd returned from hiatus with Wish You Were Here; Jethro Tull released the under-rated Minstrel in the Gallery; Steve Hackett embarked on his first solo venture, albeit with help from a number of his band mates, Voyage of the Acolyte; Van der Graaf Generator mark II announced their reformation with Godbluff; Chris Squire became the first of the Yes alumni to release a solo album during their break from band duties with Fish out of Water; and Vangelis, who had sparked our interest because of headlines linking him with Yes after the departure of Rick Wakeman in 1974, put out Heaven and Hell. Focus rounded off the year with Mother Focus, a departure from the symphonic prog of Hamburger Concerto, veering into pop and funk territory, considered by many to be disappointingly sub-standard.


With the exception of Wish You Were Here and Fish out of Water, I didn’t buy any of the albums listed above at the time of their release due to a combination of lack of funds and a lack of willingness to take a punt when I’d only heard excerpts on the radio. I’ve yet to commit to a copy of Cunning Stunts. When I did buy an LP it was catching up with a release from earlier in the progressive rock timeline, including the compilation Yesterdays which really counts as the first Yes retrospective, no doubt issued (in February 1975) to maintain interest in the group as they all took time off to explore solo ventures. I thought it was a decent way of acquiring some of their early material, plus a muscular, prog version of Simon and Garfunkel’s America, for half the price of the first two studio albums. Another two albums that I did buy when they first came out were Rubycon by Tangerine Dream and Rick Wakeman’s Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, from March and April 1975 respectively. I hadn’t bought Journey to the Centre of the Earth, having been put off by the vocals but I thought the singing on Arthur was better and Wakeman’s song writing had improved, though not to the standard of the musical vignettes on the entirely instrumental The Six Wives of Henry VIII. Also, as much as I approved of Jules Verne’s proto-science fiction, I was much more familiar with Arthurian legends. Rubycon continued on from where Phaedra had left off and at the time I was very much in favour of keyboard-drenched sojourns into outer and inner space and the amorphous washes from Tangerine Dream, coupled with the sequencer pulses weaving and morphing in and out of the synthesizer, organ and Mellotron drones chimed with my interest in sonic exploration.


Whereas I’d heard of bands like Amon Düül, Kraftwerk and, thanks to the marketing gurus at Virgin Records selling The Faust Tapes for 49p, Faust, of all the German bands I only really liked Tangerine Dream; that was until late summer when Triumvirat released Spartacus and, after hearing March to the Eternal City on Alan Freeman's radio show, I went out and bought the album. Whereas most of the album is stylistically analogous to Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Karn Evil 9, March to the Eternal City hints of ELP but is obviously Triumvirat. This is the best track on the album thanks to the lyrics which sound as though they could be telling some future tale, “they carry missile and spear”, like a storyline from the comic strip The Trigan Empire; the other words are a bit schoolboy-ish and naive.

It was early in 1975 was when I discovered Premiata Forneria Marcon (PFM) when friend Bill Burford bought Chocolate Kings and live cut Cook, and a Europe-wide take on the progressive rock super-genre began to reveal itself with other musicians and bands joining the movement, one that still seemed very much rooted in the original ideals. This time of progressive rock coincided with the death of Franco in Spain and the beginning of the transition to democracy and Greece only emerged from a military junta the previous year, 1974.


Fast forward to 2016 and Europe seems to be doing its best to tear itself apart. Southern states have been most badly affected by austerity and though it’s been easy for those in power to deflect the blame from the banks that caused the financial crisis in 2008, it has resulted in an abandonment of belief in the political system. Those on the Right blame immigration for their economic outlook while those on the Left decry inflexible centrists for imposing austerity on their countries. So far, the far Right have been kept from power but the frightening prospect of Golden Dawn in Greece, a violent party that took third place in elections in 2015 or France’s Marine Le Pen or, even more recently, of Norbert Hofer from the Freedom Party who was narrowly defeated by the socialist Alexander Van der Bellen in this year’s Austrian Presidential election, being elected to run their country is a serious cause for concern because their insular point of view and populist nationalism is a breeding ground for hatred and violence and threatens genuine democracy through clamping down on freedom of speech. Our very own UKIP operates under the guise of respectability but a series of interventions by party officials shows how nasty they really are, trading on fear, lies and the politics of hatred. Wars in Africa and the Middle East have created a massive migrant crisis as refugees risk their lives in the flight from their own countries towards what they believe to be the safety of the West, landing in Italy and Greece, creating perfect conditions for the rise of anti-immigrant sympathies.

It seems to me that the UK referendum on our membership of the EU, a political gamble by David Cameron that was always destined to fail, has been reduced to the level of a playground brawl with each side calling each other names and, despite those who wish to remain talking up doom scenarios and those who wish to leave having no idea of how the country will fare outside of the EU, this has become a referendum on immigration. Those in favour of leaving imagine they are going to take control of our borders. Could they remind themselves how many Syrian refugees the UK has taken in? That was 1,602 at the end of March this year. What an amazing response to a humanitarian crisis! According to Nigel Farage, controlling immigration is restricting the movement of Europeans into the UK complaining of the stress placed upon housing, jobs and the NHS but allowing an undisclosed number of Commonwealth citizens to come to the UK. It’s hard to believe he can get away with such hypocrisy but the 24 hour media cover concentrates on ‘blue on blue’ attacks and making up non-stories about Jeremy Corbyn.

It would be nice if someone broadcast the message that it’s not immigrants who put strain on public services, but ideological austerity and the deliberate dogmatic shrinking of the State. No one has said there’s not enough room in the country. There aren’t enough hospital beds, teachers and affordable houses or public transport because this government, and those before, have pursued policies of enriching the few and penalising those on low and middle incomes, welcoming foreign investment in luxury developments but leaving flats empty, under-occupied and pushing house prices beyond the means of a major proportion of the population, slashing the salaries of healthcare workers and teachers through public-sector pay freezes and pension changes and forcing low paid private sector employees into zero hour contracts. Please don’t think that education, health, housing, jobs and transport would be better if we leave the EU – those advocating leave are equally responsible for the state of the country with their private healthcare directorships and money secreted away in tax havens.

Progressive rock espoused the benefits of external influences and embraced the nascent green movement. I’m not suggesting that there’s nothing wrong with the EU but the UK will not be able to face up to global challenges like climate change on its own. This means the abandonment of austerity and offering more, better targeted training and rejecting xenophobia. Let’s do it with help from our EU partners.





By ProgBlog, Jan 25 2015 11:12PM

Edgar Froese, the founder member of Tangerine Dream died unexpectedly last week from a pulmonary embolism at the age of 70.

Froese was born in 1944 in a region of East Prussia (now the Russian city of Sovetsk) and settled in West Berlin where he went on to study art and sculpture in the mid-60s. He formed a Beat group called The Ones who toured widely playing songs such as soul classic In the Midnight Hour. It was during this time that he visited Salvador Dali at his villa in Cadaqués where he was inspired to reject the Anglo-American confines of popular music. On his return to Berlin, he dropped into the newly founded Zodiak Arts Lab and adopted the moniker Tangerine Dream. The first TD album Electronic Meditation, made with drummer Klaus Schulze, unconventional musician Conrad Schnitzler (who played dried peas, typewriter and manipulated taped sounds), organist Jimmy Jackson and flautist Thomas Keyserling, was not really ‘electronic’ but treated conventional instruments.

Their third release, Zeit, a double album from 1972, is a bleak, minimalist masterpiece from the rather dramatic cello quartet opening through to the very end. Based on the philosophy that time is motionless and only exists in our own minds, the shifting sounds, overlain and treated, make me imagine that I’m lost and alone in deep space. There’s a hint of strummed guitar in part 3 (Origin of Supernatural Probabilities) but, apart from the cellos, that’s the only discernible instrument; Zeit is also notable for being the first TD album that brought together seminal line-up of Froese, Christopher Franke and Peter Baumann.

DJ John Peel and Richard Branson were primarily responsible for the popularity of TD in the UK after Peel named Atem (1973) his album of the year and, following their signing to the fledgling Virgin Records, Phaedra (1974) reached no 15 in the charts despite only selling a couple of thousand copies in their native Germany. Despite Phaedra being my introduction to TD (thanks to school friend Alan Lee) I prefer Rubycon (1975) and, though I haven't heard Ricochet for nearly 40 years, I think I also prefer that to Phaedra.

Some commentators think that the term ‘progressive’ should not be applied to Zeit, partly on philosophical grounds – how can you progress if time doesn’t really exist? – but the output of the Virgin years is a maturing of the Kosmische sound that fully embraces the spirit of prog where the sequencer comes to the fore. Whereas Zeit with its subtle sonic shifts could be called ambient in the same way that Fripp and Eno’s No Pussyfooting and Evening Star are ambient, the subsequent TD releases are something more. I’m struggling to find a suitable term but I guess ‘atmospheric’ will do. Though inherently rhythmical, sequencers weren’t used to provide rhythm; their pulses weave in and out of the sonic washes like snapshots of important moments in time, mayfly fragments in the history of the universe.

The band may not have been virtuoso but that’s why they didn’t emulate British prog; they became virtuosos of technology and Chris Franke applied the influence of the minimalists and modern composer György Ligeti. Their use of haunting Mellotron flute is classic but they also used the instrument to great effect on Mysterious Semblance at the Strand of Nightmares from Phaedra to emulate staccato violin, something that contradicts the 'ambient' tag. In fact, their use of Mellotron is quite different from that of the symphonic prog bands, something I’d ascribe to the sonic territory that they inhabited. I’m one of those people who believe that the mid-70s TD were a defining sound of prog and rushed out to buy Rubycon when it was released. I loved the cover of Phaedra more than Rubycon, but the inside gatefold of the latter was brilliant, in gorgeous chocolate colours, with the cameo of Monique Froese. TD cover artwork was pretty special and as immersive as the music itself, another reason to define them as classic prog. Rubycon was an album that was fantastic for listening to in the dark, through headphones, a pure escapist experience whether you were exploring outer or inner space.

The next studio release, Stratosfear, makes too many concessions towards mainstream rock for my liking. Why on earth did Froese use a harmonica? Friend and Electronica aficionado Neil Jellis opines that Stratosfear is much more polished than their live material of that year or even 1977’s Encore. I think that the studio material is all very well produced but I’m not particularly au fait with the live material and interpret Neil’s comment not as a criticism as such, rather an indication that TD were becoming more industry-friendly. I imagine it was difficult to find new things to write in the idiom that they’d created. We both agree that Song of the Whale (from Underwater Sunlight) is their last great track and Neil points out that Chris Franke left the band one studio album later and believes there is a direct correlation between the (declining) quality of TD material and Franke's exit. He says there are long-standing rumours that Franke is sitting on a pile of live recordings from the 1970s and 80s. It may be that following the death of Froese there is a chance that these recordings may now see the light of day as the relationship between Froese and Franke was pretty poor following the latter’s departure from the band.

I was somewhat surprised to find that George Wells, one of my brothers-in-law, was a TD fan because much of his record collection was made up of Neil Diamond records! He’d been to see TD play live but as I only met my future wife in 1984 I’m not sure if he was present at the concert at the Fairfield Halls in Croydon (23/10/1975) where much of Ricochet was recorded. I didn’t mind buying him a couple of TD albums as birthday presents in the mid-late 80s before the disappearance of vinyl but I would have been embarrassed if I’d had to hand over money in a record shop for anything else he liked!




Edgar Willmar Froese b. 6 June 1944 d. 20 January 2015



By ProgBlog, Nov 25 2014 11:57AM

In the late 60s, experimentation and the rejection of the values of the previous generation was fed by musicians, artists and writers in a mini-renaissance where scientific possibilities pointed in two opposing directions: one to the promise of a utopian future based on consumerism; the other to an understanding that the unfettered use of natural resources was going to endanger the planet. Wars on foreign soil were viewed by the counterculture as imperialist manoeuvres and showed that governments were incapable of embracing ‘cultural relativism’, the academic anthropological view that other distinct cultures should not be seen as inferior to those that espoused Western ideals, because moral values can be culturally specific. The US government had begun to control the populace with pledges of the rewards of hard work: a steady job; a bank loan; a car; a house; new appliances, and competition was deemed to be good because in the economic race, the successful would rise to the top and, according the advertising copywriters of The American Dream, anybody could reap the rewards of the system if they worked hard enough, or swindled, lied and cheated enough.

The opposing view was imported from Eastern Europe and Asia. At that time, no one thought that wars would be fought over foreign oil and other natural resources, the raw materials of capitalism; the enemy was ideological. Such was the paranoia of US politicians, even Communism’s less strident sibling Socialism was to be feared and hated. The proponents of the counterculture embraced the principles of true egalitarianism and challenged creeping corporatism in areas such as agriculture and energy, preferring a ‘back to nature’ outlook and the benefits of a mutually supportive society. During this time, science fiction (SF) matured from escapism into a genre that looked both outwards and inwards and became a serious literary tool to criticise imperialistic tendencies (Ursula Le Guin) and one that warned of the consequences of climate change (JG Ballard). Not surprisingly, SF was embraced by the counterculture and, in conjunction with emerging musical technologies and a liberal dose of chemical stimulants, Psychedelia was born and Space Rock followed shortly after.

The extended blues jamming of the Grateful Dead wasn’t really replicated in the UK or Europe. Pink Floyd played extended jams during their live set and, despite the whimsical psychedelia of the Barrett-penned material that made up the majority of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, the inclusion of Interstellar Overdrive and Astronomy Domine on the album indicated the direction of the Floyd for the next couple of years. The Floyd weren’t virtuoso but they did extend musical form by embracing effects and applying them in unusual ways and it was this experimentation and a penchant for cosmic-sounding titles that made them the premiere space rock act from around 1969; the live album of Ummagumma showcases their particular brand of music. The other main UK space rock outfit was Hawkwind who had a longstanding collaboration with SF author Michael Moorcock. Heavy and riff-based and again, not a virtuoso band and certainly not prog, I found them more amusing than any kind of serious proposition. Having said that, I do have a soft spot for Space Ritual and Quark Strangeness and Charm and I even attempted to see Robert Calvert’s West End stage interpretation of his novel Hype but the show had been closed early, that very same week. I did pluck up the courage to see Hawkwind at the Fairfield Halls in Croydon on 14th November 1999 but they didn’t play much material that I was familiar with and the gig was more techno than rambling space rock.

The Floyd had quite an influence on bands from mainland Europe. France’s Pulsar were dreamy and trippy and admit to being strongly influenced by Pink Floyd; before changing their name from Free Sound to Pulsar and playing self-penned material they used to perform cover versions of Set the Controls, and Careful with that Axe. Half Canterbury and half Space Rock and half French, early Gong created the Pot Head Pixies from the Planet Gong space mythology and their music was defined by trippy grooves, played by some excellent musicians. The arrival of Steve Hillage in the Gong fold in 1972 didn’t change their direction much as he’d just released an album with his band Khan called Space Shanty (1972) that highlights his fluid glissando guitar. His next venture outside of Gong was Fish Rising (1975) which continued where Space Shanty left off and included the classic Solar Musick Suite.

Perhaps more than anything, the influence of Pink Floyd was soaked-up by the fledgling German rock movement. Despite the America-centric music industry labelling all German bands with the derogatory term 'Krautrock', the bands themselves adopted the title. Somewhat like Italian prog having a different flavour depending on where the band originated, there were few similarities between bands from the different German cities and there were often no sonic similarities between bands from the same city. What they did have in common, however, was a rejection of the attitude of the previous generation who remained deeply conservative and refused to contemplate atonement for the acts their leaders had carried out in WW2; the new generation had grown up after the war and wanted to create something new and different and independent of mainstream western rock. Many of the early Krautrock acts were highly politicised: Amon Düül arose from a commune that celebrated a variety of art forms and the music they produced was fairly amateur. Musicians from the band formed Amon Düül II and the qualitative difference between the two acts, which co-existed for a while, was huge. Some would argue that Amon Düül II reneged on the principles of the commune, seeking to make a materialist livelihood playing Floyd-inspired space rock. It’s important to point out that not all Krautrock was spacey and reliant upon common instrumentation; much of it was a startlingly original blend of electronics and industrial sounds, including the use of a cement mixer by Faust.

Eloy played a fairly basic form of symphonic prog that owed a debt to the Floyd and were even signed to the Harvest label. Taking their name from the futuristic race in HG Wells’ The Time Machine, their sound is heavy and organ/guitar drenched. I have a copy of Inside (1973) that I bought second hand in Beanos in 2005; all the vocals are in English and the lyrics lack complexity; there’s a hint of politics in the writing but political content was toned down after their first release. I find Nektar, who were British and based in Hamburg yet still get classed as Krautrock, stylistically similar to Eloy with a basis of heavy rock but stretching out into space rock territory. They’re certainly more rock than prog and the one CD that I own, Remember the Future, is considered to be one of their best works. I’m not at all keen on the almost country rock guitar and vocal harmonies and find it hard to believe that I paid nearly €16 for the album. On the plus side, I did buy it at a good exchange rate when I was in Berlin in 2005.

The other major Floyd-influenced Krautrock band is Tangerine Dream. They began with guitar and drums but fairly rapidly evolved into the classic electronic trio line-up that had a great deal of success with the progressive crowd after signing to Virgin. Their expansion of kosmische musik (electronic drones produced by tape loops or keyboard, originally popularised by Popol Vuh) using sequencers for a form of metronomic backing. Pink Floyd had begun to use the VCS3 for Dark Side of the Moon and TD used sequencers in a not dissimilar fashion, weaving in and out of electronic washes of sound. Phaedra and Rubycon are both classic albums and essential listening. By the time of Stratosfear (1976), guitar had crept back into their instrumentation and original member uses mouth organ. Personally, I don’t think that the harmonica is not a prog instrument!


By ProgBlog, Jun 8 2014 04:18PM

By 1974 I’d had over a full year of immersion into prog though most of it was still catch-up. Looking back on the classic releases of 1974 brother Tony and I hardly bought any of them at the time; window-shopping was more the order of the day because of a shortage of ready cash. The exceptions were Refugee, Hamburger Concerto and Relayer. We’d been following Yes and Focus and we believed Refugee were natural successors to The Nice. The major headline of 1974 was the Melody Maker Rick Wakeman Quits Yes announcement from June 8th and it’s hard to imagine the effect that had on me even though his discontent with Tales from Topographic Oceans, released 6 months earlier, had been aired in the music press. The closest example that I can come up with is the disappointment I felt when Dougie Freedman quit as manager of Crystal Palace in October 2012 to go to Bolton Wanderers, when Palace were stringing together a good series of results in the Championship. Fans of other teams will have experienced the same sort of feeling when one of their star players has been lured away by the promise of silverware or Rupert Murdoch/Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan buckets of cash.

There is a distinct qualitative difference between pre-Wakeman Yes and Fragile, Close to the Edge and Tales that was catalysed by the presence of Wakeman. The Yes Album may be a classic but it’s just a stepping-stone on the way to the band fulfilling their potential. I bought my copy of The Yes Album in 1974, an American pressing on heavyweight vinyl in a very robust sleeve. I still regard Tales as a brilliant album but I can understand the criticism that the quality of the material suffers for being stretched over four sides of vinyl. I was concerned that Wakeman’s replacement wouldn’t match up to his ability. Though not a great fan of Journey to the Centre of the Earth, which I’d borrowed from friends, I understood that he was an integral part of the Yes sound. I’d heard material by the first possible replacement, Vangelis, but wasn’t convinced he was the right choice. When Vangelis turned down the gig it somehow seemed inevitable to me that the band would approach Patrick Moraz and though Moraz was a fully capable and obvious choice, I really wanted Refugee to stick together. It’s fair to say that I was really pleased with Relayer when I was given a copy for Christmas 1974.

Tony and I thought buying Hamburger Concerto was something of a gamble and we pooled our money and bought it between us. We were more familiar with Moving Waves and Focus 3, though I didn’t acquire my copy of Focus 3 until 1976, being more expensive than most albums because it was a double album; this was another record that had been loaned to us and both Sylvia and House of the King received a good deal of air play. The sleeve of Hamburger is rather novel, with the record itself accessed from an opening inside the gatefold. The inclusion of Colin Allen as a replacement for Pierre van der Linden was an unknown quantity (I’d not listened to any Stone the Crows) but the variety of Thijs van Leer’s keyboards was a bonus. The album is well produced and I think it’s the most satisfying Focus offering, overall slightly better than the excellent Moving Waves, because the compositions and musicianship maintain a consistent, high standard.

I became aware of Tangerine Dream in 1974, when Phaedra hit the record stores. The cover was very interesting, the song titles were intriguing and the instrumentation was a prog dream-come-true: three keyboard players. TD are possibly best remembered for their use of sequencer but I was particularly impressed by the sonic washes, other-worldly sounds and the use of plaintive mellotron. School friend Alan Lee lent me his copy and though I never owned a copy of Phaedra on vinyl, I bought Rubycon when it was released in 1975 because it seemed to me to be a more coherent album.

Another of the catch-up albums was Tubular Bells. When that first appeared in 1973 I was beguiled by the brilliant cover artwork, the incredible range of instruments played by Oldfield and the sense of humour reflected in the little notice on the sleeve, almost obscured by Trevor Key’s beach photograph: "This stereo record cannot be played on old tin boxes no matter what they are fitted with. If you are in possession of such equipment please hand it into the nearest police station." This tongue-in-cheek sentiment fitted in with my developing world view, that hi-fi was a serious business and the pursuit of the ultimate listening experience was facilitated by good audio equipment. That one individual should compose and record such an album, given the state of recording technology at the time, was quite remarkable. I loved the development of part 1, 25 minutes of build-up and glorious release, but I didn’t play side two as often as I’d play side one.

Other major releases from 1974 included Starless and Bible Black, Red, Mirage, Hatfield and the North, The World Became the World, The Power and the Glory, Red Queen to Gryphon Three and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. These albums represent output from some of prog’s heavy hitters and over the next few years all these were added to my collection. It was listening to Alan Freeman’s Saturday Rock Show that I first heard King Crimson when he played Great Deceiver to announce the release of SaBB. Tony eventually bought Starless and Guy Wimble, who lived across the road from us, bought a copy of Red. Gentle Giant had been introduced to us via In a Glass House, lent to Tony by one of his friends. I had borrowed Genesis Live and was more into the romantic sound of early Genesis than The Lamb, which seemed more urgent and modern to me at the time, not the symphonic prog that I was into. Gryphon managed the unique feat of appearing on all four BBC radio stations in the same week and Tony saw them live when he went to see Yes on the Relayer tour, with Gryphon as the support band.

Looking back, 1974 seems something of a watershed year. Two of the most commercially successful acts, Yes and ELP, were about to undergo a hiatus. (Pink Floyd, who were still in their prog phase, were out of synch but would take considerable time over the follow-up to Wish You Were Here.) It’s as though the bands themselves needed to take a step back and recover their creative spark. It’s just a shame that their re-emergence coincided with a social disconnect and the rise of punk.


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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.

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