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Don't judge a book by the cover, unless your particular speciality is dark prog...

ProgBlog sets about finding out about where Muffx fit into the prog genre with their 2017 release L'Ora di Tutti...

By ProgBlog, Feb 20 2018 03:57PM

In the last blog I commented on how difficult it was to pigeonhole Portico Quartet who don’t really sit easily on a sliding scale between jazz and anywhere but need something else, another superimposed scale perhaps, to give more of an indication of how you might identify their music. I’ve just had a fairly intensive session listening to L’Ora di Tutti (Time for Everyone) by Italian band Muffx and, as with Portico Quartet, I really like their music but whilst they fall somewhere in the amorphous prog cloud, they also defy a strict classification, taking a dash of psychedelia, a dose of proto-prog, incorporating some heavy blues aspects that featured in a number of the early RPI bands, some blues-inflected keyboard prog like Greenslade, swing, and experimentation.


It came as something of a surprise to me that L’Ora di Tutti is their fifth album, although only three prior to this one have been released: ...Saw The... (2007), Small Obsessions (2009), and Époque (2012); the material making up Nocturno which was recorded after Époque was shelved following the untimely death of producer and friend Pierpaolo Cazzolla. The band was formed in Salento (Puglia) by guitarist Luigi Bruno (leader of the Mediterranean Psychedelic Orkestra and co-founder of the Sagra Del Diavolo, the Devil’s Festival) and garnered favourable press when they toured Italy to promote their debut album; a success repeated when they released their second and third albums; they’ve even toured in the UK and have played with special guests from the prog world, like Richard Sinclair (now resident in Puglia) Aldo Tagliapietra and Claudio Simonetti.


The album reflects the band’s geographical roots, with the title L’Ora di Tutti taken from the 1962 cult novel by Maria Corti about the Ottoman attack on Otranto on the eastern side of the Salento peninsula in August 1480. In the book, the event is narrated by five different characters, fishermen and farmers, so in effect it is five stories told in the first person, offering different perspectives that complement each other chronologically; presenting an alternative narrative of heroism and sacrifice in contrast to the official chronicles. There are subtly different cover graphics for the vinyl and CD releases by Massimo Pasca, who appears to be channelling images of hell like Coppo di Marcovaldo, Pieter Bruegel or Hieronymus Bosch, depicting the attack; it’s not a mainstream prog cover but does fit a ‘dark prog’ tag, a category firmly associated with Genoa’s Black Widow Records who co-produced and distributed the disc.


Opening track Un' Alba come Tante (A Dawn like Many Others) begins as far away from the sleeve artwork as you can imagine, with birdsong indicating the bucolic existence associated with the heel of Italy. The introduction of a deliberate flanged bass figure (played by Ilario Suppressa) and electric piano (courtesy of Mauro Tre) is reminiscent of early structured Pink Floyd; there’s a short, heavy fuzzed bass riff which resolves into a triumphant sounding, uplifting motif which is repeated on brassy synth before the riff changes style, becoming firstly more bluesy then jazzy with a swing beat provided by Alberto Ria. A walking bass line overlain with a synth solo has a very 70’s feel, like a subdued Greenslade, before a reprise of the ‘heroic’ riff that could have featured in the 70’s BBC TV series Gangsters (see Greenslade’s Time and Tide, 1975) with wah-wahed electric piano, finally ending with a section reminiscent of Barrett-era Pink Floyd. There are two guest brass players on the track, Gianni Alemanno who plays trumpet and Andrea Doremi on trombone whose contributions fit seamlessly with the piece, adding brightness rather than colour and enhancing the jazzy nature of the composition.


It’s a great start to the record, 11 minutes of predominantly riff-based music and some impressive but unflashy soloing. The constant changes prevent it from becoming boring and the bright riff which features near the start and is reprised later on in the track is a true ear-worm; I set off to work on Friday whistling the refrain and came back home still whistling the phrase! Only a minute shorter, second track Vengono dal Mare (They come from the Sea) quickly moves from the relative tranquility of wave sounds to vaguely disturbing guitar (think of the opening sequence of David Cronenberg’s cinematic adaptation of Crash by JG Ballard, scored by Howard Shore.) There’s a short spoken passage in Turkish by Gorkem Ismail which adds to the atmosphere without relieving the tension, then a short guitar figure before the introduction of a driving riff underneath a repeating keyboard figure and some more wah-wahed keyboard. There’s a slightly sinister edge to this track which reminds me of Goblin, so it comes as no surprise that Claudio Simonetti has played as a guest with the band.


Ottocento (800) features some great Farfisa organ, a keyboard tone not unlike the work of Rick Wright or Bo Hansson but any hint of Pink Floyd is covered with new additions, gull-cry guitar and other-worldly theremin. It’s the most psychedelic of the four tracks and possibly the least musically complex with stomping fuzzed bass and other fairly straightforward bass lines and rhythms, but there is some mesmerising highly reverbed guitar which sketches the outlines of a Middle Eastern scale.

Bernabei, named after an Ottoman soldier who doesn’t actually appear in Corti’s novel, is the shortest of the four tracks but following a deliberate, short, heavy riff that links to the preceding track, a fast Middle Eastern-scale guitar line is reintroduced and there’s some experimental early-Floyd jamming. A picked guitar motif is played over some Turkish text and then the guitar and synthesizer double up to play a fast eastern-sounding riff. The group switches between rock improvisation, jazz sections and the eastern riff, all played presto vivace and the record closes with a reprise of the eastern riff.


Written by Bruno and recorded live in the studio in two 10-hour stints after days of rehearsal, it’s possible to detect a sense of urgency about the music but it’s coherent and well played. I like the fact that the band has chosen a concept that relates to their home region, an examination of personal cultural history and an interpretation of what is regarded as a major literary work. The link to Goblin goes a bit deeper than occasional sections sounding like them; they had the idea of making the album as a soundtrack to an imaginary 70’s film of the novel, choosing instrumentation to match. This obviously adds to the prog sound but also puts Muffx in the Giallo category.


It’s prog, but it’s a mixture of heavy, Italian proto-prog (influenced by Deep Purple and Black Sabbath), psychedelia and jazz. It may be another ‘hard-to-pigeonhole’ album, but it's really good.


Muffx - L'Oro di Tutti (2017) BWRDIST 675



By ProgBlog, Feb 12 2018 04:43PM

Coming from something of a backwater, as far as I was aware the Round House was a 1970s concrete replacement for the former pavilion and bandstand at Biggar on Walney Island, just off the mainland at Barrow-in-Furness. Originally a council-run facility, it may have been an unusual piece of architecture with an amazing windswept location but I seem to remember it becoming a Chinese restaurant which had a bit of a troubled history, culminating in the murder of owner Lai Yo Fu by disgruntled former employee Ke Yuan who stabbed her to death in front of a number of witnesses in February 2000. It’s a popular place to eat today and seems to inspire admiring and disapproving reviews in roughly equal measure. Its conversion to a restaurant must have coincided with my departure from Barrow and I have never had food from there; the Infield Park Gang used to head inland, away from the coast towards the Furness countryside on nights out and, if the occasion arose, we’d stop off at an alternative Chinese take-away in Dalton on our way home.

I must have read about gigs at the Chalk Farm Roundhouse in the mid 70s, amongst the pages of one of the weekly music papers Melody Maker, NME or Sounds after getting into prog in 1972, though wasn’t until sometime later, having ploughed through a few books concerning the early history of Pink Floyd, that I came to understand the significance of the venue in the birth of UK counterculture. Despite being intended as an arts centre planned by playwright Arnold Wesker, the first cultural use of the Roundhouse was as the venue for the launch party of IT, the International Times in October 1966, a multi-media all-night rave billed as a ‘strip-trips-happening-movie-pop-op-costume-masque-drag ball’, featuring performances from Pink Floyd and Soft Machine plus screenings of films and poetry readings.


Poster advertising the IT launch party
Poster advertising the IT launch party

The Roundhouse was built between 1846-7 for the London and North Western Railway by Branson & Gwyther, a Birmingham-based civil engineering and construction firm, out of yellow brick, using designs by architects Robert Dockray and Robert Stephenson as a building containing a turntable for turning round railway engines. The conical slate roof is supported by 24 cast-iron Doric columns arranged around the original locomotive spaces braced with a framework of curved ribs. The central smoke louvre, now glazed, adds to the distinctiveness of the building and the interior still contains portions of original flooring, parts of the turntable and fragments of early railway lines. It was recognised as a notable example of mid-19th century railway architecture and made a listed building in 1954, amended to Grade II* in January 1999, and declared a National Heritage Site in 2010.

The original building had a diameter of 48m to accommodate the turntable and although the designs were meant to allow for advances in locomotive engineering, it was only used for this purpose for ten years before locomotives became too big for the space. It was repurposed as a bonded warehouse for London Gin distillers W & A Gilbey, lasting around 50 years from 1871 but fell into disuse just before the Second World War.


Arnold Wesker established the Centre 42 Theatre Company in 1964 and prepared a scheme to adapt the building as a cultural centre to contain a theatre, cinema, art gallery and workshops with committee rooms for local organisations, a library and youth club with an estimated cost of between £300,000 and £600,000. The proposals were supported by well-known names within the arts community and in 1966, the Roundhouse became an arts venue, with the freehold taken up by the Greater London Council. By the time Camden Council assumed control of the Roundhouse in 1983, Centre 42 had already run out of funds so the building remained unused until it was bought on a whim for £3 million by former investment banker and local philanthropist Torquil Norman in 1996. Performing arts shows resumed before an extensive redevelopment in 2004, reopening on June 1st 2006.

Seven layers of soundproofing were added to the roof during these renovations, the glazed roof-lights were reinstated and the steel and glass New Wing, curving around the north side of the main building was added to house the box office, bar and café, an art gallery foyer and offices. The auditorium is quite spectacular, seating 1700 or accommodating up to 3300 standing. The performance space is highly flexible and provides both artist and audience an experience they won’t find anywhere else. And the sound is brilliant.



Considering my interest in music and architecture, it’s surprising that my first ever visit was for a gig by the Portico Quartet on February 3rd this year. I’d seen posters for the event in Whitechapel where I work, possibly as early as last year, but didn’t do anything about it until the day itself; fortunately there was at least one seat remaining at the time I booked.
Considering my interest in music and architecture, it’s surprising that my first ever visit was for a gig by the Portico Quartet on February 3rd this year. I’d seen posters for the event in Whitechapel where I work, possibly as early as last year, but didn’t do anything about it until the day itself; fortunately there was at least one seat remaining at the time I booked.

Portico Quartet listing, The Guide, 3rd February 2018
Portico Quartet listing, The Guide, 3rd February 2018

I’d been given the self-titled Portico Quartet CD as a present in 2012, probably, I suspect, because it had been favourably reviewed by John Fordham in The Guardian. I really liked it and, rather like The Necks which it called to mind, it was obvious this shouldn’t be simply labelled as ‘jazz’; the treated bowed bass puts it in Esbjörn Svensson Trio bassist Dan Berglund territory, the saxophone has at times an almost choral quality and the repetitive gamelan-like motifs on the hang together with looped keyboards put it in the realm of trance. All this is held together with a mixture of neat drumming and electronic drum patterns, creating a mixture that genuinely defies a simple description, though if you triangulate the labels that are most often thrown at the band, jazz, ambient and electronica, you might get a rough idea of the form in which they operate, a sound like no other band. The hang was actually developed as recently as 2000 by Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer in Bern, Switzerland and I probably first came across one being played by a busker in Oxford in 2011 on a trip to visit my son who was studying for his Masters Degree, and whereas it’s most certainly incorrect to suggest that the hang alone provides their USP, this tuned percussion instrument with its beautiful harmonic resonance adds an exotic flavour to the music, quite unlike any other small ensemble working in a loose jazz idiom.


ProgBlog's Portico Quartet CDs (before the gig)
ProgBlog's Portico Quartet CDs (before the gig)

I received Art in the Age of Automation as a birthday present last year so my choice at the merchandise stand looked like it was going to be limited. Despite not bringing my vinyl-specific cotton bag I bought double LP Live/Remix from 2013, for what I thought was a very reasonable £15, and a £5 EP Abbey Road on CD.


...and from the merchandise desk just before the gig
...and from the merchandise desk just before the gig

Before we were treated to Portico Quartet, there was a 30 minute set from Riah, one of the students attached to the Roundhouse through the Roundhouse Trust, set up by Norman in 1998 and which runs a creative programme for young people aged 11 - 25. They get taught live music, circus, theatre and new media on-site in the Roundhouse Studios located in the undercroft beneath the Main Space, and allowing them to perform a support slot is an essential part of the program.


I’d had an excellent view of Riah, albeit from the back, framed by one of the cast iron arches but when Portico Quartet took to the stage, the columns obscured saxophonist Jack Wyllie and bassist Milo Fitzpatrick, though I could make out everything that Duncan Bellamy did with his drum kit (he was closest to me) and Keir Vine faced me when he was playing his keyboards and was in profile when he played hanghang (the official plural!) They started off with Endless from Art in the Age of Automation which was extended after a fake pause, and followed with Ruins (from 2012’s self-titled album) and Current History from the latest release. Bellamy, who is responsible for all the album artwork, took on role of compere and provided the song introductions, and gave a more full explanation about the next number Double Space, an as yet unreleased track due to appear on a mini-album comprised of material which is an extension of that on the current album and is due out in April.


The performance was relatively brief, finished off with an encore taken from another track on Art in the Age of Automation, Lines Glow but I was really pleased I’d managed to attend. I really like their music but the combination of the tunes, the musicianship, the sound (I was just above the mixing desk), the unique architecture of the venue and the visual effect created by a smoke machine with (relatively basic) lighting made it a really special occasion.


Duncan Bellamy, at the conclusion of Lines Glow
Duncan Bellamy, at the conclusion of Lines Glow







By ProgBlog, Feb 6 2018 03:45PM

BBC Four has just shown a new, three-part series Hits, Hype & Hustle: An Insider’s Guide to the Music Business where the timing of the last episode, Revivals and Reunions, coincided with the announcement that the Spice Girls, who appeared in the programme, are reuniting for the second time for a reputed £50 million.



I found the whole series enlightening and enjoyable, despite the cherry-picking of featured artists who were represented in some capacity by the three different presenters, Emma Banks (episode 1, Making a Star), John Giddings (episode 2, On the Road) and Alan Edwards in the last episode. Banks deals with the publicity side of the music business and her film revealed the mechanics of record deals, what I consider to be a rather unsavoury world where the artist is simply a medium for the record company to make money. She’s an award-winning music agent and head of the London office for Creative Artists Agency and clearly exceptionally good at her job, exposing a diverse roster of musicians to the right audience using every conceivable lever at her disposal. Having recently been asked to listen to, review or otherwise publicise new music from upcoming and unsigned bands like Process of Illumination, Gaillion, Groundburst, Amber Foil, Servants of Science, Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate, Dam Kat and Zombie Picnic who all have to resort to self-promotion, I now have a clearer idea of the difficulties faced by new acts, getting heard amidst the sea of noise, despite being responsible for some incredible music.


ProgBlog's reviews and to be reviewed
ProgBlog's reviews and to be reviewed

The Banks piece didn’t touch on prog but the second episode with John Giddings, a music agent and tour promoter covered a couple of progressive rock stories. There was film footage of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, including some of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway tour, an interview with Phil Collins, and Ian Anderson relating tales of Jethro Tull tours, from being one of the headline acts at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival where they didn’t get paid, a gig where someone poured a glass of urine over him from above as the band was waiting to go on stage and another where a blood-soaked Tampon hit him in the chest. These last recollections were accompanied by a clip from the Stormwatch tour which began in the US in April 1979, and shows the returning John Glascock on bass. Glascock had been too ill to complete the previous tour so ex-Stealers Wheel and Blackpool contemporary Tony Williams was drafted in to deputise. Williams appears on Tull’s Live at Madison Square Garden 1978 DVD, a concert aired on TV at the time and widely regarded as a great performance.


Peter Gabriel
Peter Gabriel

Ian Anderson
Ian Anderson

Concentrating on his own artists, Giddings neglected to discuss any Pink Floyd tours which seems to me to be a rather glaring oversight. Alan Edward’s guidance through the third episode Revivals and Reunions also concentrated on the groups he’d represented so although there was overlap with the two preceding documentaries, there was no mention of anything prog and the chance to discuss the Floyd reunion at 2005’s Live8 was missed. What it did cover, sometimes during candid interviews with the protagonists, was the reunion tour money generated for the artists which they didn’t always benefit from when they were first active. During On the Road Ian Anderson revealed that in the early years when Tull toured with Led Zeppelin, four road crew between the two bands meant overheads were kept to a minimum and playing 15000-seater venues was very lucrative. Led Zeppelin may have gone on to great acclaim, but increasing the size of the entourage and running your own aeroplane can’t have helped the accounts. Singer Clare Grogan from 80s pop group Altered Images and the two remaining members of Musical Youth, Michael Grant and Dennis Seaton all remarked upon the absence of money in their heyday, despite their chart successes, compared to their satisfaction with remuneration from touring in the present.


The programme highlighted the success of ‘heritage’ acts, opening with a piece about the UK’s first revival concert, The London Rock and Roll Show at Wembley Stadium in August 1972, where a number of performers from the beginning of rock ‘n’ roll revealed the potential of musical legacy to make a great deal of cash. According to trade magazine Pollstar, classic rock dominated lists of revenue-generating tours during 2017, topped by the reformed Guns N’ Roses playing a ‘best of’ set; Forbes suggests Roger Waters’ The Wall is the fourth highest grossing tour of all time and tops the list for a solo artist. This then poses the question: Is there anything wrong with so-called ‘heritage’ acts who play a ‘greatest hits’ set? I’d also like to ask another related question: How many original band members do there need to be to continue or reform under the original moniker?


Having missed out on seeing almost all bands during the golden age of prog because I was both too young and geographically isolated (it took an hour to get to Lancaster, the nearest University City by train and then another trek by public transport to get to the campus), I’d only ticked off Fruupp, Barclay James Harvest, a Jan Akkerman-less Focus, Rick Wakeman, post-Gabriel Genesis, Peter Gabriel and Gordon Giltrap before moving to London as a student. My arrival in the capital coincided with the demise of prog when punk and new wave were riding high. My first London gig was the classic line-up of Yes performing on the Tormato tour and, as the band contained two original members and had continued to release roughly one new studio album per year (apart from the hiatus between 1975 and 1976), it would be difficult to argue that incarnation, subtly different to that at the start of the band’s creative peak, should not be called ‘Yes’. What about Focus? The group had already demonstrated a degree of fluidity between debut recording In and Out of Focus (1970) and Hamburger Concerto (1974) utilising four drummers (including Akkerman’s younger brother) and three bass players. Their fifth drummer was recruited halfway through recording Mother Focus (1975) and in February 1976, a couple of days before I went to see them at Lancaster promoting the album, Thijs van Leer asked Akkerman to leave the band.

The distinctive sound of Yes is the product of a group effort, most recognisable in a highly developed form from Fragile onwards though present from the self-titled first album in 1969. The music of Focus was reliant on roughly equal contributions from van Leer and Akkerman and it was obvious when I first heard portions of Mother Focus on the radio that all was not well in the Focus camp; going to see the band without Akkerman made the experience bitterly disappointing. I’ve now seen Focus a number of times but on the next occasion after Lancaster, in October 2009 and subsequently, I’ve really enjoyed their set despite the lack of the original guitarist, with first Niels van der Steenhoven and then Menno Gootjes providing some very sympathetic lines. I think there’s an increased sense of legitimacy to the group with Pierre van der Linden on drums alongside van Leer but it’s also the fact that the newest members seem to have an appreciation of the original Focus legacy.


Over the last three or four years I’ve now managed to see most of the classic progressivo Italiano acts and many of them split up because of insufficient support from their record labels, rather than the trappings of fame and success tearing them apart. PFM are one band who are committed to making new music where there’s only one original member remaining, though Franz di Cioccio is joined by long-term amico Patrick Djivas plus 1980s recruit Lucio Fabbri; Banco del Mutuo Soccorso also have only one original band member in Vittorio Nocenzi, but the addition of technically gifted and musically sympathetic associates makes both PFM and BMS well worth seeking out for live versions of some of the best compositions ever committed to vinyl. It seems that the resurgence of an interest in prog in Italy, aided by traditional publishing, the rather adventurous reissue of Italian prog classics on 180g vinyl and a well-organised network of gigs and festivals has allowed some of the more esoteric single-album bands like Semiramis and Alphataurus to reform with the participation of many of their original members. I consider the reformation of any of the 70s Italian bands a good thing because it means I have a good excuse to take a trip to Italy!



Alphataurus, Genoa May 2014
Alphataurus, Genoa May 2014

The issue of who has the right to the band name was raised in the Hits, Hype & Hustle series using Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark as an example. In their case, the record label held the rights to releasing music under the OMD banner and said they’d decide which of the two camps, Andy McCluskey or Paul Humphreys, to give the name to depending on how much they liked any forthcoming songs but, as Andy McCluskey was the face of the band, it seemed more sensible to allow him to use the name. Both Yes and Pink Floyd have found themselves in legal battles over ownership of the name of the group and in the 1989 case of Yes vs Anderson Bruford Wakeman and Howe, I think the music suffered as a result of not just compromise, but because the musical ‘spirit’ of the band was fractured, exacerbated by the unwarranted sacking of various members. ABWH played modern Yes music which in my opinion is an updated continuation of some of the better material on Tormato (1978) and I don’t think any of the new material written since then, maybe with the exception of some of Magnification, lives up to the standards of their 70s output. Even the excellent Fly from Here suite (on Fly from Here, 2011) was a product of the 1980 line-up.


The death of Chris Squire in 2015 left Yes without an original member but even before that they’d taken up the role of a heritage act, certainly in the UK where they performed The Yes Album, Close to the Edge and Going for the One in their entirety in 2014, and Fragile and Drama in 2016, omitting anything from 2014’s Heaven & Earth. I was happy to see the band on both of these tours and really enjoyed the performances; I like that music more than anything which came afterwards, even though I went to see them on the 90125, Union, Open Your Eyes, Magnification and Fly from Here tours. The inclusion of Billy Sherwood as a replacement for Squire fitted in with the idea of a Yes family and I think it’s the association of long-standing and former members coming together again with the occasional new face that means it’s perfectly valid for the band to retain its name, even without an original member. The appearance of Anderson Rabin Wakeman, now calling themselves Yes featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, Rick Wakeman might have alerted the lawyers but so far, two bands each with a good claim on the name are providing fans with renditions of some of the best recorded music, ever.












By ProgBlog, Jan 30 2018 05:04PM

The announcement that one of the most highly regarded Italian prog bands was playing a gig in a relatively accessible city came as a bit of a surprise. Having just flown back from skiing in Chamonix the day before a Facebook post indicated that Banco del Mutuo Soccorso were performing in Brescia in seven days time, I needed to get my act together, pronto.


Advert for BMS at Circolo Colony, Brescia
Advert for BMS at Circolo Colony, Brescia

I delayed booking until I’d had confirmation that I could take annual leave but still managed to put together a decent hotel and flight bundle with only four days before we were due to leave. We flew to Milan (there was an alternative but early flight to Verona) and had just enough time to kill to grab a coffee and a browse through the Feltrinelli shop at the station before getting a slow train to Brescia from Milano Centrale. This particular branch of La Feltrinelli has a dedicated Progressive Italiana section where I found Giro di Valzer per Domani (1975) by Arti & Mestieri on CD and, being a fan of Tilt (1974) and their more recent release Universi Paralleli (2015) (the latter acquired on vinyl in Como last spring), I really couldn’t resist buying it, along with Prog Italia no.16. Giro di Valzer per Domani leans more towards jazz-rock than prog and there are times when they play tunes you could imagine were written by the Mahavishnu Orchestra; it’s genuinely impressive stuff.


Highlights from La Feltrinelli, Milano Centrale
Highlights from La Feltrinelli, Milano Centrale

Brescia doesn’t have such impressive prog credentials as somewhere like Genoa, Milan or Rome although PFM’s Mauro Pagani was born in the city; Pagani was also, for a brief time, a member of classic progressivo Italiano group Dalton (from Bergamo, 53km west of Brescia) but left before their well-regarded debut album Riflessioni: Idea d'infinito (1973). Convenor of a number of musical projects, drummer and composer Gustavo Pasini used to run the Canterbury Café in the San Polo district, south east of the city centre.


Temporarily resident in the Novotel a 10 minute walk south east of Brescia railway station, we arrived on Friday evening and spent the next day exploring the city before I had to set out to the Sant’Eufemia district where BMS were playing at Circolo Colony, a club on an industrial estate or retail park. The first band on, La Stanza di Iris (Valeria Di Domenicantonio, voice and synth; Antonio Di Girolamo, guitar; and Valentino Piacentini, drums) were a bit noisy for my taste and lacked sufficient variation to really hold my interest; they describe themselves rather accurately as a ‘rock bomb that hits and stuns those who listen to us’. Second up were Hamnesia (Lorenzo Diana, guitar; Livia Montalesi, vocal, violin; Giovanni Tarantino, drums; Matteo Bartolo, keyboards; and Andrea Manno, bass guitar) who were premiering their first album Metamorphosis, available at the merchandise stand. Metamorphosis is a concept piece about a journey into human consciousness through the fears and uncertainties that paralyze it, yet at the same time provide us with an opportunity to overcome them and change ourselves through metamorphosis. This was much more to my liking, where the individual influences of the band members which appeared to include symphonic prog, classical and metal, combined to form a modern prog that included some riffing, some great soloing, some authentic analogue keyboard patches and some memorable melodic lines. The lyrics were all in English, something which may have been influenced by the English-speaking bands they profess to admire like Dream Theater and Porcupine Tree, but I prefer my Italian bands singing in their native language. Montalesi may have had monitor problems because there were a couple of occasions where I thought she drifted out of key, whereas her singing on the CD – I thought I ought to buy a copy – is assured and problem free. Hamnesia are another young Italian progressive rock band to look out for.


The actual reason I’d organised the trip was to see Banco but when the first track Metamorfosi kicked in the link between the veterans and the newcomers was eloquently spelled out. Having stood around at the back of the hall for La Stanza di Iris, then moved near to the mixing desk for Hamnesia, I stood with most of the rest of the crowd close to the stage for Banco. Without Gianni Nocenza or any of the other members from the 70s apart from Vittorio Nocenza, the sextet which now consists of Vittorio Nocenzi, keyboards, vocals; Nicola Di Già, guitar; Tony D’Alessio, vocals; Marco Capozi, bass guitar; Fabio Moresco, drums; and Filippo Marcheggiani, guitar, released a re-imagined version of Io Sono Nato Librero, titled La Libertà Difficile along with the original, as a legacy edition CD in the autumn of 2017.

La Libertà Difficile is well played and well thought out but lacks the raw energy of the 1973 release and, however good D’Alessio is, he’s not going to fill the shoes of Francesco Di Giacomo. This had been one of my concerns when I booked my ticket but to his credit, he didn’t try to emulate Di Giacomo and accompanied by Nocenzi, the singing worked very well. Unfortunately, I’d been forced to book a taxi for 11.50pm because the taxi firm couldn’t provide the service that I’d originally requested at half-past midnight, or my compromise at 00.15am so I didn’t get to hear the full set. Following Metamorfosi (from their eponymous debut in 1972) they played Cento Mani e Cento Occhi (from Darwin! 1972), Il Ragno (from Come in un'Ultima Cena, 1976), La Conquista della Posizione Eretta (from Darwin!), Canto Nomade per un Prigioniero Politico (from Io Sono Nato Librero) and then a couple of tracks I don’t have in my collection which I believe were Canto di primavera (from the 1979 album of the same name) and Paolo Pa’ (from Urgentissimo, 1980). I had to leave the club as the excellent L'Evoluzione (from Darwin!) was ending.


BMS, Circolo Colony, Brescia 20 Jan 2018
BMS, Circolo Colony, Brescia 20 Jan 2018

Though I’d been a little disconcerted by the songs I didn’t know, the playing throughout was exceptional and Nocenzi, fairly close to the beginning of the set related a tale of how much Brescia meant to the band. So, despite only getting half a set, I was glad I attended. I don’t think I can make up my mind whether I prefer the music of PFM or Banco and, having seen PFM live for the first time last year, I’ve now ticked off Banco del Mutuo Soccorso from the list. I suppose my only gripe is that the club was some way out of the city centre and even public transport, which I had been informed shut down at 1am on a Saturday, was not an easy option to take because of the nature of the journey from the club to the station. This is becoming a bit of a recurring theme: the gigs start late and at gigs in both Milan and Rome last year, the journey back to my hotel was pretty fraught unless I left early and missed part of the performance.


The city has a couple of decent second-hand record stores, Music Box and Brescia Dischi which are round the corner from each other and appear to be owned by the same person. I was tempted to buy a live BMS album from 1974 but I thought €40 was a bit too much to pay. Opposite Music Box there’s a branch of bookstore Punto Einaudi which sells classical and jazz music on CD and vinyl, and there’s also a reasonably-sized branch of La Feltrinelli on Corso Giuseppe Zanardelli where I bought three PFM-related LPs: L’Isola di Niente, Amore e non Amore (1971) by Lucio Battisti where his backing band is the original PFM line-up, and Acqua Fragile’s second album Mass-Media Stars from 1974 which features Bernardo Lanzetti, the vocalist with PFM from Chocolate Kings to Passpartù, and was produced by PFM and Claudio Fabi. Marva Jan Morrow who contributed lyrics to Jet Lag also wrote lyrics for Mass-Media Stars.



In between bouts of seeking out Italian prog, we discovered Brescia boasts some of the most impressive Roman remains I’ve ever seen, located in a UNESCO World Heritage Site complex made up from the Brixia Archaeological area and the Museo di Santa Giulia. The city was also under the control of Venice during La Serenissima, making the architectural history from Roman, through medieval to the Rationalist redevelopment of the Piazza della Vittoria to the postmodern reinvention of the Courts of Justice and the Brescia 2 district where our Novotel was situated, a fabulous eclectic mix of styles. It’s a clean, pleasant and friendly city. I’d visit it again.


Mimmo Paladino sculpture 'Ritiro' in the Brixia archaeological site
Mimmo Paladino sculpture 'Ritiro' in the Brixia archaeological site


By ProgBlog, Jan 23 2018 04:44PM

The limited edition CDs are being hand-numbered and I’m eagerly anticipating the postman bringing me my vinyl copy, gatefold sleeve and all, of debut album The Swan Song by Servants of Science, the Brighton-based crossover prog collective. I was invited to listen to a download of the music shortly after its digital release in early December last year and was suitably impressed by the whole project, from the cinematic opener Another Day which reminded me of dreamy 70s French prog masters Pulsar, to the epic Burning in the Cold which closes the album. Musically, the compositions most obviously reference Pink Floyd and Roger Waters’ solo material but there’s also more than a hint of arty 80s synthesizer pop bands, something which should appeal to anyone who likes Steven Wilson’s To the Bone. Lyrically, if you scratch the surface you find a layer of meaning apart from the obvious ‘destruction of the earth’, and perhaps this is also Floyd-related; an examination of mental health issues.


With an intelligent social media campaign to back up an amazing product, they've gained a lot of radio play across Europe and North America over the last month and generated a good deal of interest surrounding the release of the album. In the first ever ProgBlog interview, to coincide with the release of the physical editions I set Stuart Avis, the prime mover of the group, some questions about the new album, influences and about survival in the music business. To my gratitude, he’s provided some in-depth and insightful answers; I hope you find them interesting too.


The Swan Song by Servants of Science
The Swan Song by Servants of Science

Servants of Science play at The Prince Albert in Brighton on 21st April 2018

For details of live appearances see https://www.facebook.com/servantsofscience/



ProgBlog: Who are your favourite bands, who is your biggest musical influence and why?


Stuart Avis: I've always been drawn to bands that are sonically interesting, people that make albums that can still surprise you with something that you hadn't noticed before on the umpteenth listen. Bands like Pink Floyd, The Flaming Lips and Grandaddy are masters of the art, it's all in the details. Many of us know a record like Dark Side of the Moon inside out but, when you give it a listen on a pair of speakers or headphones that you've not used before you can never be 100% certain of what you're going to hear, that's pretty amazing. Growing up in the 80's I became a big fan of the pop music at the time as most pre-teens do, but the band that really stood out for me was Depeche Mode, they were at the forefront of sampling and crafted their own sounds. This was when sampling was extremely limited and not the quick fix lazy exercise it can often be today, you couldn't just lift a chunk of a song back then, you had just a few seconds to work with and use your initiative. They'd spend hours doing field recordings then effectively create new instruments with fragments of those recordings in a sampler. You'd hear sounds on a Depeche Mode record that had never been used before musically. I guess they were my way in to a lot of the music I would get into later, including prog due to them being one of the key pioneers of the 12" extended version, lapping up those 7 or 8 minute epic versions was a good primer for long form music outside of a typical song structure. My first musical love was Sparks, a band that have a lot more prog tendencies than people may realise. They're still my favourite band to this day, no one can pen a skewed pop song like Ron Mael, and their relentless drive to redefine what pop music can consist of always yields fascinating results.


PB: Brighton has a fantastic vibe and there’s some excellent countryside around with settlement going back to Neolithic times. Your debut album The Swan Song is about an astronaut witnessing the end of the world from space and the cover depicts The Joker pub at the bifurcation of Preston Road and Beaconsfield Road (the A23); what prompted that concept and do you draw any inspiration from the surrounding area?


SA: Oh absolutely! We're quite spoilt down here, where I live I can travel 5 minutes in one direction and be on the beach, or 5 minutes in the opposite direction and be in the countryside. Two roads that run parallel to each other can have completely different vibes, there's no end of inspiration. The idea for the cover came to me on the train home after recording the vocals for the album up in Nottingham last year. "The Swan Song" has two story lines running in tandem, the surface one with the astronaut witnessing the end of the world, but the album is also littered with references to a possible mental health condition such as schizophrenia, so, depending on how the listener wishes to interpret these clues this may all just be in someone's head as they're experiencing an episode of sorts. The image of the astronaut holding one of those "The end of the world is nigh" boards in a normal everyday setting seemed to capture both stories in one photo. The location became one of necessity. The story takes place in the summer, as set up with the radio samples and the "summer rain" references in the opening track "Another Day", but there was a delay with the spacesuit so we couldn't do the photoshoot until the end of November. The location was the last high street left in Brighton that didn't have Christmas decorations everywhere, this turned out to be quite fortuitous though as we ended up with a better shot than what I originally had in mind. The traffic lights all being on red was a nice bonus too, a signal to stop, they're very fitting with the themes in the album.



PB: Brighton has some great record stores and a variety of musical instrument suppliers. Do you shop locally for music and musical equipment?


SA: Far more than I should! Record shops are my Achilles heel, although I've tried to curtail my spending a bit over the last year, partly because I have a huge pile of records I still haven't played, and partly because I've been so involved with "The Swan Song". There are constantly gems to be found down here, Brighton's record shops can be a tad pricey compared to say, Nottingham, but once you get to know the owners, a little haggling helps things along. I own a studio called Black Bunker so I'm often having a wander around miscellaneous shops keeping an eye out for equipment bargains too and of course things that can benefit the band as well. It's worryingly easy to pop along the road for a packet of crisps and come back with a guitar amp.


PB: What was the last prog album you bought?


SA: That was FEAR by Marillion, to my eternal shame I arrived late to the party for this one and only got around to hearing it last November, my jaw hit the floor! I'm a massive fan of the Fish-era but never fully gelled with the Steve Hogarth material, when they hit the spot though they're amazing and everything on FEAR is amazing and then some! I lost track of them for one reason or another after Marbles but this has prompted me to fill in the gaps over the last decade or so since then, and I'm finding more treats that are making me kick myself for missing them first time around. Steve Rothery is as close as anyone can get to David Gilmour for feel, tone and sheer beauty of playing but still retains his own individuality without ever cloning, they're a super-talented bunch.


PB: Where is the best place to see a gig in Brighton and where is best to eat/drink beforehand?


SA: I guess my regular haunt for local bands is The Prince Albert, I'm very fond of the place. I've a good relationship with the venue and staff there, have known some of them since I was a kid and even played in bands with a few over the years so it's like a night out with mates even if I go alone. They do excellent food there too so you can kill two birds with one stone. We'll be playing there on April 21st with The Filthy Tongues, a band I've admired for nigh on 30 years in their original incarnation as Goodbye Mr MacKenzie and then Angelfish. The albatross that's forever circling over them is being the band that Shirley Manson was poached from for Garbage, but they're a fantastic band in their own right.


PB: Some of your own ideas have been worked on on-line and releases like Anderson-Stolt’s The Invention of Knowledge show technology has made long-distance collaboration no barrier to producing adventurous music. Would you like to collaborate with any other artist(s) and for what reasons?


SA: The internet is amazing for this; it's opened up a whole new world of possibilities. Many years ago I co-ordinated a couple of Pink Floyd tribute CD sets for a website called Neptune Pink Floyd. Pre-Facebook, Twitter etc internet forums were hugely popular, the NPF one was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, of Floyd ones. Many of the various forum members contributed songs either solo or recorded with their own bands, but one of the aims was to try and get the forum members to collaborate on covers wherever possible regardless of where they were in the world. I played keys on a version of Atom Heart Mother which also included a guitarist in Australia and a bass player in Ireland. The project may also be considered one version of the genesis of Servants of Science. Our vocalist Neil Beards submitted to me a couple of cover versions under the moniker The Amber Herd for the project. After we put out the CDs I organised a live Floyd tribute event in Brighton which lasted 10 hours inviting as many of the CD participants to perform as possible. Neil wanted to take part in the event so he put a band together to bring The Amber Herd to life which is still going strong to this day. On the day of the gig, I found myself in a bit of a jam when it became clear that neither of the people I was collaborating with could sing our opening number, "Welcome To The Machine", so Neil graciously stepped up to the plate, did a fantastic job and from there on a friendship was born and now, 12 years later, Servants of Science. Internet collaborations are such a wonderful opportunity for people; I guess the biggest success commercially of this ilk so far may well be the FFS project between Franz Ferdinand and Sparks. They wrote the whole album by sending files back and forth across continents via e-mail. Sparks are a band I'd love to collaborate with, that would be a childhood fantasy, but I'm happy to collaborate with anyone. I believe everyone has a musical ability, even if they don't believe it themselves, often those are the most rewarding and surprising ones. Obviously any of the members of Floyd would be a dream collaboration too. I pass David Gilmour's house almost every day on the way to the studio, once the physical copies of the album arrive I'll be popping one through his letterbox, nothing ventured as they say.


PB: You’re self-releasing a limited edition CD and a heavyweight vinyl edition of The Swan Song. What do you think of the state of the music business today and what challenges as an indie artist do you feel you have?


SA: It's making a steady return to health. After it fell on its arse with Napster, which no one seemed to know how to deal with, a lot of record labels turned into headless chickens then died and we lost a lot of record stores in the fall-out as sales dwindled, but, things are certainly on the up again. We'll never see a return to the kind of sales that ran from the 60s through to the 90s, the landscape has changed too much for that, but it's in a good place, even cassettes are making a return. The worst aspect now is probably the need for instant gratification, both from the labels and the consumer. It's not exactly new but fewer risks are being taken now and investment in bands and allowing them to grow is a much rarer occurrence today. Fortunately there are still a number of small maverick labels out there taking risks and their number appears to be growing, we're seeing a return to the punk DIY ethos thanks to the internet. Ironically, something that once nearly crippled the music industry is now serving as its saviour. I think the challenges have always been the same, trying to stand out in a crowd and offer something fresh and get that noticed, the main difference now is how you navigate the obstacles, social media is proving a great vehicle for that.


PB: What importance would you ascribe to social media for getting noticed and providing support for your projects?


SA: It's been a massive help for us. The opportunities the various social media platforms provide for artists to be heard is incredible, we're having this conversation now thanks to its virtues but, as these opportunities are, and quite rightly so, available to everyone, artists have become a needle in a different haystack. However, I do believe the pros far outweigh the cons if you're willing to put the time and effort in. We've been getting played a lot in Canada and the U.S. as well as a number of European territories within a month of putting our music out into the world. This is something we could have only dreamt about prior to the social media boom; it's put music in the hands of the artist and given them a chance to take control of their path. It's tough and the competition is fierce, but that's a healthy thing, it'll pay off if you work hard at it.


PB: What is your opinion on streaming?


SA: As a way of discovering new music and being heard by people that might not normally get to hear you it's invaluable. Streaming technology has opened a lot of doors with radio and video and generated new audiences, it's certainly expanded our reach immeasurably, the downside is it has also majorly contributed to the growing disposable nature of music for many too. It has had a massive effect on sales but in turn it has also generated sales for us which we wouldn't have received without streaming. I'm a traditionalist and prefer the physical format, which fortunately is experiencing something of a renaissance at the moment, and long may it last, but streaming is here to stay so I guess we have to adapt to it and focus on its benefits.


PB: What advice would you give for people thinking of getting into the business?


SA: Keep on keeping on, expect a lot of knock backs but remain positive and believe that each "no" is one step closer to the next "yes". Utilise the internet, it's full of opportunity, look up bands in a similar vein to yourselves, find radio stations, press and promoters that are following them and get in contact and build a database of the contacts too.


PB: Can you give us an idea of what Servants of Science has planned for the future?


SA: We'll be performing live and promoting "The Swan Song" for the foreseeable future. We're developing the live show at the moment which will feature the album in full and it's coming along spectacularly. We've got a great 6 piece band together that features many of the musicians that appear on the album, but rather than playing various instruments each, like we did on the record, we have dedicated roles for the live shows. I'll be sticking to just keyboards, Neil Beards is playing acoustic guitar and providing lead vocals, Andy Bay is playing bass, Helena Deluca is reprising her vocal role and adding some extra harmonies as well as playing rhythm guitar, Adam McKee is in his spiritual home behind the drum kit and Ian Brocken, who recently joined us, will be handling all the lead guitar parts and, if I may say so myself, it's all sounding fantastic! We're currently shooting footage for our backdrop film projections which we're also going to be putting out as a film of the album. On top of that we'll also be incorporating lighting into the shows too, and anything else we can get our hands on. The astronaut may even be joining us on our journey. After that we'll be embracing the challenge of the difficult second album…




Servants of Science
Servants of Science


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