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ProgBlog goes to the Biennale Architettura 2018 in Venice but still manages to find prog connections - and a relatively new record store...

By ProgBlog, Nov 19 2018 02:31PM



Contrary to my previous pronouncements about the availability of prog in Venice, I can now reveal that there is a relatively new record store in the city, Living in the Past, Sestiere Dorsoduro 3474, 30123 Venezia, and it’s pretty good. Venice was where I first made a conscious effort to collect Italian prog, in 2005, when there were two shops to choose from. My diary from that particular trip reveals that sometime after lunch on Wednesday 13th July, the second day of the holiday (my wife’s first time in Venice), we began winding our way back towards San Marco via the side streets of Dorsoduro, a slow but purposeful journey in the afternoon heat. Anyone familiar with the city will appreciate how you find yourself doubling back on your tracks as you seek a bridge over a canal so that what looks like a straightforward journey on a map devoid of detail is in fact fiendishly complex. I maintain that undertaking adventures through Venice’s maze-like alleys is the best way to explore the unique city, where you come across well-known tourist spots and less recognised gems by accident. That particular trek resulted in the discovery of what looked like prog heaven, despite its name: Discoland, a music shop with all manner of progressive rock CDs in the window, including the entire 2005 re-mastered catalogue of Van der Graaf Generator; Egg; King Crimson; Gentle Giant; Steve Hackett and more... but it was closed for lunch! A quick check of the time revealed that the store was due to reopen in 15 minutes so I popped into the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition in the Chiesa di San Barnaba until the shop owner returned, late. I asked if he had any Italian prog, but he said no. Rooting around did reveal that he had a couple of CDs by The Trip so I picked out Caronte, reissued in a cardboard sleeve, the first Egg album, and The Least we can do is Wave to Each Other, H to He, Pawn Hearts and Godbluff from the VdGG selection.


Though considered a classic progressivo Italiano record, I’m not actually such a great fan of Caronte (1971), a concept album based on the ferryman character Charon from Dante’s Divine Comedy who initially objects to taking Aeneas, a living man, on his boat; Charon is re-interpreted by The Trip as a metaphor for conformity. It’s steeped with psyche/blues characteristic of proto-prog, so comes across as more Iron Butterfly than The Nice. The Trip were actually founded in London in 1966 and included Ritchie Blackmore on guitar but the future Deep Purple guitarist had departed before the arrival of Joe Vescovi, whose keyboard style, influenced by Keith Emerson, is the best feature of the band. The other Venice music shop was Parole & Musica in the Castello Sestiere where I bought an early PFM live compilation The Beginning 1971-1972 Italian Tour. A day trip to Treviso on that 2005 holiday also involved finding a record shop where I bought Concerto Grosso n.1 and 2 by New Trolls, the very disappointing Donna Plautilla by Banco, and an album I’d really wanted to buy in Venice itself, Contrappunti by Le Orme, because that was where the band formed. Originally a beat group, they underwent some personnel changes and then released what many regard to be the first RPI album, Collage, in 1971. I managed to get to see the current incarnation earlier this year in Brescia with David Cross as a guest musician. The album that I most associate with the city is actually Le Orme’s Florian, released in 1979, named after Caffè Florian, alleged to be the oldest establishment of its kind in Europe, dating from 1720 and located under the Procuratie Nuove in piazza San Marco. A two-year hiatus following 1977’s Storia o Leggenda allowed the group to prepare for what seemed like a radical departure from progressive rock, where the electronic instrumentation was replaced with acoustic and early instruments. The result is still recognisable as Orme (they dropped the definite article from their name for the release) even though it should more correctly be referred to as chamber music or chamber prog; the original idea is said to have come from keyboard player Tony Pagliuca who realised that audiences were turning away from prog but didn’t want to subscribe to the mediocrity of commercial pop. The pieces on the album are effectively a protest against destructive economic forces within the music industry and those in the wider world choking other aspects of Italian culture. The lack of a record shop on the island(s) meant I had to look elsewhere for a copy, eventually finding the CD in Vicenza’s Saxophone record store on a day trip out from Venice in 2014; I found a second-hand vinyl copy earlier this year, on Record Store Day, on a stall in Cremona.



I spent a couple of days in Venice during the summer of 1980 on a month-long Interrail trip, staying on Giudecca in a youth hostel, and was blown away by the city. During that stay PFM were playing somewhere in Mestre but I didn’t have the wherewithal to organise getting to see them. On 15th July 1989 Pink Floyd famously played on a barge floating in the Grand Canal, nearing the end of the Momentary Lapse of Reason tour. This was broadcast live on Italian TV and precise timing restrictions meant that some songs had to be curtailed before their natural ending. I recorded this performance when it was shown on UK TV but that disappeared in a clear out of VHS tapes years ago – it’s now available as an unofficial DVD release Pink Floyd ‎– Pazzia & Passione - Live In Venice '89 from Room 101 Entertainment.

The closest I ever got to live prog in Venice was seeing the construction of a stage for Peter Gabriel playing an open air concert in piazza San Marco in 2007; we were staying less than 50m away in the Albergo San Marco but our flight back to the UK was a matter of hours before the performance – apparently Signal to Noise and Washing of the Water were played at the sound check in the early afternoon, where Gabriel acknowledged the fans who had begun to gather around the square after realising that he was present on stage. If that had happened in the last couple of years I’d have found accommodation for an extra night and bought a flight for the following day.






Despite the presence of Living in the Past and the historic connection of Le Orme to the city, Venice doesn’t really appear to have much of a connection with the modern prog scene apart from being somewhere bands like to perform – King Crimson finishing their mainland continental European tour with two dates at the end of July this year at Teatro La Fenice, for example. The ubiquitous newsstands of Italian cities, normally packed full of journals and periodicals, handy for picking up copies of Prog Italia and maybe the DeAgostini classic rock progressivo 180g vinyl reissues, are filled with tourist tat in Venice. Last year my wife found a copy of Prog Italia on Lido for me but there was nothing on any newsstand in any of the main Sestiere this year, or in any of the larger Tabacchi.


Apart from the basic accommodation on Giudecca, I’ve previously only stayed at hotels close to the piazza San Marco when visiting Venice. This trip was a departure from that norm, splashing out on an NH hotel in Dorsoduro abutting neighbouring Santa Croce, an area largely tourist-free but filled with students; there are two universities in the area, Università Ca’ Foscari and IUAV, the architecture school, contributing to the really good vibe. There’s a relative paucity of Venetian gothic and a noticeable presence of more modern architecture, which may explain the lack of visitor interest despite its proximity to the cruise ship terminal, Santa Lucia station and the bus terminus, one of only two places where cars are allowed (the other being Lido) but there are still dozens of friendly restaurants and bars where an Aperol spritz is half the price you pay in London. It wasn’t supposed to be a prog trip – we’d gone for the Architecture Biennale – but there does seem to be more than a passing link between architecture and prog, beginning with the early years of Pink Floyd at Regent Street Polytechnic.


However far removed from modern prog, the city is still able to turn up references to the genre in some of the oddest places. Hats Off Gentlemen it’s Adequate have just released a new CD, Out of Mind which includes the track De Humani Corporis Fabrica, named after Andreas Vesalius' treatise on human anatomy from 1543 which challenged the prevailing doctrine proposed by the Greek physician Galen in the second century AD. I’m a particular fan of the song because it features some of Kathryn Thomas’ gorgeous flute and also includes a passage in 13/4 time, so when I came across the Mario Botta Architects’ installation in the Corderie at the Arsenale, a tactile, circular timber structure where the work of students was presented as tabernacle-like architectural research, I was amazed to find a section labelled De Humani Corporis Fabrica!


Like all cities Venice continues to change. Living in the Past was previously a second hand bookstore but was revamped in 2017 as a shop selling books and second-hand vinyl. There’s a decent selection of Italian prog along with a good selection of international prog and classic rock. Handily, it was a five minute walk from the hotel where we were staying and though I didn’t imagine that I’d find any records on this trip, I still had my cotton LP bag to hand for my purchases: Par les Fils de Mandrin by Ange and David Gilmour’s About Face, an album I’ve never physically owned in any format but once had a tape recorded from a friend’s LP. The shop is certainly a welcome addition to the Venetian landscape, a retail gem amongst some of the most stunning architecture in the world.








By ProgBlog, Nov 6 2018 12:59PM

While I’m not particularly enamoured with the Dorset seaside resort, having landed at Bournemouth International airport twice within a few hours after separate runway problems at Gatwick caused my BA flight home from Genova in August last year to be diverted, then unceremoniously kicked off the plane when the pilot announced the flight had been cancelled and left to our own devices to find our own way back to either Gatwick or home (in my case Croydon), the only opportunity to get to see King Crimson play in the UK this year happened to be in Bournemouth, because I’d neglected to organise tickets for the London Palladium gigs before they sold out.



Crimson manager David Singleton is one of the few people I’ve read who has remarked upon the geographical significance of the first Crimson gig on the current leg of the Meltdown tour, describing the event as having “a particular poignancy as the return to Bournemouth felt slightly like a ‘coming home’ for King Crimson”, explaining for those without an appreciation of the band’s history that King Crimson precursor Giles, Giles and Fripp was originally a Bournemouth group, as indeed was Greg Lake’s pre-Crimson outfit The Gods, the pair having taken guitar lessons from Don Strike whose shop is still located in Westbourne Parade. Though Singleton also went on to reveal that the band stayed at the Royal Bath Hotel where a teenage Robert Fripp had apparently played a few gigs, and suggested that the interior decor had not changed during the intervening years, he didn’t mention the John Wetton-Richard Palmer-James connection, also crucial to the early Crimson story.


I went down to see Crimson with my friend Jim and, having decided that returning to the south London commuter belt that same evening was not the best course of action, booked overnight accommodation at the Royal Exeter Hotel, a five minute walk away from the venue at the Bournemouth Pavilion. Our hotel was formerly the first house built in Bournemouth, by Captain Lewis Tregonwell, in 1810 which retains some original features but has been upgraded to 21st century standards.



Having left Ashtead with what seemed like plenty of time for a gig scheduled for 7.30pm, we discovered that roadworks on the A31 and A338 were enough to jeopardise our plans; we ate in the hotel for expediency but still missed the opening percussion barrage, under that title of Drumsons Turn Back the Tide for the evening, and Neurotica, held outside the auditorium until the piece had ended.

The set list turned out to be very similar to that we’d witnessed in Lucca back in July, only without the tracks from In the Wake of Poseidon and I thought that the familiarity with the material that made up the set, despite a break of three months between Venice at the end of July and this Bournemouth performance, allowed them to play with a similar level of intensity that we’d seen at the Lucca Summer Festival, the penultimate city on the mainland Europe leg of their tour.

Despite a good sound in the open-air Piazza Napoleone, the stage was quite a way to our left which made it difficult to decide whether to strain to see the band or simply look straight ahead at close-ups of individual members on a big screen. The Pavilion Theatre didn’t have any of those problems; seated in row V on the left-hand side of the stalls (capacity 1012), the raked floor allowed a good view of the band. It almost goes without saying that the sound was fantastic – and notices in the foyer informed us the show was being filmed. Crimson rely entirely on their music; there are no props and the one concession they make to theatricality is gradually bathing the whole ensemble in red light during Starless, a reference to a spine-tingling moment of resonance during the last ever performance by the 1974 incarnation of the band as they played the track in Central Park, New York.


Waiting for Crimson, Piazza Napoleone, Lucca 25 July 2018
Waiting for Crimson, Piazza Napoleone, Lucca 25 July 2018

It may have simply been my perception but I thought that Mel Collins was allowed something of a free rein during the Lucca gig compared to more restrained playing at Bournemouth however, in what may have been a nod to the band’s history in the south coast resort, added a snatch of a big band style melody during a short improvisation.

I’m really pleased with Collins’ participation in this version of the band because it allows a closer interpretation of the early material to the originals, where the excerpts from the Lizard suite and Islands come across as excellent examples of symphonic progressive rock. The interaction between the three drummers is spectacular and fits in seamlessly with whatever the band are playing but the inclusion of Bill Rieflin as a dedicated keyboard player rather than as a percussionist who adds keyboards, the role now taken by Jeremy Stacey, helps to fill out the symphonic sound which is further enhanced when Fripp also adds keys. This is where having two guitarists helps with the pre-Discipline era compositions; the interlocking parts of Fripp and Jakko Jakszyk on the track Discipline is an obvious example where you can’t play the track without two guitars but Fripp’s role in the current line-up includes both the definitive spray guitar and providing classic Mellotron lines. Stacey described this in Prog magazine (Prog 92) as an illustration how the band did things properly and didn’t cheat but I’ve started to wonder when critics of groups of the first wave of progressive rock who play ‘greatest hits’ sets are going to start taking pot-shots at this band. It’s been reported that there’s already a degree of sniping at Jakszyk’s singing circulating on social media (I personally quite like his voice and really can’t visualise too many other vocalists handling the songs from the first album; I’m also rather fond of his re-imagined lyrics to Easy Money with is dig at the bankers responsible for the 2008 financial crash); it may be that history is sort of repeating itself because Adrian Belew came in for some intense criticism on Elephant Talk when electronic fan forums were just taking off.


Despite breaks between 1974 and 1981, 1984 and 1994, then 2008 and 2014 Crimson, like many of the original acts from the late 60s – early 70s, have a rich source of material to select from when compiling a live set, but last put out an album’s worth of new material back in 2003 with The Power to Believe. What the three-drummer septet/octet has done in the four years of its existence as a touring band, is tap into early material that had never previously been played at concerts, whether because of short-lived formations or the lack of the full instrumentation in a line-up to do a piece of music justice. The structure of something like the Lizard suite, something I can’t imagine I’d have ever heard played live before this incarnation, doesn’t necessarily constrain the ability to extemporise but the era of the grand improvisational pieces ended in the 70s. There’s also a suspicion that the group is playing to a wider demographic than on any previous occasion but this wasn’t particularly evident from my seat towards the back of the stalls in the Pavilion Theatre where the audience was pretty much as you’d expect for a group that formed in 1969 that is rightly or wrongly inextricably linked to the progressive rock genre. On the other hand, the concert can’t have failed to delight any of the original fan base who were present with its mix of favourites and the previously never-heard-live, or anyone being inducted into the world of Crimson with an amazing display of musicianship in a performance that lasted around two and a half hours.


I’d rate the gig very highly, on a par with the first time I saw a three-drummer manifestation in September 2015 at the Hackney Empire and with Lucca in July, each being memorable for different reasons. Maybe Bournemouth isn’t too bad, after all.


The full set list was:


Drumsons Turn Back the Tide

Neurotica

Indiscipline

Moonchild

In the Court of the Crimson King

Discipline

One More Red Nightmare

Red

Islands

Radical Action to Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind (1)

Meltdown

Radical Action to Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind (2)

Larks’ Tongues in Aspic part 5


(Interval)


Drumsons Turn on the World

Cirkus

Bolero-Dawn Song-Skirmish-Lament

Epitaph

Easy Money

Larks’ Tongues in Aspic part 2

Starless


(Encore) 21st Century Schizoid Man








By ProgBlog, Oct 18 2018 07:02PM

I’ve just finished reading Will Romano’s analysis Close to the Edge: How Yes’s Masterpiece Defined Prog Rock (Backbeat Books, 2017) which deals in the minutiae of how the album came to be made, with input from many of the participants, both musical and non-musical. Apart from being a really enjoyable read for a fanatic like me, i.e. someone who believes Close to the Edge is not only the definitive progressive rock album but also the best album, ever, it touches on the impact the record had on other musicians and some (American) celebrities, and raises the question of inter-band rivalry.



The idea of ‘rivalry’ between the original cohort of progressive rock bands is something I originally thought about not long after discovering the genre in 1972 after hearing Close to the Edge for the first time, though in the context of fan affiliation. The Nice were the second band I listened to, who by that stage had already been disbanded for two years, followed by Pink Floyd and Emerson Lake & Palmer and then hosts of others. At some time in the early 70s I must have read that Hawkwind fans didn’t like Yes music (though I’ve never believed Hawkwind were a progressive rock band) and, from a personal perspective, I don’t appear to have had any inclination to listen to Genesis, based on some non-specific prejudice or resentment, until one of my friends bought a copy of the compilation LP Charisma Keyboards (released April 1974) which included the Nursery Cryme track The Fountain of Salmacis; then I was hooked. This sudden appreciation of Genesis also allowed me to view the entire genre as something inclusive with myriad bands all bringing something of value to the progressive rock world.


With two showman-like stars in Rick Wakeman and Keith Emerson, the music papers of the time gossiped about Yes-ELP rivalry which at the time I interpreted as a suggestion of enmity. Will Romano covers this in his book but the two keyboard players themselves have elsewhere written about and discussed their friendship, with Wakeman explaining how the two used to lunch together and laugh about their perceived competitiveness, with fans debating which of them was the better. The explanation put to Romano by Emerson was that any success of Yes would spur ELP on to greater things, whether that was song concepts or live sound. Wakeman has pointed out that the two friends came from different stylistic backgrounds, Wakeman himself from classical and Emerson from jazz, so that any ‘who is the best?’ argument boils down to the listener’s preferred style. In the October edition of Prog magazine (Prog 91), Emerson pips Wakeman in a readers’ poll for the best keyboard player...


It was fairly evident, even to a naive youth in 1972 or 73, that intra-band relationships could involve enough tension to tear the band apart; this probably being when I came across the risible term ‘creative differences’ for the first time. A review of the history of Yes, even at that moment in the early 70s, was enough to demonstrate the Machiavellian designs of certain band members intent on reaching their personal goals at whatever cost. I would come to realise that this behaviour wasn’t restricted to Yes, though later versions of the group could be equally brutal; it was sometimes difficult to discern whether ego or musical direction was a cause of conflict. On the other hand, gifted musicians left groups for perfectly understandable reasons like illness, stage-fright or an inability to reconcile family life with constant touring. However, it seemed to me that the overall scene was one of relative stability: Bruford had already left Yes when Close to the Edge was released; Pink Floyd had long put the dropping of Syd Barrett behind them and whatever personality differences were simmering under the surface wouldn’t rise until the end of the decade; the ELP juggernaut rolled on; Genesis had formed the classic quintet and were yet to begin shedding members; Gentle Giant had a settled line-up; Jethro Tull also had a settled line-up. Focus may not have been the most stable of bands, with a rhythm section that was frequently reinventing itself, and there were seismic changes in the pre-Larks’ Tongues in Aspic King Crimson, played out before I got into them, but the one glaring exception to the seeming constancy of the movement, at least among those represented by the music that I owned or listened to, was the flux within the Canterbury scene.


Soft Machinery - from Pete Frame's first volume of Rock Family Trees
Soft Machinery - from Pete Frame's first volume of Rock Family Trees

From a progressive rock fan’s point of view, the first major upheaval I felt was Wakeman leaving Yes for a solo career in 1974 and his eventual replacement, Patrick Moraz, breaking up Refugee. Their eponymous debut, one of my top five albums of all time, came out three months before Wakeman’s split and based on the quality of Refugee, I could only rue the loss of such a promising musical force. With the decommissioning of the 60’s – 70’s King Crimson in 1974 and the self-imposed temporary withdrawal of Yes, ELP and Pink Floyd from the scene in 1975, a number of musicians were left to occupy themselves outside of a group context, some releasing solo material with assistance from quite diverse sources. That meant that any rivalry that may have existed disappeared in an atmosphere of collaboration.


Friendships were formed when bands toured with one another and it wasn’t terribly unusual to come across a fellow act paying in the same city while touring; mutual respect between musicians is frequently quoted in biographies, creating a network of potential players for a ‘solo’ work. I mapped this network, based on musicians featured on albums in my record collection from the late 60s through the 70s and including two from the 80s, for a short article ‘What is Progressive rock?’ which accompanied a self-compiled 2CD set presented to a friend who was rediscovering prog in 2004. Though hardly comprehensive, it did indicate that even within a narrow range of groups, there was a healthy degree of interconnectedness.


Prog connections - in its original colours!
Prog connections - in its original colours!

I’ve not attempted to update or redraw this chart because the post-millennium revival of prog has resulted in an explosion of new bands, the reformation of old bands (sometimes with an extensive cast of new talent) and even instances where the assistance of an established musician is enlisted to help out with a less well-established act (João Felipe’s Amber Foil project enlisted the help of Manuel Cordoso, formerly of premier Portuguese 70’s symphonic prog band Tantra, who added guitar parts and produced the An Invitation EP.) Also, the original chart only covered three non-UK bands, Focus and Trace (Netherlands) and PFM (Italy). Any new review of the information would have to include more Italian bands to reflect my growing collection of progressivo Italiano, which I have recently discovered have their own extensive networks. There’s even a series of ‘supergroups’ with their own identity though they exist simultaneously with the groups that act as the main vehicle for the individual musicians.


The swelling number of connections between groups has to be due primarily to the increase in numbers of album releases and the additional bands that have appeared in the last 45 years, but the interest in the genre following a period when ‘prog’ was a dirty word seems to have had an unexpected positive effect, bolstered by Prog magazine and books from people like Will Romano, allowing the movement to become a large, happy family, almost encouraging bands to offer guest appearance slots to other musicians. This extended family idea, where guesting on different albums or joining a touring band, possibly in addition to being in their own group, facilitates earning a living as a professional musician. The days of the multimillion-selling prog album are over, along with self-imposed tax exile status, a huge advance for the next release and limitless studio time, so unless there’s another income stream, even if that means playing in the backing band for some pop act, it’s unlikely that music alone can pay the bills.


To challenge myself, I've begun the October ProgBlog album playlist based on the notion of interconnectedness. I've chosen direct connections between artists on a particular release, using an artist once only for a link to another album. For example, Patrick Moraz’s i features Jeff Berlin on bass, so the next album in the sequence also features Berlin and the next link is through a different musician on that record. This exercise predominantly features 70’s music but some of the LPs covered are from more recent incarnations of 70’s bands. The results will be available for scrutiny at the beginning of November...







By ProgBlog, Oct 7 2018 11:44AM

The three days between Gryphon at the Union Chapel and the original reason for my brother Richard’s visit, Camel at the Royal Albert Hall, included trips to Wanted Music in Beckenham where I bought the eponymous debut LP from Gryphon and Cured by Steve Hackett, something I’d only ever owned on cassette, a bargain from the long gone Woolworths in Tooting and long gone itself, and a trek out into leafy Surrey for the W&W Vinyl Records and CD Fair in Ashtead, held in the Ashtead Peace Memorial Hall. This trip was quite successful as I’d identified a number of omissions from my vinyl collection and managed to tick off two of them; Camel’s Rain Dances and Romantic Warrior by Return to Forever, then added to my record count with Live at the Fillmore (November - December 1969) an unofficial King Crimson 2x LP that duplicates material that can be found on the Epitaph CD box set, and The Orchestral Tubular Bells, bought because I’d enjoyed the David Bedford at 80 concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall earlier this year. This was a good-sized record fair; not too big to be intimidating, yet big enough to be able to spend over an hour sifting through containers and to pick up some good-quality progressive rock at bargain prices.



Also squeezed in between these LP buying sprees were a necessary trip to my optician and a cultural event, the London Design Biennale at Somerset House. My optician was based in St George’s Walk, a pedestrianised, semi-covered parade of shops incorporated into a 1960’s office and retail development that included the 79m tall St George’s House (architect Ronald Ward and partners, completed 1964), home to the headquarters of Nestlé UK until 2012 and potent symbol of the combined effects of a broken planning system and austerity politics. Other shops of note, pre-dating the short-term lets that proliferated once the area had been earmarked for redevelopment included Croydon’s only dedicated ski shop, Captain’s Cabin, and Cloake’s Record store which migrated from inside St George’s Walk to the High Street frontage of the arcade sometime after 1969; I only discovered the shop in the late 80s, possibly around the same time as signing up with Young’s opticians, watching the vinyl get replaced by CDs and DVDs. That was where I bought the Caravan CD Live at the Fairfield Halls, 1974 – Fairfield Halls (architect Robert Atkins and partners, 1962) is opposite the northern end of St George’s Walk. Plans for redevelopment were originally submitted long before Nestlé departed but a Chinese-led consortium, who bought the buildings in 2017, gave a month’s notice to the tenants in August indicating that they were about to commence work. My optician was the last of the businesses to leave so I stopped by to pick up supplies of contact lenses and solutions and took some photos to document the area before the parade was demolished.



In contrast to the rather sombre atmosphere of shuttered units in Croydon, the Design Biennale was based around the theme of ‘emotional states’ and was interpreted in a variety of optimistic ways by artists from participating countries. Less difficult and less provocative than the Venice Biennale, it was a very enjoyable way to spend a few hours before the main event of the extended weekend, the Camel gig.



The last time Camel played the Royal Albert Hall was when they performed (and recorded) The Snow Goose with the London Symphony Orchestra on October 17th 1975; the last time I saw them was at the Barbican Hall, performing a re-worked Snow Goose in its entirety on October 28th 2013. Though this tour was the first ever to include all of Moonmadness, it didn’t represent any special anniversary that I was aware of but it was nevertheless greeted with heartfelt appreciation by all their fans; in my opinion Moonmadness is a contender for the best album of 1976.

The last release by the original line-up, Moonmadness was a deliberate move by the band to create something other than ‘son of Snow Goose’, and the result was an album loosely held together with the notion that each of the main tracks was a musical representation of the traits of the band members: Chord Change was keyboard player Pete Bardens; Another Night was bassist Doug Ferguson; Air Born was guitarist/flautist Andy Latimer; and Lunar Sea was drummer Andy Ward. The album title comes arose from a feeling that the farmhouse where Bardens and Latimer were writing the material was haunted, as strange things happened, especially at full moon. References to the moon appear throughout the album, from the track title Lunar Sea, lyrics on Another Night, and the title of the concise opening track Aristillus, a prominent impact crater that lies in the eastern Mare Imbrium. This song features Andy Ward reciting ‘Aristillus’ and ‘Autolycus’ (a slightly smaller crater due south of Aristillus.)

Though I don’t think it can be called a forgotten classic, it does seem that in the panoply of progressive rock that Moonmadness has been overlooked. All the preceding Camel albums contained material of a uniformly high standard though of all their releases, Snow Goose stands out as a remarkable work that never dips in quality. However, Moonmadness has not just exemplary song-based music but also has a very satisfactory balance where neither Bardens nor Latimer comes out as particularly dominant; the two lead musicians giving each other ample space to conjure those beautiful, melodic lines. Lunar Sea, with its odd meter and alternating lead guitar and keyboard lines, and where the solid, unflashy Doug Ferguson positively bubbles, remains one of my favourite instrumental tracks of all time.




Aristillus was a recorded introduction, at the end of which Latimer, Colin Bass, Denis Clement and new recruit Pete Jones (the gifted mastermind behind Tiger Moth Tales) took to the unadorned stage to enthusiastic applause. Thinking back, this was the first time I’d ever seen the band as a quartet: for the 1979 I Can See Your House from Here tour there were two keyboard players; on the 1982 Single Factor tour they expanded to a sextet with two keyboard players and a second guitarist, Andy Dalby; they reverted to a quintet for the Stationary Traveller tour in 1984; and when I last saw them in 2013 they were a quintet with two keyboard players. This year’s four piece pulled off a magnificent performance of the full Moonmadness album, with Jones faithfully recreating Peter Barden’s keyboard lines and tones, delivered in album running order with minimal interaction with a spellbound, appreciative audience. Only Another Night was noticeably different from the original recording but it was good to have another vocalist in the line-up, with Latimer struggling to reach his former standard, modified as it was by effects and kept fairly low in the mix on their albums, and Bass faring only a little better, but these two were effective enough singing three-part harmony alongside Jones’ much stronger voice. I had thought that for the London show, the last performance of the tour, we might have seen a guest appearance from Mel Collins before King Crimson commence their UK dates. Sadly we didn’t, but Jones added saxophone, reprising a little of the role Collins played in Camel during the mid 70s.



It seemed pretty strange to have an interval after only 40 minutes of music but this provided an opportunity to invest in some merchandise. There were some bargains to be had, notably Dust and Dreams and Rajaz CDs for £10 each (I’d been encouraged to get these when I met up with my old school friend Bill Burford in August) but there were no tour programmes and T-shirts were selling for £30. The second set kicked off with the excellent Unevensong from Rain Dances (1977), pretty much the same vintage as Moonmadness and continued with the brilliant Hymn to Her from 1979’s I Can See Your House from Here, both of which were faithful to the respective studio versions and consequently really enjoyable. I thought the remainder of the set was a mixed bag; Ice, humorously introduced by Jones with a tale of the track being his audition piece, is an undisputed Camel classic (though I think Hymn to Her might be the best track on I Can See Your House) and Coming of Age is something like a reprise of all the best themes from Harbour of Tears (1996), but the Dust and Dreams (1991) tracks End of the Line, Mother Road and Hopeless Anger, and to a slightly lesser extent the title track from Rajaz (1999), came across as more straightforward rock, lacking any form of progressive edge. Rajaz included a lengthy, crowd-pleasing saxophone solo from Jones which added a welcome new texture to the band’s sound but I didn’t think it was terribly dynamic. The final number of the set, Long Goodbyes (from Stationary Traveller, 1984) was largely forgettable rather than an inspired conclusion so it was fortunate they played Lady Fantasy as an encore.



While I appreciate that the band might like to air material from a full range of albums because playing only 70s songs only tells a small portion of their story, I can’t believe that I’m the only one to have missed Rhayader and Rhayader Goes to Town or even anything from the first album. It may be that I’m hard to please; I was disappointed with the inclusion of two tracks from A Nod and a Wink on the last tour in 2013 when everything else was superb. I am well aware that they don’t devise a set list just for me.

I had a couple of other gripes, too, beyond the control of the band. The house lights remained on throughout the first half, illuminating the crowd and detracting from the sense of occasion, and the resurfacing of an old grumble; the sound in parts of the auditorium is quite poor. I originally disliked the venue because I’d experienced it from the gods and the upper gallery but a string of performances witnessed from the arena floor, the rising tier and the ground level seating won me over. However, for the Steven Wilson Hand.Cannot.Erase tour my seat was in-line with the front of the stage and I was surprised that the sound was rather muddy; for the Camel show I was seated in the arc that extends behind the line of the stage, behind the speakers suspended above the stage.



Overall, I enjoyed the show. Camel never quite managed the commercial success enjoyed by some of their contemporaries that their music deserved, possibly because they were relative latecomers to the genre, and though industry changes affected them more than the big names, they continued to ply hyper-melodic rock and occasionally, before their activity was curtailed by Latimer’s illness, managed to recreate some progressive gems. It’s great that they’re back.







By ProgBlog, Sep 24 2018 03:48PM

The weekend starting on Friday 14th September was rather busy. After finishing work at 5pm I arranged to meet family for a meal at Canonbury Kitchen, conveniently located close to Highbury and Islington station and the Union Chapel where I’d got tickets to see Gryphon’s album launch gig for ReInvention, their first studio album for 41 years. For anyone requiring a pre-Union Chapel gig meal, Canonbury Kitchen is a modern, informal Italian restaurant with exposed brickwork and high ceilings that’s been around since 2010, offering both traditional and contemporary cooking at competitive prices and with very friendly and attentive staff – it comes with a ProgBlog recommendation. My brother Richard was the only other one of the family attending Gryphon and he didn’t know what to expect, either from the music or the venue itself.


There was no queue outside the chapel when we approached, about 15 minutes after the doors opened (unlike for Tangerine Dream earlier this year where there was a human chain snaking around the block) but the pews in the central seating block were almost entirely filled or reserved with articles of clothing while their owners frequented the bar. After a brief stop at the merchandise stand for a copy of ReInvention (currently only available on CD) and an ‘Ashes’ T-shirt, with lyrics from the penultimate track on the new album, we took our place close to the front in the pews to the right of centre. Richard was impressed with the setting, but who wouldn’t be? I saw the band at the Holy Trinity Church in Claygate in March this year and thought that was a fitting venue, despite the secular style of Gryphon’s music; however, the Union Chapel is something else, a unique architectural gem.



The present building dates from 1876, when the foundation stone for a design by architect James Cubitt was laid. Cubitt had some renown as a designer of non-conformist churches and based his design for the Union Chapel on the medieval cathedral of Santa Fosca on the Venetian island of Torcello, proclaiming that he wanted to “step out of the enchanted circle of habit and precedent... ...to break through the tyranny of custom.” The chapel was inaugurated in 1877, but the spire, part of the original plan, was subject to delays over cost and work on a modified design didn’t commence until 1881, eventually reaching completion in 1889. The incumbent minister responsible for the rebuild, Dr Henry Allon, expressed a desire to put music at the heart of the new chapel and the magnificent rose window, with its angels playing musical instruments, is a reminder of those wishes which continue to hold true.



What we got was a performance of almost all of the new album, plus early favourites Kemp’s Jig, Estampie, The Unquiet Grave, The Astrologer and a medley of material from Red Queen to Gryphon Three; back in March they had only played a couple of new tracks, one of which was Rhubarb Crumhorn. The other difference between the Claygate Musical Festival and Union Chapel performances was that bassist Rory McFarlane was temporarily unable to play so his part was taken by Rob Levy. I think the new material is more closely related to the first album, despite a couple of songs being written for, but not making it onto, Raindance which were re-recorded for the ReInvention.

The main attraction of the band’s music to fans of progressive rock, apart from the incredible musicianship, was surely the dense textures created by Richard Harvey’s ever-expanding keyboard set-up that included some distinctly non-early musical instruments. Of course prog-heads weren’t averse to medieval instrumentation which also formed an integral part of the Gentle Giant sound, and even the whimsy and humour, a constant strand running through Gryphon song titles, fitted in with a prevailing appreciation for Monty Python’s Flying Circus. I just think that the band’s trajectory, from Gryphon (1973) to Treason (1977) was in an ever-more (progressive) rock direction, leaving behind the early music and folk adaptations that had, to a greater extent, made them stand out. If I were to make one criticism of the self-penned 70s material from Midnight Mushrumps onwards, it would be that there wasn’t always a satisfactory resolution to their pieces even though Red Queen to Gryphon Three remains my favourite Gryphon album; I think that some of the compositions lose their way. On the other hand, the first album and ReInvention include music that sticks more closely to a song format with distinct beginnings, middles and ends, like The Unquiet Grave, a traditional tune with a haunting, other-worldly bassoon section and an agreeable ending or even instrumental Hampton Caught from the new release. Part of the reason for this return to early music form must be down to multi-instrumentalist Graham Preskett who first appeared with the band in 2009. With quite a few song-writing credits to his name on ReInvention, his use of violin and mandolin, and a hefty dose of harpsichord patch have pulled the ensemble’s sound back in a more folk-rock direction. Richard did comment that he thought it might have been a bit more rock-y and was surprised that Graeme Taylor didn’t use his Telecaster very much.


Their sound was fairly well balanced from our seating position and though the performance seemed looser than at Claygate where they played more of the full Gryphon repertoire, the clear individual instrumental lines demonstrated the complexity of the music. The one song that didn’t quite work, possibly because of the frequent switches between keyboards and woodwind, was The Euphrates Connection and I was a little disappointed with Hospitality At A Price...(Dennis) Anyone For? – a throwback to 1920’s music that could serve as a sequel to Le Cambrioleur est dans le Mouchoir from Raindance.


The between-song banter, an alleged democratic endeavour shared equally between the members while allowing Brian Gulland and Andy Findon to change instruments, was apparently undermined by humorous interjections from their colleagues. However, we were given to understand that percussionist David Oberlé was dissatisfied with the characters he’d been chose to voice: the serving girl in The Astrologer and the Aged Man in Haddock’s Eyes, amidst suggestions of type-casting! We listened to the CD on Saturday, a beautifully produced album that must have caused huge technical problems getting the right levels for such an array of instruments, and where The Euphrates Connection works perfectly.

Gryphon continue to carve out their own niche with a blend of early music and modern. The crumhorn may be their USP but I’m personally in favour of more bassoon in progressive rock – it has such a beautiful tone – and Gulland’s quotations from Over the Rainbow, Chattanooga Choo-Choo and other well known melodies during Estampie is a great crowd-pleaser. It was a very enjoyable gig and it’s a great CD. Unfortunately for me the vinyl is on its way so I’m going to have to buy that, too!










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