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There’s now a new reason to make a pilgrimage to Canterbury; the city has three excellent independent record stores, two of them very new, which cover subtly different markets.

Some of the other touristy bits aren’t too bad either!

By ProgBlog, Jul 11 2017 10:42PM

I’ve just ripped a rather large pile of my wife’s CDs to mp3 for her, nothing that remotely interests me but which does indicate the breadth of her musical tastes, according to categories ascribed by Windows Media Player: Soul and R&B; folk; electronica (not the sort that I like); country; pop; world. The selection generally dated from within the last five years and I noticed that most of the albums play for around 45 minutes with an average track length of a little over four minutes within a range of sub-three minutes to just over five. This near-standardised format would suit a release on 12” LP and though quite a few of these recent additions to her collection were originally released before the current vinyl revolution, at least one has been re-released in audiophile format and two, by the same artist, have ridden the recent vinyl wave with the one of them allegedly becoming the fastest selling LP for 20 years.



It’s well documented how progressive rock bands found the standard three minute single something of a constraint and it’s equally uncontroversial to suggest that in the late 70s, as the golden era was drawing to a close with very few exceptions, bands who were obliged to attempt to write a hit single by their label produced failures; prog relied on album sales and was a spectacular success in doing so. It’s hard enough to put together a winning formula for a hit single without attempting to include some form of coherent story or message and most of the singles in the 70s were aimed at a particular demographic, the adolescent in the early 70s and then when punk came along, older teenagers. On a sociological level this was to do with burgeoning self-awareness and searching for inclusivity; call me dumb but the tribe I ascribed to had long hair, wore flairs and suede desert boots and carried albums to and from school under our arms, as if to show the world how deep and interesting we were.


I’m not going to comment on the provenance of some, undeniably successful singles from prog-associated artists such as Greg Lake or the 1980s version of Yes and equally, I’m not thinking of edits of album tracks cut-down to favour air play but, in my opinion, the only genuine full-on hit progressive rock song of single length is Wonderous Stories by Yes which entered the UK Singles Chart at number 31 in mid-September 1977. Over the next four weeks climbed to its peak, reaching number 7 for the week of 8 October and it remained in the chart for the next five weeks. A favourite with fans and band members alike, the track somehow condenses epic Yes into 3’45, possibly because the song structure, built around a classical framework, incorporates signature features such as the harmony vocals and an uplifting vibe. It’s unclear to me how many new fans they attracted, especially in an era of punk. I didn’t buy the single in either of its formats because I owned the album but I imagine a fair number of pre-existing fans bought the special edition picture-sleeve 12” version in blue vinyl.




So what is the ideal track length, and what is the perfect album duration? As someone who began listening to music when the vinyl LP was the dominant format, I’m used to and therefore favour an album of 35 – 45 minutes of music. There are plenty of shorter length albums such as Electric Prunes’ Mass in F minor which, at 26 minutes, must be one of the shortest LPs ever, Rick Wakeman’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII (just over 36 minutes), and many of the 70s progressivo Italiano releases. At the other end of the scale, Genesis had a bit of a reputation for eking out every square millimetre of the record surface with Foxtrot lasting over 51 minutes, Selling England by the Pound at over 53 minutes, Trick of the Tail at 51 minutes and Wind and Wuthering just shy of 51 minutes; [the non-prog] Duke was over 55 minutes. Progressive rock is known for its utilisation of full dynamics and the more music included on an LP means less space between grooves and a reduced dynamic range, plus the increased likelihood of damage from a worn stylus and though my Genesis records play well, the side-long title track on Autumn Grass by Continuum which lasts over 26 minutes, has reproduction problems on my current set-up, my former set-up and on the system in the shop I used to check the quality of the (second-hand) disc.

I’m very much in favour of side-long tracks and most of my favourite groups have committed one side of an album to a single piece of music; all of them have indulged in long-form, which I consider to be one of the defining qualities of prog. From the ultimate progressive rock album Close to the Edge to each of the four sides of Tales from Topographic Oceans and Gates of Delirium; Atom Heart Mother and Echoes to Eruption and Hamburger Concerto; Tarkus to A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers; Music Inspired by The Snow Goose to Nine Feet Underground; Supper’s Ready (Horizons is the prelude) to Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play; Lizard to Mumps; Rubycon to Tubular Bells; Trace’s Birds to The Mahavishnu Orchestra’s Dream, there are also other brilliant almost side-long tracks like Grand Canyon Suite and Credo on the only studio album by Refugee.




It’s not that I don’t like sub-five minute tracks but I just don’t think they represent the best a band can do. Anything around 10 minutes or over should give sufficient scope for development of ideas to transport the listener on a journey through the composition; there ought to be sufficient time to employ a variety of rhythmic devices, changes in amplitude and different instruments or instrumental voices.

The CD format opened up a whole new world of possibilities and prog supergroup Transatlantic managed to fill an album with a single piece of music, The Whirlwind, lasting 77 minutes. This may be an exception but the temptation to fill the available time on a CD, whether with a single track or a series of shorter tracks, is ever-present. Where should we stop? My brother Richard has specifically commented on Nad Sylvan’s 2015 solo album Courting the Widow, suggesting that as much as he likes the compositions, he finds it hard to reach the end of the album (it lasts just over 70 minutes.) I think Richard’s observation applies far more generally and that there’s no real requirement to release something over 50 minutes long. Before the 90s King Crimson came along I’ve held ‘Crimson days’ where I played all original (vinyl) releases one after the other; I’ve done the same for Yes and Pink Floyd but unless you have the time to dedicate to listening to music, there’s no point. I’m someone who believes in the importance of the album as a complete entity and that the running order described by the artist is sacrosanct yet I’m unsure if it’s the lives we lead (wake/commute/work/commute/eat/sleep/repeat) which is restricting our ability to fully connect with music or if the length of a CD album itself that we find hard to assimilate in a single sitting. Is this a generational thing affecting those of us who grew up happy to turn over an LP on the platter or is it a Page family thing? Yes magnum opus Tales from Topographic Oceans was derided for its length (amongst other things) and attracted criticism for passages regarded as ‘filler’, so would it have benefitted from a CD format, if that had been available in 1973, allowing it to be produced as a 60 minute-long piece of work? I like to think that the natural breaks afforded by changing sides and changing discs provide enough break to allow us to enjoy the full 80 minutes. Then again, as much as I enjoy Anderson/Stolt’s Invention of Knowledge which lasts around 65 minutes, I find it difficult to listen to from beginning to end on vinyl or in digital format; perhaps familiarity plays a large part and it’s not just the length of the album. I no longer have the time I once had to sit down and properly listen.




In fact there’s no perfect length of either a single track or of an album. The physical restraints of the 12” LP which allowed up to 27 minutes of music each side, has the capacity to hold music which can have any number of twists and turns, whether they’re presented as one piece or as a series of tracks. It’s not the length that counts – it’s the quality of the music itself.


By ProgBlog, Mar 5 2017 11:00PM

ProgBlog wasn’t posted last week due to the annual skiing holiday, this year undertaken by only two Pages, father and son. Booking a skiing trip inevitably involves a degree of chance, including will the weather be good for skiing and will there be sufficient snow to last the full week. There are other unknowns, too, such as the quality of the accommodation if, like us, you resort hop from year-to-year to experience different places.

Planning the trip normally relies on synchronising three diaries and taking into account Crystal Palace FC home fixtures, gig bookings and avoiding both UK and French/Italian/Austrian school holidays and everything has to be completed before the end of the financial year – for one of us working in local government finance.

We used to drive to the French Alps but for the last 10 years or so we’ve booked with a high street tour operator. Driving was fun. You could take whatever you needed and, as the family has similar musical tastes, turn the journey into one long progressive rock show. I downsized my car in 2008 and went without a car between 2012 and 2013 before getting an even smaller car which has effectively ruled out self-drive. Also, even when we set out on a Friday evening and stayed overnight at a budget hotel in northern France, the section of road approaching the Geneva turn-off first became a crawl and then a solid line of steel and aluminium, so now we fly.

Given the good-natured family relationship, built on a love of prog and a love of skiing, choosing a suitable destination ought to be easy but we do tend to book fairly late. With Google searches notching up the price of a holiday (unless you delete your Chrome browsing history) the choice is facilitated through a multitude of browsing tabs directed to different tour operators and TripAdvisor reviews. The range of reviews on offer needs to be carefully dissected and put into context. Some people like to ski and party and therefore just need somewhere basic to rest; some like home comforts and will criticise the noise from the street outside as revellers (see above) return to their rooms at 3am. We like something large enough to spread out a little and though we’re used to self-catering, we’re equally happy to be catered for... ...as long as it’s not a chalet!

This year I went back to Val d’Isère, having been there previously in 2003. This was my son’s first visit but I knew that he’d find enough skiing because the area is huge. We had been tempted by the cheaper Tignes as a lift pass combines both Tignes and Val d’Isère, at least partly because of the architecture but the accommodation was some way down the valley and was therefore a less attractive proposition. We booked an apartment in Alpina Lodge, very close to the central lift hub of the village, and were pleased to find it a good-sized suite intended to accommodate 6-8 people. I don't know if this was a post- EU referendum effect associated with the devaluation of Sterling compared to the Euro but Val d’Isère is a resort traditionally associated with the British and though English probably remained the dominant language in resort, the flight out from Gatwick was not full. However, I was quite happy to be put up in a space big enough for eight and I'd never been in self-catering accommodation of this standard before; there was a mezzanine bedroom, there were two bathrooms and even the cooker had four rings! Whereas I'm used to packing out my ski bag with cleaning materials and toilet rolls, Alpina Lodge was run on hotel lines with a mid-week clean, a plentiful supply of towels and complimentary toiletries. Luxury!

The wifi in the rooms was not brilliant but we were able to download films onto a tablet to watch after cooking and eating. We ate out on two nights; the first was at Flash Pizza, a recommendation by the Crystal rep. You'd expect ski reps to know the cheapest places to drink in resort but you might not be interested in their choice of restaurant. However, Flash Pizza turned out to be a tiny, cosy and friendly restaurant with a good choice of pizzas and though it would have been best to book, we managed to get seats at the bar after having to wait only 5 minutes. I had a Bailletta (tomato, mozzarella, goat’s cheese, walnuts and honey) which came perfectly baked; a thin crust on the well-done part of the spectrum and at €13 for a pizza 33cm diameter, the price for Val d'Isère was very reasonable. The ultimate recommendation came from the chef at one of the more established restaurants in the village – our intended destination for the last evening - who arrived to pick up his takeaway on his night off and stayed for a glass of wine and a chat. We didn’t get to eat at the Taverna d’Alsace because once again, we failed to book a table. Not booking a restaurant for the final evening of a skiing trip is madness, something we’ve done (or not done) on other trips. Fortunately, we could see another restaurant from the front door and made our way through the snow to La Casserole. A board outside indicated there was no break in service so fitting in two people at 6pm was not a problem.

La Casserole served local fare and the specialities, not surprisingly, were casseroles. The beef in my casserole, cooked in a local red wine, was presented in large chunks which melted in your mouth; genuinely lovely, filling home-cooked food. We also chose to indulge in dessert, both choosing a massive crème brûleé flavoured with vanilla, a hint of lime and bourbon and served in a special dish: A dessert to die for.



The first two days of skiing we undertaken in excellent conditions – clear blue skies and the occasional cloud and firm snow. Sadly, conditions on days 3, 4 and 5 included some of the worst mountain weather I’ve experienced where blizzards and flat light made progress very difficult. My poor eyesight means I’ve been known to fall over backwards from standing still when I’ve not been able to see features on the piste. We did manage to do some skiing on each of those days but in my case it was a genuine struggle.


Day 6 dawned bright and we set off for the furthest point in the area, the Aiguilles Percee beyond Tignes. This is a rock wall with needle-like features and an amazing quirk of geology, a natural arch in the rock which looks like some sort of cosmic space-time portal, accessible with a minor off-piste excursion. A full day ended with reduced light and strong winds, blowing away powder from the ungroomed pistes; a successful venture despite the reduced time on the slopes.



Downtime during the day when we were unable to get onto the mountains was spent preparing a postcard story, listening to music on my mp3 player, and going in search of coffee. The spread of independent coffee shops in the UK is taken for granted but, outside of Italy, mainland Europe is lagging behind and for those of us who rely on a good roast bean nicely prepared, the alternatives are rarely worth bothering with.

Fortunately for us, we found Arctic Cafe which does mountain energy foods, smoothies and organic coffee which was as good as anything you'd get in Shoreditch; a really well prepared espresso shot that we sought out every day and twice during the morning we were waiting for our transfer out of resort.


Ski playlist:

A Saucerful of Secrets – Pink Floyd

Fragile – Yes

In ogni luogo – Finisterre

Equatorial Array – Gareth Page

Invention of Knowledge – Anderson-Stolt

La Coscienza di Zeno - La Coscienza di Zeno

Meddle – Pink Floyd

Red - King Crimson










By ProgBlog, Jul 3 2016 09:20PM

I’ve just taken receipt of the Anderson/Stolt LP Invention of Knowledge and, sitting in my Barcelona chair with the gatefold sleeve open in my hands, I’m transported back to the mid 70s.


TV plays a balanced part in my life although the ability to call up 24 hour news or watch catch-up programmes on mobile devices means that breaking news or doing something else the same night that Brian Pern is scheduled means I never miss anything I want to see. In reality, programmes I’m missing in real time are conveniently recorded on a TiVo box and I get pretty sick of 24 hour news streaming where the anchors frequently have to ad-lib as some sort of live action reaches an impasse and the scrolling red ribbon runs on an ever quicker cycle, complete with uncorrected spelling errors. I think there are too many channels, most of which peddle meaningless nonsense, cheap programming and repeats. I may have watched a little too much TV in the 70s but at least broadcasting was restricted to three terrestrial channels where, despite the airing of tired, formulaic situation comedies and crass game shows, it appeared that on the BBC at least there was some thought about what was shown.

I was at the BFI on London’s Southbank on Thursday, attending a very enjoyable presentation called Transport as Architecture: Ballard to Banham that featured three short films: Crash! directed by Harley Cokeliss from 1970 that featured JG Ballard himself along with Gabrielle Drake (who I remember as Lieutenant Gay Ellis from Gerry Anderson’s UFO which ran from 1970-1973); The Thing Is... Motorways, part of a 1992 Channel 4 ‘talk show’ series by Paul Morley which also included short contributions from JG Ballard; and Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles from 1972, in which the writer, critic and Professor of Architectural History drove around LA in search of interesting features to show to tourists. Both Cokeliss and Morley were present to introduce their pieces and, despite his writing for the NME from the mid 70s to the mid 80s, I hold a sneaking admiration for Morley, not because he’s a northerner (he was born in Farnham, Surrey), but because he has some interesting things to say and his taste in music is pretty eclectic; I thought that some of the music that accompanied his documentary, a short piece of electronica, was like a Mancunian take on Kraftwerk’s Autobahn only inspired by the Preston by-pass section of the M6. Before the films I flicked through a somewhat small collection of soundtracks on re-released vinyl in the BFI gift shop and, alongside Mike Oldfield’s soundtrack to the harrowing The Killing Fields, was an LP from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.


The Radiophonic Workshop was a revolutionary sound effects unit created in 1958, originally to provide sound effects for radio programmes which became most famous for recording Ron Grainer’s Dr Who theme in 1963. The creators and contributors included trained musicians with an appreciation of musique concrète and tape manipulation and their rooms at Maida Vale are reported to have looked more like an electronics laboratory than a routine recording studio. The pioneering work was carried out by some memorable names including Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire. A synthesizer designed by Oram, where sounds and compositions were produced by drawings, featured in BBC Technology news last week and forms the centrepiece of an exhibition Oram to Electronica at the Science Museum in London. A mini-Oramics machine, based on original plans but never completed during her lifetime, has just been completed by a PhD student from Goldsmiths College and though there are now apps that mimic the principle it predated sequencing software and, if the machine had been available in 1973, it could have changed the way music was taught and performed.

Strange electronic noises are very suited to science fiction and the inception of the Radiophonic Workshop coincided with the rise in popularity of SF, from radio serials Quatermass and the Pit to Douglas Adams’ immensely popular Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy which later translated to television, as well as shows like Dr Who.

One area where the BBC excelled was in its children’s programming. I distinctly remember a drama series, based on a trilogy of novels by Peter Dickinson and first broadcast in 1975 called The Changes. This near-apocalyptic vision was notable for its pro-integration message, being one of the first programmes to feature Sikhs, making it genuinely progressive. The excellent theme music was by Paddy Kingsland of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop which I seem to recall was available as a 45rpm single, but which wasn’t stocked by any of the record stores in Barrow. The long-running Blue Peter which at one time featured Barrovian Peter Purves (I used to deliver papers for his parent’s newsagents on the corner of Oxford Street and Furness Park Road) included an updated theme tune performed by Mike Oldfield that was available as a single, reaching no. 19 in the charts in 1979 and raising money for the Blue Peter Cambodia appeal. Another BBC children’s programme was Horses Galore, presented by Susan King which had a relatively short run, from 1977 to 1979. I’ve got no idea why I would watch a programme about horses, not being interested in equestrian pursuits and having once been bitten on the shoulder by Nicola Richardson’s horse, but the theme music was Pulstar by Vangelis from Albedo 0.39 (1976).

There was a lot of instrumental progressive rock around at the time and I thought that some of this should be used for items on BBC TV’s regional news and current affairs programme Nationwide that was shown immediately after the early evening so I wrote to them in December 1976, prompted to put pen to paper because I’d detected a snatch of Echoes on Jacob Bronowski’s seminal series The Ascent of Man, providing them with a list of suggestions. I don’t believe they took any notice but I did get a standard postcard in reply.


I was reminded of this when I read Rick Wakeman’s programme notes for his recent appearance at the Stone Free Festival; the Arthur theme was used by the BBC for Election Night specials on a number of occasions, a very fitting use of the music.

Yorkshire TV, one of the Independent Television company franchise holders ran a science-based show called Don’t Ask Me from 1974 to 1978 which used House of the King by Focus as a theme tune and exposed panellists David Bellamy (botany), Miriam Stoppard (medicine) and Magnus Pyke (natural sciences) to a wide audience. Pyke came across as the archetypal mad scientist and it was his unforgettable manner that was largely responsible for the success of the series, such that a large proportion of my generation will think of Don’t Ask Me rather than Focus when they hear the song.

Holiday was a long-running BBC programme that began in 1969, featuring reports from holiday destinations around the world. I think it was broadcast on a Sunday in the early evening and it was therefore something that could be watched while eating an informal Sunday tea. I’d bought Gordon Giltrap’s Visionary shortly after it was released in 1976 and bought the subsequent album, Perilous Journey when that came out in 1977. It was a bit of a surprise to hear Heartsong used as the theme tune for Holiday ’78 and it continued to be used until replaced by an unpopular piece by Simon May in 1985. Interestingly, the ITV holiday reviews show Wish You Were Here? (essentially a rip-off of Holiday) used Giltrap’s The Carnival as a theme tune.

One of the best original theme tunes was by Greenslade for the gritty BBC crime drama Gangsters (appearing on Time and Tide, 1975.) I think I saw the programme before hearing the album, immediately recognising the twin keyboard work of Daves Greenslade and Lawson. Set around Birmingham and originally a one-off Play for Today in 1975, this was the most lifelike screen violence I’d seen and was genuinely gripping.

Like The Changes, it’s a lost gem with excellent title music.







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