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The ProgBlog gig marathon continued with a rare opportunity to see the mythical hybrid beast Gryphon and their mix of early music, folk and prog... ...at the rather obscure Claygate Music Festival

By ProgBlog, Mar 19 2018 08:38PM

At the beginning of 2018 the proprietors of Genova bar and music venue L’Angelo Azzurro posted a message on their Facebook page that suggested that after almost nine years of putting on concerts they were very likely to have to close down for good because they had insufficient funds to cover their rent and were facing eviction. The energy, dedication and passion they’d put into the club really could not be questioned and the local musicians I’ve spoken to were seriously concerned about the loss of a venue that had been very supportive of the Genova progressive rock community; limiting the potential exposure of bands of whatever genre would have undoubtedly had an impact on a number of up-and-coming local bands.



Owners Danilo Lombardo and Katya Daffinoti launched an appeal for €6000 through the issue of shares and within the first three days had managed to collect over a third of that sum, prompting them to acknowledge that the club was more than simply their business, it belonged to family, friends, musicians and music fans within the community as ‘a shelter and a reference point.’ They received many certificates of esteem which indicated that their commitment over the past few years had obviously left good memories with the musicians who came to play and those in the audience who came to watch. By the end of January they were very close to reaching the total and held open meetings to discuss future plans and suggestions for improvement. I arrived at the club, still going strong and with more performances announced, on Friday 9th March.

I’d gone along to support Melting Clock, playing their third gig and premiering some new material that has been written for their forthcoming album and the event, part of a series organised by local impresario Marina Montobbio called ‘Lady Prog Nights’ was made even more attractive by the second act of the evening who already have two high calibre symphonic prog albums under their belt, Panther & C.



L’Angelo Azzurro is relatively quick, cheap and easy to access by public transport in the evening, costing just €1.60 for a ticket from Genoa’s main station (Piazza Principe) to the suburban stop Genova Borzoli, from where it’s a 10 minute downhill walk to the club. Unfortunately, Google maps drops a pin by a roundabout in what appears to be the middle of nowhere so it took me a little while to work out where the venue really was and how to get there, descending the hill beyond the roundabout then almost doubling back on myself through a 1930s industrial estate; a trip reminiscent of getting to the Progressivamente 25 festival at the Jailbreak Live Club in Rome last October or BMS at Circolo Colony in Brescia in January. I’d had to join the Circolo Colony club in addition to getting a BMS ticket; for this Lady Prog night entry to the gig was a one-off payment of €10 which included membership of the club. It was really good to meet up with friends from previous trips to the city and it was patently obvious how much the club meant to this community; the place was full and buzzing with anticipation.



I was seated behind a table occupied by members of Panther & C. along with their friends and family and was told by flautist/vocalist Mauro Serpe that he’d be joining Melting Clock on stage, for what I assumed was one of the surprises Melting Clock had hinted of. The event began with a short introductory speech by Montobbio about the club and the special brand of Genovese symphonic prog we were about to be treated to, but there was a delay before the band could start because there were problems with Simone Caffè’s acoustic guitar lead which took the house sound engineer a little while to rectify.

Once the guitar lead was fixed, the set commenced with the short instrumental Quello che Rimane, a track very much in keeping with the melodic symphonic prog style that characterises the band. Material that they’ve played on the previous occasions I’ve seen them followed: L’occhio dello sciacallo; Banalmente (first played at La Claque last November); Caleidoscopio; Strade Affollate; each song revealing nuances I’d not previously detected as the musicians had become more confident in their performance. I’ve previously compared them to Renaissance and while Emanuela Vedana’s voice matches Annie Haslam’s beautiful vocals, there’s something more adventurous about the music of Melting Clock, something in the layered sounds of the twin guitars of Caffè and Stefano Amadei that add an extra degree of complexity. If I was detecting new subtleties in the songs I’d heard before, I wasn’t prepared for the latest composition to be played live for the first time, Vetro. This song involved sudden stops and changes and reminded me of the early classic Italian prog bands, taking their lead from UK prog, most notably King Crimson. Stefano and Sandro Amadei both suggested that they’d been a little nervous of tackling something of that difficulty for the first time in front of an audience but I thought it sounded remarkably tight and contrasted nicely with the flowing tunes I associate with the band. The technical challenge faced by the musicians, not least drummer Francesco Fiorito and bassist Alessandro Bosca, will have tested the audience in a different way. I actively seek out music that could be difficult to listen to and though this wasn’t in any way extreme and would still be classified as symphonic prog, I can’t believe that it didn’t make a few people sit up and marvel at the writing and execution of the piece; the applause at the end of the song suggested that the crowd really appreciated an excellent piece of music.



We were back on familiar territory for the next two songs, my favourite Antares and the evocative Sono Luce before Panther & C.’s Serpe joined them for their final number, by tradition a cover version of a prog classic. In acknowledgement of Marina Montobbio’s fantastic efforts getting the series of concerts off the ground, they played a song that originally featured Steve Hackett, one of her all-time favourite musicians, Firth of Fifth, with flute provided by Serpe.

Apart from the glitch at the beginning of the set, the sound was mostly good. The mixing desk was at the side of the stage so the engineer had to walk out in front of the band to judge how well he’d balanced the instruments and it took him a couple of trips to get Vedana’s vocals to a suitable level in the mix. Being a bit of a fan of keyboards, I wouldn’t have complained if they’d been a little clearer when the band was in full flight.



The Panther & C. performance was as good and professional as you’d expect. I’m relatively familiar with their music having bought both of their CDs when I last saw them at the Porto Antico Prog Fest, so I’m beginning to pick out more subtleties in their music, too. The set was a mixture of material from both of their albums (my personal favourite was ...e Continua ad Essere which segued into Giusto Equilibrio) but whereas you expect them to play high quality symphonic prog, the theatrics of Serpe also play an important role and that’s not something I’d particularly noticed before or something that comes across on CD. In a previous review I’d incorrectly ascribed opening song La Leggenda di Arenberg to the famous cycle race through the Arenberg forest but, aided by the CD booklet I now understand it’s about the Flemish king Helmut, and how he battled bravely despite being outnumbered by another army with around 100000 cavalrymen. Legend tells of the reappearance of Helmut and his foes for one night every year, disappearing as the sun rises.

This has caused me to reappraise the band. The musicianship is of a very high standard (Serpe on flute and vocals; Alessandro La Corte on keyboards; Riccardo Mazzarini on guitars; Giorgio Boleto on bass; and Falco Fedele on drums) and the compositions are well-crafted and the lyrics poetic. They certainly tell a very good story through both music and words; add in the use of masks and it’s clear that they’ve derived some inspiration from early Genesis.



Montobbio and her husband very kindly gave me a lift back to my hotel at 2.30 am – public transport had shut down by the time the gig ended – but in the intervening period while the two groups packed up their equipment, I was introduced to some other members of the Italian Riviera prog scene: Bruno Cassan who is based in Nice and is responsible for, amongst other things, Prog’Sud in Pennes-Mirabeau, France (Panther & C. played there in 2017); and Il Tempio delle Clessidre bassist Fabio Gremo (who had come along with ITDC guitarist Giulio Canepa to support his good friends from Melting Clock.) The sense of community can’t be understated, and it would be a terrible loss if L’Angelo Azzurro was forced to close. Every time I visit the city, I’m awed by the friendliness of everyone involved in the prog scene in Genova: the support from the staff at Black Widow Records, the work and enthusiasm of Montobbio, and a world of welcoming musicians. I’ll be back











By ProgBlog, Jul 26 2015 10:57PM

There were a number of factors that combined to allow the development of progressive rock, not least of all sociological factors. Psychedelia emerged as the music of the counterculture and this, in turn, allowed the evolution of prog which, at its inception, retained some of the anti-mainstream ideals. The concept of ‘free love’ was closely associated with the hippie movement, being a rejection of established sexual mores. Greater sexual freedom (leading to the term ‘swinging sixties’) was catalysed by the availability of the contraceptive pill, described as one of the most significant medical advance of the 20th century because of the major role it has played in the women's liberation movement and emancipation, for the first time allowing women to plan and control their own reproductive capacity. The pill, a combination of hormones oestrogen and progestin which were synthetically produced to mimic the body's natural hormones, works by suppressing ovulation. It was developed by biologist Dr Gregory Pincus in the US during the 1950s and was approved for release in 1960, having been tested on Puerto Rican and Haitian women. Take-up was rapid: within two years of its launch it was being used by 1.2 million American women and the current number of users is of the order of 11 million. It was made available in the UK on the NHS in 1961 for married women only, a state that lasted until 1967, the height of the psychedelic movement; between 1962 and 1969 the number of users rose from approximately 50,000 to one million and it is now taken by 3.5 million women in Britain between the ages of 16 and 49. Worldwide, around 100 million women take the pill. While there are concerns over the safety of the pill in certain groups of women (heavy smokers over the age of 35, the obese, those with a risk of thrombosis, those with heart disease, those with a history of certain disease such as breast cancer) the pill has been shown to protect against cancer of the ovaries and the womb lining, and protect against pelvic inflammatory disease, a major cause of infertility in women. Sadly, even today there’s still a reactionary bloc that is unable to accept women’s sexual rights, including patriarchal organisations such as the Catholic Church and some of the more right-wing media empires. Self-styled moral crusader Mary Whitehouse, famous in the progressive rock world for incurring the ire of Roger Waters (Pigs [Three Different Ones] from Animals, 1977) formed the (short-lived) Christian grassroots movement Nationwide Festival of Light along with, amongst others, journalist and author Malcolm Muggeridge in response to concerns over the development of the permissive society in the UK during the late 60s; Muggeridge frequently denounced this new sexual freedom on radio and television and particularly railed against "pills and pot", birth control and cannabis. Within the counterculture he became something of a figure of ridicule, such that early bootlegged versions of Pink Floyd’s The Great Gig in the Sky (to appear on Dark Side of the Moon, 1973) included snippets of his speeches, titled The Collected Ramblings of Malcolm Muggeridge.

It’s rather disappointing that the first wave of prog didn’t produce many bands with female musicians, building on the legacy of US psychedelic bands Jefferson Airship, later Jefferson Spaceship (Grace Slick) and Big Brother and the Holding Company (Janis Joplin), both of these groups having formed in San Francisco, the epicentre of the counterculture. The rock music business was another male-dominated industry and counter-intuitively it wasn’t until the rise of punk that women got to feature in more bands, though there have always been other genres that did have female stars. For prog, which tended to address issues other than ‘boy-meets-girl’, in the UK only Sonja Kristina and Annie Haslam, with Curved Air and Renaissance respectively, got to front groups; I’m not going to include Kate Bush, a solo artist whose oeuvre includes some prog-inflected material, other than to mention her strike for equality by demonstrating that she was in complete creative control of her work; Jerney Kaagman was singer for successful Netherlands prog band Earth and Fire.

Normally the preserve of glam metal acts, there a small number of examples of prog which I think come close to hinting at the exploitation of women, the clearest of which is probably King Crimson’s Ladies of the Road (from Islands, 1971.) It has been suggested that the lyrics to the song were an accurate representation of the early period of Boz Burrell's life as a young man on tour where groupies were readily available for casual sex, a phenomenon that burgeoned during the heyday of the counterculture. Caravan’s nudge-nudge-wink-wink schoolboy humour runs throughout much of their early work but in my opinion it’s not necessarily exploitative; Richard Sinclair comes across as quite sympathetic to the lead character on the title track from Waterloo Lily (1972.)

My acquisition of An Electric Storm (1969) by White Noise from a record and CD fair in Brighton a couple of weeks ago is the third example in my collection of a record featuring simulated sex noises. I accept it’s pushing the definition of prog to include this album but it’s an important release in terms of sonic possibilities; a very early example of tape effects and electronica. More au fait with Vorhaus’ White Noise II (1975) on which he used a synthesizer with a ribbon controller (I dubbed it an electric drainpipe) the original White Noise featured BBC Radiophonic Workshop employees Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson. The track My Game of Love was written with synthesized noises of an orgy but, according to the liner notes for the CD release, Vorhaus must have been dissatisfied with the results and mixed his electronic creation with a recording of a real orgy.

The first example that I heard of sex noises on a prog album was, appropriately enough, ∞ (Infinity) from 666 (1972) by Aphrodite’s Child – Aphrodite being the Greek goddess of love, beauty and procreation. The record company, Mercury, objected to the double-album length and the musical experimentation, as well as the track ∞, because of the simulated female orgasm lasting over 5 minutes provided by Greek actress Irene Papas, who repeats the words "I was, I am, I am to come" over a sparse percussion track. This track in particular makes Je t’aime... moi non plus by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin sound rather tame.

The second is a CD I came across in Metropolis Music in Melbourne when I was in Australia in 2005 – Masq (1971) by Catharsis. There was no Australian prog available and I felt I had to buy something from the store because the staff were incredibly helpful. I chose Masq because it was described as ‘the first album from a great French underground group, lots of weirdness with some folky touches, unique!’ It comes across as something like a psychedelic folk band though it does feature some dreamy organ and some free-form sections that could have been inspired by early Pink Floyd. The final two minutes of the second track, 4 art 6 features simulated sex sounds, the female parts provided by singer Charlotte.

These three examples are from early in the prog canon and, to a greater extent, reflect the period in which they were written, a time of sexual freedom and exploration. They come across as consensual and sharing, fitting in with the original philosophy of progressive rock as an inclusive, outward looking and anti-authoritarian movement. It’s strange that this non-threatening music was performed almost exclusively by males to an audience of almost exclusively males but happily, the third wave of prog features a number of excellent women musicians and the presence of females in the audiences is becoming more noticeable. Long live equality!



By ProgBlog, Jul 19 2015 07:03PM

Oktober are comprised of Gary Bennett (basses, guitars, keyboards), David Speight (drums, percussion) and Molnár Kinga (vocals). Their origins hark back to 2007 when drummer Speight was playing with Peter Banks’ improvisation group Harmony in Diversity, who were invited to play at a Hungarian prog festival; also on the bill were Netherlands band Flamborough Head and Yesterdays, a Hungarian band based in Cluj Napoca, in the Transylvanian region of Romania and featuring Kinga on vocals. Speight was acquainted with Gary Bennett through symphonic prog band Yak but when the pair were involved in a collaborative effort on a record for Southend-on-Sea based hi-fi company Rega, Speight suggested Kinga as a vocalist for the project because she would be able to handle the complex arrangements associated with the prog take on the tracks they’d selected.

Bennett continued to work on original material with Kinga when she was back in Transylvania, sharing mp3 files over the internet. By 2011 the songs were ready for the addition of the drum tracks. The vocals were recorded in the UK in 2013 and the entire album was completed, mixed and mastered in December 2014; Sandcastles (2015) is the end result and it’s an album of well-crafted, beautiful melodic music carefully presented with some poignant (uncredited) photography from Bennett and his partner Fiona and one photo, ice skating, taken by Bennett’s father in 1986.

This isn’t really prog but it certainly has sonic links with prog. At just under 32 minutes and containing six songs it could have come from the early progressivo Italiano stable where a band’s recorded output was often notoriously brief. I’m struggling to pigeonhole the music but I shouldn’t really try because it’s best to let the music speak for itself; labels are only marketing tools, after all. Lyrically, the content is reflective and descriptive, taking in supernatural phenomenon and myriad aspects of the natural world. Throughout, Kinga’s voice is clear and strong and is reminiscent of Annie Haslam from Renaissance or, perhaps closer still, Amy Darby from Thieves’ Kitchen. Another comparison with Renaissance would be shared natural imagery as Betty Thatcher’s words included word pictures of icy pools and curling leaves; I’d go as far as suggesting that Bennett’s lyrics stray into classic Yes territory with his use of ‘green language’.

There’s a general progression over the CD of increasing complexity, where the later tracks are more layered than on the earlier tracks. Opening song Other People’s Parties is almost exclusively Bennett on acoustic guitar and Kinga singing though it’s here that we first get a glimpse of one of Bennett’s influences with a short burst of electric guitar that calls to mind the clean, compressed and EQ’d sound used by Mike Oldfield. This song is a joint Bennett – Kinga composition, the remainder of the album was written entirely by Bennett.

The shortest track on the CD, Don’t Stop is more up tempo and introduces a short riff on one of the multi-tracked guitars during the first two verses before another splash of Oldfield-like lead. The contemplative Dust and Rain is analogous to Genesis’ Blood on the Rooftops with some clever word-play over classical guitar, something that Steve Hackett would cover over his solo career. Lost and Found gets a traditional Irish folk song treatment, Bennett having played in a ceilidh band, and Oktober are joined by guest musicians Mick Graves on fiddle and Fez Powell on bodhran - Graves’ violin was produced by premier London violin maker Richard Duke and dates from around 1780. In this song Kinga delivers some neat call and response vocals and her harmonies remind me of Canterbury-scene backing vocalists The Northettes.

The opening section of Sleepers Awake is a fantastic riff reminiscent of Songs from the Wood era Jethro Tull and features a bouzouki, custom-made from an old 12 string guitar. The scan of the last two lines of verse two is a clever piece of lyricism, like Steve Hackett’s Tigermoth from Spectral Mornings. There’s more evidence of keyboards on this, the longest track, and there’s a nice ambient percussion section before a repeat of the bouzouki phrase and a reprise of the third verse from preceding track Lost and Found. In very prog fashion, there’s a neat segue into final track Sandcastles; taken together these two tracks could almost be a 13 minute long mini-suite because musically they’re approaching prog territory. Sandcastles features more Oldfield-like lead guitar but it’s the structure of the song that makes it stand out; after a fairly conventional verse-verse-chorus-verse-chorus there’s a short syncopated section with the kick drum on every beat overlain with a concise guitar solo that fades (too) rapidly to seashore noises. This ends with a haunting verse that doesn’t appear in the lyrics, rather like a hidden song: Sing me to sleep underneath weeping willows / Wild fragrant roses are still in full bloom / I need to be gone by the first chill of autumn / My old friend the west wind is calling me home. These last two tracks are without a doubt my favourites and when Kinga sings the ‘rolling white horses’ line in the first chorus of Sandcastles it gives me involuntary goose bumps.

Bennett himself suggested that it would be disingenuous to call the album prog, but as both he and Speight are lifelong progressive rock fanatics, specifically citing Yes and Genesis, it’s hardly surprising that prog influences shine through and it’s evident from their respective techniques on guitars and drums that they really know their art. It was their belief that there was sufficient prog element in the songs to appeal to fans of the genre and I find it difficult to disagree. The songs may range from singer-songwriter introspection to electric folk but they defy being catalogued. Not having a target audience could be detrimental but, if Oktober get the break they deserve, Sandcastles, with its general theme of the ephemeral nature of things, has the power to speak to a wide range of people. I know I like it and I know there’s an audience out there.

Copies of the album can be ordered on ebay: http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Sandcastles-Oktober-/291512162629 or by contacting the band at www.facebook.com/oktobertheband



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