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Progressive rock may have first emerged in the UK but, thanks to touring continental Europe and the US, the genre flourished. ProgBlog examines the use of English-language lyrics by bands around Europe who have their own mother tongue...

By ProgBlog, Jan 8 2018 03:43PM

Not content with the excellent music I received at Christmas, Gentle Giant’s Three Piece Suite, David Gilmour Live at Pompeii and Änglagård’s Prog på Svenska - Live in Japan, I reviewed my wish list and found that Folklore by Big Big Train was unavailable on vinyl... I’ve come a bit late to the Big Big Train party, only possessing the material released on the cover mount CDs of Prog magazine and until recently, when my listening habits relaxed a little, not being sufficiently moved enough to buy any of their albums. The first track I heard was probably Winchester from St. Giles' Hill, a YouTube clip which one reviewer described as ‘the best song Peter Gabriel never sung.’ It’s a very pleasant piece of music but as it doesn’t pick up the pace until about 5 minutes in, I’m ashamed to say I didn’t pursue the output of the band until sorting out my music library last year and finding Last Train, Kingmaker and Judas Unrepentant, all of which I very much like, on Prognosis 5, Prognosis 18 and P5 Into the Lens respectively, prompting me to add Folklore to my wish list. With that album out of stock, I decided to order Grimspound (on vinyl) instead, even before Burning Shed had reopened after Christmas, just in case that too became unavailable as an LP. Depending on how much I like Grimspound, I might have to buy a download of Folklore until the vinyl edition gets re-released.


Christmas present - Three Piece Suite by Gentle Giant
Christmas present - Three Piece Suite by Gentle Giant

I’ve also visited the BTF website, after seeing the vinyl version of Dedicato a Frazz by Semiramis advertised in the sidebar of my weekly email from the Italian prog distributors and mail order firm. I’ve been after the LP since before seeing the band perform at last year’s Progressivamente festival in Rome because it’s a great piece of music, little known or appreciated outside of Italy until the renaissance of prog; the CD was one of my most expensive second-hand purchases on that particular format but I’ve always thought it was well worth it, like some obscure treasure.

It seemed pointless to splash out on postage for one album so I added DNA by Jumbo to my shopping cart. I currently own this as a download, having never seen the release in a physical format, despite always scouring the Js in the CD and record bins in every record shop I go to in Italy. The first of their two classic RPI albums, DNA represents fairly basic progressivo Italiano but it’s still quite enjoyable. There’s not a great deal of variation in the keyboard with only organ and piano but, in common with quite a lot of early Italian progressive rock, there’s a hefty dose of flute which sounds as though it’s been inspired by Ian Anderson and early King Crimson. DNA was Jumbo’s first foray into a progressive sound but there’s still a weighty reminder of their roots, including harmonica, a blues instrument which I don’t believe has any place in prog! However, the influence of early UK prog is evident throughout and Ed Ora Corri (And now you have to run), the second part of the 3-part composition that makes up side one of the original LP (Suite per il Sig K., a track that reflects a Kafka-like existence) is quite spacey and seems to have been at least partially inspired by Pink Floyd. I’ve owned their 1973 release Vietato al minora di 18 anni? (Prohibited to minors under 18?) for a year now, a limited edition from BTF on red vinyl and apart from seeing vocalist-guitarist-songwriter Alvaro Fella performing with Consorzio Acqua Potable (CAP) at the Riviera Prog festival in Genova in 2014, where at the time he was confined to a wheelchair, I have also seen Fella play with CAP, and Jumbo, at Progressivamente in Rome last September. On record, Fella’s vocals might seem something of an acquired taste – he has a distinctive theatrical style that has hints of Alex Harvey or Roger Chapman from Family, but his singing comes across as perfectly suited to the music when you witness him play live.


The first gig of the year was a fairly low-key affair at The Dublin Castle in Camden. I was accompanied by Jim Knipe who only got to see a fraction of the main attraction, Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate, but had to sit through an excruciating performance by Unit 48 who were like Haircut 100 fronted by David Brent, one nondescript singer/guitarist, and a rather intriguing opening act False Plastic, a trio of bass, drums and guitar who played short, spiky numbers apart from their final song, where they let rip with some psychedelic punk.


The line-up at The Dublin Castle 4/1/18
The line-up at The Dublin Castle 4/1/18

I’d been invited to listen to the new release Broken but Still Standing by Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate at the end of last year and found it a pretty good mixture of prog and post-rock. The soundscapes are quite Floydian (especially post-Waters Floyd) and the themes are pretty deep; if that isn’t enough to intrigue you, the flute is absolutely gorgeous and these passages are the most prog. Their album When the Kill Code Fails from 2016 comes with a recommendation from Steve Hackett.

I was included in a tweet sometime during the day of the gig that flautist Kathryn Thomas wouldn’t be appearing and that the band, which can involve as many as five people or as few as just one, would be appearing as a duo, Malcolm Galloway on guitar and vocals, and Mark Gatland on bass, keyboard and effects; I wasn’t put off by the pared-down outfit because I knew that some of the material could be recreated using patches and triggers and though we weren’t going to get the high quality prog of the first fifteen minutes of Broken but Still Standing, there were plenty of other parts of the latest album which were very enjoyable.


Broken but Still Standing by Hats Off Gentlemen It's Adequate
Broken but Still Standing by Hats Off Gentlemen It's Adequate

Indeed, the set was a mixture of the shorter material from Kill Code and Broken and it was thoroughly enjoyable. The programmed drumming, something I’m a bit wary of, sounded like an authentic kit and the washes and bits of electronica were quite like on the albums. There was one moment, possibly at the end of My Clockwork Heart where Galloway pressed the wrong foot pedal and guitar continued playing, even though it was the end of the song. Galloway’s vocal style is quite languid, a bit like Pete Shelley, but it does suit the music; this is in comparison to Gatland who was a ball of energy, leaping around the small stage sometimes two footed, bringing his knees up to his chest. It wasn’t only good to listen to, it was genuinely entertaining and when I spoke to them afterwards it was quite clear that they’re both really nice guys. I bought the two recent CDs and took advantage of the special merchandise stand offer – buy two get the third (Invisible) free. The duo made an appearance at HRH Prog last year as stand-ins for Touchstone and by all accounts, went down very well. It’s hardly surprising. Their originality, enthusiasm and great songs mark them out to be a group to watch. I can’t wait to see them as a five-piece.


Hats Off Gentlemen It's Adequate set list 4/1/18
Hats Off Gentlemen It's Adequate set list 4/1/18

Still driven to own more music, I visited Croydon’s 101 records for their half-price New Year sale, where the offers were only available to those who’ve signed up to Duncan Barnes’ email list. The condition of the album is rated as A (Very Good Condition) to C and though I’ve had numerous chances to pick up the original Journey to the Centre of the Earth for £1 from flea markets, I’ve always resisted because the sleeve and/or the LP has been badly marked. I’m please I waited. With a sale price of £2 and rated as in VGC, I bought Journey (a record I’ve never owned before) and a replacement The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, something I bought in 1975 and sold in ’77 or ’78, also for £2. I then splashed out and added Ekseption's Greatest Hits for £3!


Sale bargains from Croydon's 101 Records
Sale bargains from Croydon's 101 Records

I’m not sure I’ll ever stop wanting more music...








By ProgBlog, Oct 16 2017 04:17PM

This blog has been delayed due to work, family and even more gigs. After returning from Rome I’ve taken in two other gigs, most recently Dweezil Zappa performing 50 years of Frank at the Royal Festival Hall last Tuesday and, within 72 hours of landing back in the UK after the excursion to the Eternal City, Tubular Bells for Two at the Union Chapel, Islington. I found the Zappa show a little disappointing because they didn’t play anything I was really familiar with (read Hot Rats) though I did recognise snatches which I couldn’t name. Most of the material seemed blues-based and a bit formulaic but I do recall parts of Inca Roads which was one of the more complex pieces showcased that evening. I certainly can’t criticise the musicianship and I shouldn’t have been surprised by anything on the set list because the tour is advertised as Dweezil ‘plays whatever the F@%k he wants!


Dweezil Zappa: 50 Years of Frank at the RFH
Dweezil Zappa: 50 Years of Frank at the RFH

The last time I was in the RFH was to see Chick Corea and the Elektric Band on some date lost in the mists of time and it’s a really good venue; the Union Chapel is equally good for different reasons. It may only have a seating capacity of a fifth of that of the RFH but it boasts a beautiful architectural space with a very special atmosphere. The performance by Daniel Holdsworth and Tom Bamford is frenetic and may involve the odd missing effect as they continuously grapple with pedals, leads and an array of instruments and though there were a couple of minor glitches on the night, it was a amazing spectacle carried off quite brilliantly.


Tubular Bells for Two
Tubular Bells for Two

I’ve recently spent far more time than I’m used to in and under churches. I acted as an informal tour guide around 1066 Country on my days off last week and my duties included the ruins of Battle Abbey, founded where Harold was killed by a Norman arrow and later destroyed by Henry VIII during the Dissolution in 1538; the first morning of the Rome adventure was devoted to a three and a half hour mainly archaeological tour of three early churches: San Clemente was founded in the 4th Century but Luca, our tour guide and one of the archaeologists who had worked on the site explained how the original building was contemporary with the Colosseum nearby and had served as the Roman imperial mint, before being converted to a residence with a pagan temple in the basement and then a place of clandestine Christian worship in the first century AD; the second stop was the Basilica di Santi Giovanni e Paolo, another 4th Century church built over houses where roman soldiers John and Paul were martyred during the rule of Emperor Julian and hidden beneath the stairs. Underneath the basilica which was damaged during the Visigoth sack of Rome, damaged by earthquake and sacked again by the Normans, there are a series of decorated rooms (now the Case Romane del Celio museum) which comprise one of the best preserved Roman-era housing complexes. Originally a variety of building types from different periods, including an apartment block for artisans (an insula) and the dwelling of a wealthy individual which was subsequently converted into an early Christian church, the different buildings were combined sometime during the third century AD to form one elegant pagan house where it’s possible to identify the staircase where the bodies of the two soldiers were hidden after their murder; the third stop was a church founded in the sixth century, San Nicola in Carcere, which is interesting because of its former pagan history. There is evidence of utilising the existing temples on either side of the site and other repurposed building material to form the church. These layers of history can be seen by descending a set of stairs from the main body of the church, giving access to the excavation of the temple remains.


Basilica di Santi Giovanni e Paolo
Basilica di Santi Giovanni e Paolo

The archaeological and architectural delights visited over six days were actually secondary to the other purpose of the visit: prog. We arrived in Rome at around lunchtime and between checking in at the NH Leonardo da Vinci and eating supper at the Caffetteria Gracchi (where the televised Champions League game between Qarabağ FK and Roma was being shown), we managed to visit the Excellent Elastic Rock record shop where I bought four classic progressivo Italiano LPs and a Steve Hackett Genesis Revisited CD. Though an important detour, I’d really gone to see the 25th Progressivamente Free Festival at the Jailbreak Club, enticed by a string of excellent progressivo Italiano bands. An evening-only affair over five nights between Wednesday 27th September and Sunday 1st October, I could hardly believe that it was a free event. As is the way with progressive rock in general, the audience, musicians and organisers were friendly and helpful.


Elastic Rock - a very good record store
Elastic Rock - a very good record store

I was experimenting with public transport times and arrived early for the first show featuring La Bocca della Verità and Ingranaggi della Valle so I had time to grab a beer, chat to Ingranaggi della Valle keyboard player Mattia Liberati (who promised something special in their set after I’d compared the band to the Mahavishnu Orchestra), buy their debut IdV CD In Hoc Signo (2013) and the LBDV CD Avenoth (2016) from the joint merchandise stand, and claim one of the tables set out in front of the stage. The other seat at my table was taken by Vincenzo Praturlon who, despite protestations that his English was poor, was quite happy to engage in conversation about prog in general and RPI in particular. A veteran of previous Progressivamente festivals held at the Planet Live Club and Veruno’s 2 Days of Prog + 1, Vincenzo would later inform me that the ‘something special’ were a couple of tributes to the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Frank Zappa – I’d had to leave early, after only one song from Ingranaggi della Valle, to ensure that I caught the Metro all the way back to the hotel because my journey required a change of lines at Termini and the network begins to close down at 11.30pm on Sundays through to Thursdays.

The evening was introduced by Guido Bellachioma, the director of Prog Italia magazine, co-director at Italian hi-fi magazine Suono and art director at the Planet Live Club, who reminded us of what constituted prog and paid tribute to the artists, international and Italian who had died over the last year, before calling La Bocca della Verità to the stage. They didn’t disappoint, playing a good selection from the Avenoth suite which though at times sounded neo-prog or even modern, it had a very strong footing in the Italian symphonic prog tradition and ticked all the right boxes for me.


La Bocca della Verità
La Bocca della Verità

Thursday began with the underground tour of the churches and as we needed to get up early to get to the first site it proved sensible to have left early the night before. It wouldn’t be unfair to label Ingranaggi della Valle as a prog/jazz rock outfit and that evening’s performance continued the jazz rock theme with Accordo dei Contrari. They played a brand of tight-knit riff-based fusion interspersed with more abstract sections and, despite the abundance of electric piano and some great moog creating some memorable tones, I found some of the material quite challenging and not a particularly easy listen. I’d worked out that I could leave the club later and still use public transport to get back to Lepanto but having been on the go constantly from very early on Wednesday morning, I decided to give Slivovitz a miss and caught the same time metro train as I did on Wednesday.


The hospitality of the city went a little too far on Friday, attempting to make us feel more at home with industrial action on the Metro. This turned out to be only minor disruption because we simply meandered slowly from the hotel to Termini on foot and by the time we’d had a coffee (the Chef Express opposite platform 20 does a very good espresso) and a bite to eat, the strike had finished and we were able to visit Ostia Antica. This rather interesting diversion meant that we ate fairly late and I got to Jailbreak a couple of minutes before the first band, Flea on the Etna was due on stage. The club was busier than on the two previous nights and I couldn’t find an empty table, so I sat on one of the stools along the raised platform used by the groups to access the stage which provided a decent view of the proceedings. Flea on the Etna played a short set of good, straightforward jazz-rock with a hint of a Mediterranean influence. With original bassist Elio Volpini on guitar, two of the three tracks were from their self-titled album Etna (1975).


Flea on the Etna
Flea on the Etna

Consorzio Acqua Potabile (CAP) was next on the bill and I recognised most of the music from their set, a collection of lively, 70’s inspired prog and, like when I saw them in Genova in 2014, they were joined onstage by Alvaro Fella. When Jumbo ended the evening they were augmented by CAP members drummer Maurizio Mussolin and guitarist Massimo Gorlezza and they played a short set which included Suite per il Sig. K from DNA (1972). Fella’s voice has been reported as an ‘acquired taste’ but it remains strong and somehow very much fits the music of Jumbo and perhaps surprisingly well with CAP. I had the benefit of being able to enjoy the whole evening of music because the metro runs until 01.30 in the morning on Fridays and Saturdays.


CAP with Alvaro Fella
CAP with Alvaro Fella

The club was absolutely crowded on Saturday. I saw Vincenzo at the bar and he advised me to find somewhere to watch the performances as soon as possible before it became impossible to move, so I took up a standing position at the top of the steps leading to the stage access platform where I’d managed to get a stool on Friday. Standing next to me was the cousin of Semiramis bassist Ivo Mileto, come to lend support. She couldn’t tell me which group he played for but said she did like their music (Mileto replaced original bassist Marcello Reddavide.) Though Saturday evening began with ‘Italia 70’, a roundup some the best RPI committed to record, with guest appearances from Jenny Sorrenti and Gianni Nocenzi and including PFM’s Chocolate Kings and encore of E’ Festa, Banco’s 750,000 Anni fa l'Amore... and R.I.P. Jenny Sorrenti sang brother Alan’s Vorrei Incontrarti from Aria (1972.)


Jenny Sorrenti with Italia '70
Jenny Sorrenti with Italia '70

Before Saturday night was rounded off with Semiramis, Guido Bellachioma chatted with Gianni Nocenzi about BMS and their debut album which was just being re-released on 180g vinyl as part of a DeAgostini publishing deal along with 59 other important Prog Rock Italiano albums in monthly installments. Then Semiramis performed a poignant rendition of their Frazz album dedicated to the memory of keyboard player Maurizio Zarrillo who died on the 7th July this year. Each track was presaged with a short narration, accompanied by a projection of the song title, the music itself was extended and I thought that the whole live presentation felt more coherent than simply listening to the album. By coincidence I’d received a message from Massimo Gasperini from Black Widow Records that afternoon, and he informed me his BWR partner Pino Pintabona would be attending to sell the Semiramis Frazz Live DVD recorded at La Claque in Genova in April this year. I said ‘ciao’ to Pino and bought the DVD.


Semiramis
Semiramis

Jailbreak was also pretty full when I got there on the Sunday and I just had time to get a beer and buy the 2015 La Coscienza di Zeno album La Notte Anche di Giorno on limited edition vinyl plus the Biglietto per l’Inferno LP Vivi. Lotta. Pensa (2015) from the merchandise desk before taking up a standing position by the steps leading from the table area to the bar. Biglietto per l’Inferno began the evening and I have to admit being quite taken aback - I had expected heavy prog but didn’t imagine an octet playing prog-folk. It was strange but when I’d adjusted to the shock it was still good. Two original members remain, Giuseppe Cossa on keyboards and accordion and drummer Mauro Gnecchi, and they have reworked old material, including 1974’s L’Amico Suicida to fit in with the concept of their latest release.


Biglietto per l'Inferno
Biglietto per l'Inferno

Sadly, it being Sunday, the metro service reverted back to ending early and I missed the chance to see La Coscienza di Zeno, though I have seen them before. I have to say that putting on five nights of high quality music, gratis, covering a range of prog and mixing established names with more recent acts, was an amazing feat. Congratulations and thanks have to go to Guido Bellachioma, to all the artists and to the Jailbreak Club for hosting the event at short notice and it was a nice touch to dedicate the event to members of the prog world who are no longer with us. I’d personally like to thank everyone who made my stay an unforgettable experience, agreeing to chat to me in English and sharing wonderful progressivo Italiano. Hope to see you next year!













By ProgBlog, Nov 8 2015 09:09PM

The Wellcome Collection on Euston Road bills itself as ‘the free destination for the incurably curious’ and is basically a synthesis of a gallery and a museum that displays an eclectic mixture of medical artefacts and original artworks exploring ideas about the connections between medicine, life and art. I first visited Henry Solomon Wellcome’s former museum in Wigmore Street as a Botany/Zoology student, sometime in the late 70s or early 80s and though the collection has both moved and expanded, the concept of treating art and medical science as equally valid subjects remains true; it’s an institution that appeals to my sense of the value of medicine and medical research which reflects my professional life, but also satisfies my appreciation of the arts, though I subscribe to the belief that the Wellcome Trust should divest its investments in fossil fuels in order to combat climate change. I attended a British Transplantation Society Ethics symposium in its new home last December which concluded with an evening debate, hosted by Jonathan Dimbleby, open to transplant professionals and the general public. The building itself is impressive, with a neo-classical façade and modern interior; high ceilings, clean lines and a spectacular steel and glass spiral staircase that hints at DNA, designed by Wilkinson Eyre and costing over £1m.

I was there yesterday with my family to visit the first instalment of the States of Mind exhibition, an installation by Ann Veronica Janssens, yellowbluepink where the exhibition space is filled with a dense mist coloured by lights, giving the impression that it’s the colour itself that is held in a state of suspension as you make your way around the gallery. Rather like the feeling when you’re caught in a white-out on a mountain, you lose your sense of depth and you can’t detect any detail in the surface you’re walking upon; I’ve been known to fall over in conditions like these when skiing, even standing still. The effect of the artwork is to make you concentrate on the process of perception itself and, as your environment has an apparent embracing fluidity comprised of colour, your normal cognitive processes are deconstructed and you find yourself working out a different way of seeing.

Psychedelia and early progressive rock were very much keyed in to expanding consciousness. Lysergic acid, LSD, was seen as one route and meditative practice was another; I don’t think it can be disputed that LSD and eastern thinking had an influence on the output of the Beatles and it’s very likely that at least one of these had some bearing on Procol Harum (In Held 'Twas in I from Shine On Brightly, 1968) but while acid would become associated with space rock, inner space as much as outer space, an interest in the philosophy of eastern religions was more mainstream, inspiring (amongst others) John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Yes. Bill Bruford jokingly suggests he’s responsible for Tales from Topographic Oceans (1973) because it was at Bruford’s wedding that King Crimson percussionist Jamie Muir introduced Jon Anderson to the writings of Paramahansa Yogananda.

Transcendental Meditation was fashionable when I was at school and a number of my good friends went off to a lecture hear about the practice; the parents of one of them were concerned that the event was some form of brain-washing exercise. Though I read widely around the subjects of expanding consciousness including a trio of books by Carlos Castaneda and the obligatory The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley, I was never tempted to meditate and the only hallucinogens I ever ingested were Psilocybe semilanceata, freshly foraged from Streatham common, and seeds from home-grown Ipomoea violacea (Heavenly Blue Morning Glory.) Both were chosen because they were natural, unadulterated products and, in the case of the magic mushrooms, as a former botany student I was unconcerned that I’d pick something unpalatable. During an InterRail tour of Europe in 1980 with fellow botany student Nick Hodgetts, we were on the lookout for Lophophora williamsii, the peyote. I may have been influenced by the almost lounge-jazz of Happy Nightmare (Mescaline) from In and Out of Focus (1970) but despite some promising signs on barges in Amsterdam, we didn’t find any. Back home, the Ipomoea didn’t work at all and the result from the fungi was mildly disappointing; I succumbed to finding everything very funny and though I thought that my smile was going to spread so wide that my head was going to fall off, there were no chromatic or sonic effects. This contrasts with the coverage of use of magic mushrooms by youths in Barrow’s Evening Mail which described tales of visions of dragons. How prog is that? Perhaps I should have stayed in Barrow...

I have found that live music can lead to transcendental experiences. The dreamy soundscapes of Sylvian and Fripp played havoc with my temporal awareness when I saw them at the Royal Albert Hall in 1993, despite the cramped seating conditions. It felt as though I was transported to another time and another place and, as I’d not previously heard any of the material, it came as something of a shock to find that one of the tracks was called Twentieth Century Dreaming (A Shaman's Song). When I used to listen to Tangerine Dream’s Rubycon (1975) in the dark and through headphones I used to imagine other possible worlds, with the flowing, amorphous sounds conjuring a dynamic spectrum of colours. Though I appreciate stagecraft and thematic stage design, I’d always wanted to see Tangerine Dream in a dimly-lit church. The nearest thing I ever came to them was witnessing Node earlier this year, at the Royal College of Music. The pulsating sequences and sonic washes were mesmerising; the musicians were mostly static but when I closed my eyes the effect was to take me on a trip into inner space, equating the sequences with racing heartbeats or neuro-synaptic transmission.

This effect isn’t only associated with soundscapes or electronica; two years ago watching a reformed Camel performing The Snow Goose in its entirety, I was carried by the music to a dream world where I played out the piece, somehow anticipating and embracing the changes required for the composition when realised without an orchestra. The effect seems to occur when I’m most relaxed, undisturbed by theatrical elements and allowing the musicians to weave their magic. Only prog seems to have that magic.



By ProgBlog, Feb 1 2015 11:42PM

The lack of availability of Jumbo (progressivo Italiano) albums forced me to buy a download of DNA, the first of their two classic albums. I’d seen vocalist-guitarist-songwriter Alvaro Fella performing with Consorzio Acqua Potabile at the Riviera Prog festival in Genova last year and despite my decision to miss the CAP set when I went off in search of food, the loose organisation meant that I actually caught a fair amount of their performance. Fella, now confined to a wheelchair, had been signing copies of Jumbo CDs all day and when I went to see if I could buy one, either DNA or Vietato al minora di 18 anni? (Prohibited to minors under 18?) from one of the many diverse CD and record stalls, there were none available. Recent trips to Tuscany and the Veneto also failed to turn up copies.

DNA represents fairly basic RPI but it’s still quite enjoyable. There’s not a great deal of variation in the keyboard with only organ and piano but, like quite a lot of progressivo Italiano, there’s a hefty dose of Ian Anderson inspired flute plus some melodic early-Crimson like flute. Fella’s vocals might be something of an acquired taste – he has a distinctive theatrical style that has hints of Alex Harvey or Roger Chapman from Family. DNA was Jumbo’s first foray into a progressive sound but there’s still a weighty reminder of their past influences, including far too much harmonica for my liking. However, Ed Ora Corri (And now you have to run) which is the second part of the 3-part composition that makes up side one of the original vinyl LP (Suite per il Sig K., a track that reflects a Kafka-like existence) is quite spacey and seems to have been at least partially inspired by Pink Floyd.

Considering the widespread employment of the instrument in Italian prog, flute isn’t really very prevalent in classic UK prog. Tull, perhaps because of their longevity are one of the bands that immediately spring to mind when you think of prog and flute though Ian Anderson’s instrumental contributions are almost exclusively flute and acoustic guitar; his guitar parts not really providing much other than rhythm or chords for backing other instruments, including his flute. Most other prog flute is provided by band members who have a different, primary role: Thijs van Leer plays keyboards; Andy Latimer plays guitar; Peter Gabriel is a vocalist.

I’ve seen Focus a few times in recent years and once in the 70s on the Mother Focus tour. Though van Leer is probably most easily recognised for his yodelling on Hocus Pocus, it’s his organ and flute work that helps to define the Focus sound (Jan Akkerman’s guitar is obviously key but that has been accurately replicated by Niels van der Steenhoven and, more recently, by Menno Gootjes.) Van Leer plays both instruments at the same time! The Camel track Supertwister from 1974’s Mirage is allegedly named after Dutch band Supersister. I can believe this tale because the two groups toured together and the Camel song does sound rather like a Supersister composition, where flute was provided by Sacha van Geest. Latimer plays a fair amount of flute on early Camel albums (from Mirage to Rain Dances) but the incorporation of ex-Crimson and current Crimson woodwind-player Mel Collins into the band, certainly for live performances, reduced Latimer’s flute playing role and when Collins ceased working with the band, which turned more commercial around the 80s, the flute all but disappeared. Peter Gabriel’s flute is predominantly used in pastoral-sounding passages; it’s delicate and sometimes seems to border on the faltering but comes to the fore in Firth of Fifth. It’s odd to think that the instrument works perfectly well on the grittier, urban-like Lamb Lies Down and solo album Peter Gabriel 1.

Ray Thomas of the Moody Blues was one of the only examples of a dedicated flautist within a band (who also undertook some lead vocal duties) and there were groups, like King Crimson, where multi-instrumentalists played saxophone, flute and keyboards. Dick Heckstall-Smith of Colosseum was a sax player who dabbled in a bit of flute but the best example of a classic British prog band where sax and flute alternate as lead instruments is Van der Graaf Generator. David Jackson stands apart in this respect; he’s a soloist on both instruments, heavily informed by Roland Kirk. The Jackson sax is undeniably an integral part of the VdGG sound, partly through his innovative use of effects, but his flute is also sublime, floating in the calm before the inevitable full-on VdGG maelstrom.

Jimmy Hastings deserves a special mention. He was the go-to flautist for a wide variety of Canterbury bands, most notably Caravan (where brother Pye plays guitar) but he also contributed to material as diverse as Bryan Ferry’s solo work and Chris Squire’s Fish out of Water. It’s the Canterbury connections that run the deepest, adding to the jazz feel of the genre and making important contributions to Hatfield and the North and National Health albums. Canterbury alumni Gong have also utilised sax/flute, originally played by Didier Malherbe and more recently by Theo Travis. Travis has recorded with Robert Fripp and is currently part of Steven Wilson’s (solo material) band.

The idea of the ‘guest’ flautist in a band spreads to Steve Hackett who has utilised the talents of both his brother John and, more recently, Rob Townsend. Flute is required for covering some of the early Genesis material but Hackett’s solo work, from Voyage of the Acolyte (1975) to Momentum (1988) with the exceptions of Highly Strung (1983) and Till We Have Faces (1984) all feature flute.

The overblowing that characterises a great deal of Jethro Tull flute was adopted by many nascent RPI bands who were shifting from Beat music to a blues-inflected progressive rock and this contrasts with the more melodic approach exemplified by the Ian McDonald-era King Crimson that influenced PFM. Flute is integral to the symphonic prog sound and for those bands without a flautist, there was always the flute setting on a Mellotron – a great sound but quite distinct from the woodwind instrument itself! It may be that the musical heritage of Italy means that a flautist is likely to be involved in a progressivo Italiano act; there certainly seem to be more groups with flute than without, unlike the 70s scene in the UK. I’m personally in favour of a broad sonic palette and I believe that flute provides an appropriate melodic medium. I intend to learn to play the instrument in my impending retirement.



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