ProgBlog

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Five days of progressive rock, dedicated to musicians and friends who have died since the last event, divided between historic and new bands, symphonic prog and jazz rock, the avant-garde and a tribute to an important story. Along with the desire to share music together, the event is only held thanks to the effort of all those who work for free: artists, organisers, hosts and helpers. The Progressivamente Festival is a display of dedication, comradeship and great 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, Sep 4 2017 10:23PM

I’ve just watched the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi/adventure film The Running Man which, when it begins, is set in 2017, jumping to 2019 after Ben Richards (Schwarzenegger’s character) is framed, and imprisoned for a mass murder of innocent civilians. Based on a Stephen King novel published under the pseudonym of Richard Bachman (with the Bachman borrowed from Canadian rockers Bachman Turner Overdrive) the 2017 of the future hints at the 2017 of today: “By 2017 the world economy has collapsed. Food, natural resources and oil are in short supply. A Police State, divided into paramilitary zones, rules with an iron hand. Television is controlled by the State and a sadistic game show called ‘The Running Man’ has become the most popular program in history. All art, music and communications are censored. No dissent is tolerated and yet a small resistance movement has managed to survive underground” but it’s the plot relating to editing video footage, the use of ‘fake news’ to manipulate the masses, along with the quest for ratings, which most resemble our present. It’s quite incredible that two actors from the film, Schwarzenegger himself and professional wrestler Jesse Ventura (who plays Captain Freedom) would make the shift from entertainer to politician: Schwarzenegger was the Republican governor of California for two terms from 2003 and Ventura was the Reform Party candidate and elected governor of Minnesota in 1999, deciding not to stand for re-election in 2003; current POTUS Donald Trump has no previous political experience but he has featured in the reality TV business.

The Running Man also serves as a vehicle for the acting talents (!) of Mick Fleetwood (Fleetwood Mac) and Dweezil Zappa, who happens to be playing 50 Years of Frank in the UK over the next month. Stephen King’s novel was written three years before Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and the two books share that near-future (our present) dystopian world-view.



The Running Man and Mick Fleetwood and Dweezil Zappa
The Running Man and Mick Fleetwood and Dweezil Zappa

We live in worrying times. The very recent planned detonation of a hydrogen bomb, ten times more powerful than the previous device tested and allegedly capable of deployment by one of their ICBMs which have also been tested with alarming frequency in recent weeks in response to joint military manoeuvres by the South Koreans and the US, represents a disturbing testosterone-fuelled escalation towards a potential devastating conflict between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and almost all of the rest of the world. Whereas I personally wasn’t worried by the Cold War stand-off between the US and its allies and the Communist Bloc, even though my youth was spent living in a potential target for Soviet missiles and I moved to London, an obvious target, just before the Thatcher-Reagan years; a period when bullish rhetoric was backed by American-controlled cruise missiles sited on UK soil and of Reagan’s proposed Strategic Defense [sic] Initiative. However, the behaviour of Trump on the one hand and Kim Jong-un on the other, two megalomaniacs who simply refuse to back down, is an increasing cause for concern.

According to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Doomsday Clock is currently set at two and a half minutes to midnight, indicating that the probability of global catastrophe is very high, the highest it has been since 1953 when the US decided to pursue the development of the Hydrogen bomb. Throughout 2016 and 2015, the clock stood at three minutes to the hour, the closest to midnight since the early 1980s; this year the danger is even greater. My lack of concern during the 80s was partly due to my belief that the USSR economy, ploughing ever more resources into the military-industrial complex and away from the staples needed by the ordinary people was unsustainable, though there was always the possibility of initiating a strike by accident. I attended CND rallies and laughed at the ridiculous Civil Defence plans for a nuclear attack on the UK, its forced public dissemination five months after it had been ‘officially’ released in January 1980 following an investigation by the (pre-Murdoch) Times newspaper. In March 1984 David Gilmour released his second solo album About Face which included the jaunty and ironic Cruise, featuring innumerable puns about atomic warfare and fading out with a cod reggae groove. My current anxiety is fuelled by the actions of a paranoid dictator in North Korea who ignores the basic rights and requirements of his people and a clueless, populist, not-particularly-successful-businessman-turned-TV-personality who wouldn’t know diplomacy if he had to shake it by the hand.



Dave Gilmour, Hammersmith Odeon 30.04.84
Dave Gilmour, Hammersmith Odeon 30.04.84

If there is going to be a future despite Trump’s best endeavours to scupper it through either total war or climate change denial, what is prog going to look like? In 2017 we have the benefit of being able to look back at almost 50 years of prog, but is reflecting on the changes in both the music itself and the industry since Sgt Pepper’s, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and Days of Future Passed any help in imagining future-prog?

I propose that we define prog rock along temporal lines to provide an indication of general stylistic attributes. If we restrict the term ‘progressive rock’ to music produced between 1969 (the year of In the Court of the Crimson King) and 1978, which equates to the so-called ‘golden era’, there were a couple of years beforehand where blues-based rock and psychedelia began to push at the boundaries of conventional popular music which we could call proto-progressive, append neo-prog (early-mid 80s) which combined progressive rock traits with an almost punk attitude, and further append the early 90s prog revival which has gone from strength to strength and flourishes today; to avoid any arguments over semantics and how ‘progressive’ implies continuous development, these four ages, plus future-prog should be scrutinised under the overarching umbrella of ‘prog’.


It’s quite remarkable that prog should be as strong as it currently appears. If the original proto-prog and progressive rock success was down to the baby boomer generation, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that our children are maintaining the continued interest. However, this is not necessarily always the case. My son may recognise classic progressive rock and buy me prog but I couldn’t get him to learn an instrument or get serious about the genre! At least part of the driver for prog was a series of technological advances from the 60s onwards and innovators like Robert Moog who took these ideas and turned them to practical, musical uses, though there have been some duds. I’ve never been happy with the sound of the string synthesizer, seen as a reliable alternative to the unwieldy Mellotron, but which had an equally short life cycle. The Elka Rhapsody was produced in Italy between 1975 and 1980 and became something of a favourite, despite what I’d describe as a thin sound; even my band used one in 1979-80, before our keyboard player John Carrott bought himself a Juno 6 and the band dissolved. Perhaps the biggest offender was the Solina String Ensemble before the Prophet 5 and Yamaha DX7 polyphonic synthesizers came along to make the string synth redundant. Fortunately, after a number of hiccoughs Mellotron are going strong and it’s virtually impossible to go to a prog gig in Italy without seeing a Mellotron on stage. However, there are two mellotron companies: Mellotron run by Markus Resch in Sweden who own the brand name and produce the Mk 6 and digital M4000D model, and Streetly Electronics, the original UK manufacturers of the Mellotron who produce the M4000. The accurate digital reproduction of 70s analogue sounds is a feature of much of the current keyboard-based prog and while appearing retrograde, it’s the culmination of technological advancement to achieve the widest range of sounds without compromising portability. This refinement is hardly a major leap forwards compared to the pace of change within the recording side of the business. Digital recording and file sharing have facilitated a near revolution in record production, so that The Invention of Knowledge (2016) was made over a two-year period without Jon Anderson and Roine Stolt meeting up, apart from for a Los Angeles photo shoot; Anderson sent his vocals from the US to Stolt in Sweden, where the instruments were recorded with other musicians.


Anderson-Stolt - The Invention of Knowledge (2016)
Anderson-Stolt - The Invention of Knowledge (2016)

This lack of a geographical centre of the movement is associated with the prog revival and it’s a very good thing. Progressive rock wouldn’t have emerged without the political and social changes experienced by the UK in the 60s, quickly exported to our continental European neighbours who had both similar and their own unique conditions for developing the genre. Some of the original proto-prog and progressive rock philosophy remains and has been applied to some of the woes of the modern world: Steven Wilson’s latest release To the Bone (2017) covers topics like the divisiveness of President Trump and his notion that truth isn’t always the truth, the everyday lives of refugees, terrorists and religious fundamentalists; Roger Waters also wades into current affairs and Trump on Is This the Life We Really Want? in a continuation of a thread running from Animals (1977).


Roger Waters - Is this the life we really want (2017)
Roger Waters - Is this the life we really want (2017)

But what of the future? Is the recycling of classic progressive rock sounds and the return of vinyl a step into tomorrow? Is the cause helped by the remnants of original acts touring their old material? I suspect that the genre is time-limited and we’re currently approaching the twilight of a second ‘golden age’ though through recorded media it has the chance to live on.

There’s nothing wrong with playing the greatest hits from your back catalogue because that’s what bands of all eras and all genres have done; if the creative spark has gone then continue to please audiences with old favourites and let newcomers, the next generation of prog rockers, reinterpret the idiom in whatever way they can. Prog has used a myriad of diverse influences to create wonderful, amazing, challenging music and whether good or bad, there will be plenty of unimagined future legends to inspire the prog musician.



Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images








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