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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, Mar 12 2017 07:55PM

The Burning Shed email announcing pre-orders for a 4LP King Crimson Live in Toronto box set is rather tempting, especially if the audio quality is of the same order as Radical action to unseat the hold of monkey mind. I’m a fairly avid record and CD collector but my criteria for choosing music are somewhat rigid, so that my music library isn’t really very big at although I’m pretty sure I have a progressivo Italiano collection that’s as good as anyone’s in the UK. In the past it wouldn’t have been unfair to label me as completist as I was prepared to invest in an album that I knew was substandard in the hope I’d get around to liking it, Talk and Open Your Eyes, both poor fare compared to Yes’ early benchmark being prime examples but over time I’ve accepted that tastes and musical directions change, so I don’t have to like everything by a particular group.



The bulk of the material that makes up my library is symphonic progressive rock and RPI with a bit of jazz rock, jazz and RIO thrown in, the majority of which is from the golden period between 1969 and 1978 but I’m now shifting towards new vinyl (if possible; hence my interest in Live in Toronto) and I’m becoming a sucker for special editions. I’ve got the Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, the Starless and the Road to Red box sets and, having seen Crimson play the Hackney Empire on the same tour as the Toronto and Radical Action recordings, I bought the special edition 3CD, 2DVD, 1 Blu-Ray box set of Radical Action. I have a copy of the original Great Deceiver box set and picked up my 4CD Epitaph box set when I attended the Epitaph playback in London. I was never a member of the King Crimson Collectors' Club even though I was interested in the ProjeKcts and virtually everything else DGM were doing at the time; I have a couple of these releases and have heard more – my brother Richard subscribed in the early days of the KCCC and I think if the series restarted I’d probably now sign up.


So what is it about collecting different versions of the same material? The answer, in respect to Crimson, relates to a couple of things: the historic-cultural-sociological value of the music and the innate variation-development of each individual song. In relation to Yes, up until the release of Progeny: Seven Shows from Seventy Two, there was no live recording from any part of their history which fully captured both the sound and the spark of the band in full flight. The dynamism of Yessongs was hampered by muddy production but the discovery of the master tapes used as source material for Yessongs a couple of years ago meant that, with the benefit of current digital editing, a sound accurate to the original instrumentation, including radio interference on Rick Wakeman’s Mellotron, could be presented to the listener for the first time. The packaging of this box set does full justice to the audio from nine tracks presented on each date, which over three weeks display a subtle musical development as the group becomes ever more familiar with presenting complex songs to each audience. It’s also clear how Jon Anderson’s voice becomes stronger as he recovers from influenza!


The first Yes gig I attended was a matinee performance at Wembley Stadium on October 28th 1978. I had thought that the concert had been broadcast live on BBC radio and that the Yesshows version of Don’t Kill the Whale was from that afternoon’s performance but Alan Freeman’s last ever Saturday Rock Show was broadcast two months previously, on August 26th 1978. A check of various sites suggests there were multiple radio broadcasts and it’s likely that the Yesshows version of Don’t Kill the Whale came from the evening show, which was broadcast on Tommy Vance’s first ever Friday Rock Show on November 24th. I did buy an official copy of the Yes gig on November 17th 2009 as I walked out of the Hammersmith Apollo post-performance, saved onto a USB memory stick, and had to download the encores later.


There was a bit of a craze for producing immediate post-concert releases around this time and I also bought a copy of a Caravan gig, a performance to mark the 40th anniversary of In the Land of Grey and Pink, the majority of which was burned to CD during the show at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire in October 2011. Unfortunately, Pye Hastings appeared to have a cold and his vocals suffered as a consequence.



I don’t own any live Crimson recordings at which I’d been present. If any was to be released, I’d immediately buy it without a second thought. This constitutes fanaticism and I’m a little ashamed by such obsessive behaviour which is certainly unnecessary and borders on the irrational.

I’m not interested in any form of material value of these releases based on their rarity and however limited their print runs are, but I do get a feeling of deep satisfaction listening to music that I like. I’m far more interested in ensuring the artists get the best deal possible so I prefer to buy through Bandcamp or a store like Burning Shed where it’s possible to pick up a limited edition that might come in coloured vinyl or come with a poster or postcard. When AMS re-released the English version of Le Orme’s Felona and Sorona this came on blue vinyl and their re-release of Terra in Bocca by i Giganti, one of first and most difficult to find progressivo Italiano records came with a poster on red vinyl; Anderson-Stolt’s Invention of Knowledge came with a CD of the album and, also from Burning Shed, Kaipa’s re-released self-titled debut came on blue vinyl and included a CD of the album; Höstsonaten’s Cupid and Psyche came on red vinyl, with a postcard and signed by Fabio Zuffanti. One more example, though there are plenty more, is the limited edition box set of Caution Radiation Area I bought in Alessandria last October which came with a vinyl LP, the CD and a set of postcards featuring the individual band members.


There’s not usually any extra charge associated with ‘special releases’ but they do demonstrate more of an engagement with fans. I first noticed this extra effort when Dark Side of the Moon came out in 1973 which included posters and stickers. This was the start of my acquisition of progressive rock-related memorabilia and though the posters and stickers eventually found their way into the bin, having become torn after application and removal from too many bedroom walls as I moved around London as a student and during my early employment. Fortunately, the 40th anniversary vinyl edition included reproduction posters and even my 20th anniversary CD came nicely boxed with individual pieces of specially commissioned artwork. I still have the Wish You Were Here postcard and robot handshake graphic from the black shrink wrap, stored in a Mr Men scrapbook along with other bits and pieces which charted my adolescence. Despite the fall in popularity of prog during my student days, I still managed to fill the scrapbook with ticket stubs and flyers from a variety of events, each announcement and receipt marking a point in time of particular personal relevance; a source of reference for the future. I was fairly impoverished as a student and my prudent streak extended into my early working life, since NHS laboratory work wasn’t particularly well-paid. Instead of buying an official tour program when Pink Floyd played Wembley Stadium in August 1988, I picked up an unofficial program for half the price. As the 90s wore on and it was once more possible to seek out regular suitable gigs, DGM issued a number of promotional postcards alongside a couple of sampler CDs which I collected.



There was a short time where I’d buy a T-shirt instead of a program, rarely both, and when musicians realised that there was a viable livelihood from playing more intimate venues, the post-show merchandise stand became a place of engagement between artist and fans, acting as an encouragement for the audience to perhaps spend a bit more money than anticipated; prog-mate Gina Franchetti had a long and involved conversation with Thijs van Leer about Italian cuisine at the Focus merchandise stand after a gig at the Beaverwood Club but you can also pick up some unusual objects. I’ve liberated A3 sized posters from the walls of venues on my way out after the show on more than one occasion and even got Sonja Kristina to autograph one of these, a Curved Air promotional poster, for me.

I used to have a large collection of badges until I got rid of it about 20 years ago. This included a few rather obscure items like a Brand X crocodile (from Do They Hurt) a Gradually Going Tornado pin and an Enid Touch Me pin but I’ve started to buy badges again – for no obvious purpose. I’ll continue to buy T-shirts and programs but it’s most worthwhile to buy the music at the gig; the signed copy of at the last Steven Wilson Concert; the official release-date copy of Invisible Din by ESP. On another occasion I was all fingers and thumbs attempting to remove the shrink wrap from a just-purchased Anna Phoebe EP so that she could sign it; in the end she did it for me. It’s this degree of connectivity and personal generosity that makes the prog world stand out as a beacon of inclusivity and which makes it worthwhile doing the collecting.












By ProgBlog, Aug 18 2014 09:13PM

My first ‘festival’ was quite far removed from the mud, tents and portaloos of Reading or Glastonbury. It’s not that I don’t like camping under canvas or some more waterproof and lighter-weight man-made equivalent, having spent a good portion of my youth walking around the Lake District bagging Wainwrights from improvised mountain campsites; it’s not particularly my idea of fun being in a muddy field packed with mostly drunk individuals listening to music that I’d prefer not to have to pay lots of money to listen to. Five or so people camping on a mountain requires some physical effort and allows you to appreciate the beauty of the natural world; Camping out for a music festival with tens of thousands of others does not.

Actual 84 was a Camden arts festival and my attendance set the general pattern for my favoured form of festival attendances in the future; genre-specific acts in small indoor venues. The main exception to this was the High Voltage festival in 2010, although there was still no camping involved; the trip from Croydon to Victoria Park involved a fairly easy commute on the recently opened Croydon branch of the London Overground. High Voltage had three stages and I, along with my brother Richard and prog-mate Gina Franchetti, set down in front of the Prog stage, only moving to the main stage at a time appropriate for getting a place that would provide a good view of Sunday headliners ELP.

The variety of bands that sign up to a festival and the relative narrowness of my musical tastes mean that there is inevitably an opportunity to do other things than simply listen to music, some of which, despite a billing on the prog stage, was not really progressive rock. Argent, Magnum and Uriah Heep, I’m talking about you.

The requirement for sponsorship and high ticket prices lend the big festivals a corporate feel. Glastonbury may be an exception though having never been I can’t say; Glasto obviously has ‘alternative’ leanings but the notion of the megastar headline act seems to me to be a betrayal of the founding principles. The High Voltage circus was quite unlike the previous big outdoor event I’d been to, a fund-raiser for anti-apartheid organisation The Lincoln Trust, featuring Peter Gabriel. This Selhurst Park concert in July 1983 was not at all corporate but, by its very nature, supporting a charity conceived after the death of Stephen Biko, was borderline political and certainly awareness-raising. I noticed the first signs of corporate-creep on the Division Bell tour where the tour programme revealed a sponsorship by Volkswagen; the Floyd invited partners along to ensure the smooth running of the show from a financial perspective and, in return, some of the magic would rub off on VW.

As the generation brought up on rebellious rock reached middle age and achieved a level of respectability that went hand-in-hand with a fair amount of disposable income, the music industry itself had been changing in a response to the adulation of the markets, de-regulation and the unfortunate loss of the founding ideals of progressive rock. The invention of the compact disc format in the mid-80s tied in nicely with Best Of, reissues and retrospectives that involved barely any financial outlay from the labels but which generated massive profit.

The sponsorship of mature, rock acts is fairly safe. The target audience know what they’re getting so potential financial backers are able to decide if their product fits in with that notion. Orange amplification back a number of events but the High Voltage sponsorships were overtly lifestyle-targeted; respectable but hinting at former rebellion like Harley Davidsons and mid-life crises. One brand associated with Classic Rock and, by extension, High Voltage, was Smokehead whisky which took the opportunity to launch what they described as “a new edgy advertising campaign, playing on the brand's growing rock credentials and rising popularity.” Their Marketing Director commented: "Combining its adventurous and modern packaging, with a rich rollercoaster of challenging flavours, Smokehead defies conformity and what people would traditionally expect from an award-winning Single Malt Whisky. Smokehead is powerful, intense and not for the faint hearted. The perfect match for a Classic Rock lover." That’s the kind of thing that makes me think marketing is a load of absolute, meaningless rubbish.

High Voltage was deeply impersonal, where individuality was crushed and you were encouraged to go along with the crowd. It therefore compares very unfavourably with the three festivals I’ve been to this year, Prog Résiste, the Riviera Prog Festival and Resonance, all of which were more egalitarian and dialogue between fans and fans, fans and sponsors, and fans and musicians was encouraged. I learned some time ago that sponsors are crucial to the success of an event. I was responsible for liaison between trade and my professional body for the BSHI conference in London in 1998 and without their financial support, the conference could not have happened. Bands can’t exist without financial input from the public and the presence of musicians at their own merchandise stands is recognition of the importance of the two-way relationship. I think this relationship, the willingness of artists to meet with audience members, has stemmed from the requirement to play smaller venues because the bands are either no longer able to fill large of medium-sized halls, or commit to tours without truckloads of equipment to ensure profitability. The intimate nature of some of these venues breaks down any barriers between performers and the paying public and merchandise can prove to be quite lucrative. My first experience of a pre-planned merchandise signing was at the King Crimson Nightwatch playback at the Hotel Intercontinental in London in September 1997. I’d been at the Epitaph playback six months earlier but lacked the nerve to get my freshly acquired 4CD set signed on that occasion. The playbacks were fairly intimate with ticket-only entry, and you were asked to bring a cake that you’d baked yourself! A feature of the Prog Résiste and Riviera Prog festivals was the question and answer sessions with the bands. That’s something I can’t see happening at High Voltage.

When it boils down to it, I like my festivals to be comfortable. I’m a firm believer in ensuring that any environment I use for teaching is comfortable for those listening. I don’t think I could take in music I’d never heard before if I was getting drenched and surrounded by mud and idiots; that would be a waste of time and money.


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