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ProgBlog catches King Crimson on an auspicious date at the beginning of their 2018 UK tour

By ProgBlog, Nov 6 2016 09:12PM

I’ve just visited the You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 - 1970 exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum and come away very pleased that I made the excursion. Having arrived in London (the suburb of Bexley) in 1978 from what was then the parochial, cultural cul-de-sac of south Cumbria, I proceeded to take in as much art, music, theatre and as many museums as possible, but this was the first time that I’d been to the V&A. It had been a conscious choice to avoid walking through those particular doors but a decision taken because of my bias towards the sciences and ignorance in equal measure. South Kensington boasted the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum and what I understood to comprise the V&A collection or their special exhibits never appealed. It seemed to me that it was all about fashion, past and present, and it would be hard to imagine anyone more unfashionable than me, then or now, as I clung on to progressive rock music and the associated early 70s dress sense. I even branded it as imperialistic... Dressing like a dunce in a trench coat didn’t stop me attempting to broaden my horizons, seeking out things like minimalist sculpture Equivalent VIII, better known as the pile of bricks by Carl Andre at the Tate Gallery, or going to see Warren Mitchell in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman at the National Theatre, though my more regular jaunts tended to be student concession seats at the Aldwych Theatre for Royal Shakespeare Company productions or the National Gallery where I could indulge in more mainstream culture without charge, but it was the galleries at the Nat His Mus and Science Museum which most interested me, where I was delighted to discover links to my home town: a large plug of haematite in the former and a Bessemer Converter in the latter.

How times change, because The V&A turned out to be a bit of a revelation. As far as I’m concerned the attractiveness of the venue increased under the directorship of Martin Roth so it’s a shame that he felt he had to return to his native Germany after reflecting on the decision by a tiny majority of the British voting public to leave the European Union. The building itself is quite stunning and whereas I’m not interested in all the decorative arts (things like the jewellery collection, for example) there are rooms devoted to architecture which are jaw-dropping. It would be impossible not to be impressed by the (closed off but still visible) gallery containing the enormous plaster cast of Trajan’s column.





You Say You Want a Revolution? was a sociological snapshot of 1826 days described through music, performance, fashion, film, design and political activism, a truly revolutionary five years representing a seismic shift in attitudes. Some of these revolutions remain unfulfilled but it’s not unreasonable to suggest that this short epoch had profound effects on our present and will affect the way in which we approach our future. It was the music and the politics which most interested me: the advent of psychedelia, forerunner to progressive rock; countercultural values including the birth of ecology and anti-war causes; and the sometimes forceful rise of equality movements; all issues which continue to define my thinking. What the exhibition also highlighted was that the rise of consumerism was responsible for the unfulfilled promises of the times, neatly summed up by the deeply ironic (though not meant so at the time) quotation by Milton Friedman “The great virtue of a free market system is that it does not care what color people are; it does not care what their religion is; it only cares whether they can produce something you want to buy.”


A small proportion of the album covers spread around the exhibition reflect releases which make up the proto-prog of my own collection: Days of Future Passed; Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band; A Saucerful of Secrets; Ummagumma; Abraxas; Procol Harum; Shine on Brightly; John Barleycorn Must Die; The United States of America; Music in a Doll’s House; Stand Up; Hot Rats; Tommy; Trout Mask Replica; The Madcap Laughs; and Bitches Brew but the only true progressive rock album included in the display was In the Court of the Crimson King. Not having been terribly aware what was going on at the time, it was these items, accrued in the intervening years, which allowed me to relate to the experience. One unexpected article on display was a sales manual for a Mellotron 400-D!

Although it was the Pink Floyd connection which first drew my attention to the exhibition there wasn’t that much Floyd-related material on display – there’s much more in the exhibition book. However, I also went to see the Dr Strange film this weekend and that also has a Pink Floyd association. There’s a depiction of a ‘freak’ in one of the panels on the back cover of the late-1973 budget-price repackaging of the first two Floyd albums A Nice Pair, a man attired in hippy clothing holding a giant spliff and, whereas most of the outer sleeve is a series of visual puns (a different kettle of fish, a fork in the road, laughing all the way to the bank) I have never been able to grasp the significance of this photo, other than to challenge the stereotypical image of someone who listens to early Floyd. Anyway, scattered on the floor is a pile of comics and one, quite clear, is a Dr Strange magazine.




A number of my school friends were into fantasy books and some of the more esoteric comics and I asked one to source a Dr Strange for me. When I was much younger I used to buy DC comics on a Saturday morning from a newsagent on Salthouse Road, near my grandmother’s house, but they were all staid compared to the Dr Strange universe; a neurosurgeon who had lost the use of his hands and had become the master of mystic arts. The imagery of alternative dimensions fitted in with my adolescent world of Tolkien, Ursula Le Guin, Alan Garner and Arthur C Clarke, and I was pleased that rather than a simply possessing a super power, Strange’s ‘magic’ seemed to be derived from a more rational source, channelling the natural forces of the different universes. I was also developing an interest in mysticism, partly fuelled by the release of Tales from Topographic Oceans at around the same time as A Nice Pair. The character acquired counterculture acceptance, setting him apart from almost all other Marvel stable mates, as he wasn’t portrayed as patriotic in any way; one of the early gigs by Grateful Dead forerunners The Warlocks was at an event called Tribute to Dr Strange.




I enjoyed the film which contained just about the right level of humour, though the representation of a successful surgeon as arrogant is a rather tired trope; I’ve worked closely with surgeons and yes, some may be a little conceited or disdainful, but it wasn’t surgeons who caused the global financial crash in 2008. There are plenty of politicians, healthcare managers and even some bloggers who demonstrate self-importance... What was good was the deference to the comic book artwork in the depiction of alternate dimensions and in the poses of Dr Strange. There were scenes reminiscent of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey placing it firmly in the psychedelic genre and best of all, director Scott Derrickson included a section of Interstellar Overdrive to accompany the clip leading up to Strange’s life-changing accident.




Two things worth going to see: Dr Strange is on general release; You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 is at the Victoria and Albert Museum until 26 February 2017






By ProgBlog, Oct 18 2015 10:09PM

Back in 1972, when I started listening to progressive rock and Focus 3 was circulating between brother Tony’s friends, I didn’t make any distinction between groups of different nationalities. From a starting point of Close to the Edge and spreading out to early ELP via the collected works of The Nice, Focus were one of the first bands that I heard and they simply fitted into the spectrum of music that I liked; jazz, classical, early music, blended in with rock instrumentation. The inclusion of flute also made an impression on me and I’m a strong advocate of the instrument in prog. There was a short period in very early 1973 where I’d turn on my small medium wave radio with its single earpiece and tune in to Radio Luxembourg (208m) and the first song I’d hear would be Sylvia. This short, melodic piece is something of a classic and though prog bands tended not to be interested in chart-topping singles, it ended up being Focus’ biggest international hit. I didn’t buy Focus 3 until 1976 (it seemed to me to be quite expensive, even for a double album) but Tony bought Moving Waves (1971) not long after we’d discovered the band and we bought Hamburger Concerto (1974) at the time it was released. Taken as a whole, I think I prefer Hamburger over Moving Waves, probably because of the more varied instrumentation. The two long-form compositions, Eruption and Hamburger Concerto are both brilliant examples of the genre; on Moving Waves the tracks on side one highlight the band’s influences but on Hamburger the tracks are all much more like full-on prog, including a Hocus Pocus reprise in the equally bonkers Harem Scarem. Focus 3 contained the epic Anonymous II running at over 26 minutes but even at this early stage in my understanding of music, I thought that it sounded like a studio jam that pushed the boundaries of taste with the extended bass and drum solos. However, such was my appreciation for Focus, they were one of the very first groups I went to see play live. Unfortunately, Jan Akkerman had left the band and guitar duties were taken up by Philip Catherine so I found the performance a bit disappointing; added to that was the fact that I wasn’t too familiar with the current material (from Mother Focus, 1975) and what I had heard wasn’t too much like Hamburger or anything prior to that. On reflection, Hamburger was a high point and it wasn’t until Focus 9 (2006) when Thijs van Leer was once more reunited with classic-Focus period drummer Pierre van der Linden that I thought them sufficiently progressive enough to afford them another chance. The first time I saw the reformed Focus was at Chislehurst’s Beaverwood Club in October 2010 and they were brilliant. Van Leer has never taken himself too seriously but still managed to produce some incredible music. This performance mixed the early, classic material with some up-to-date songs such as the humorous Aya-Yuppie-Hippie-Yee which fitted in neatly with the 70s music. Bobby Jacobs (bass) was a constant from the original reformed line-up from 2002 but guitarist Niels van der Steenhoven and Pierre van der Linden were new recruits. Van der Steenhoven handled the original Akkerman guitar parts beautifully. Prog mate Gina Franchetti accompanied me to this gig – she was something of a Beaverwood Club regular – and happily engaged van Leer in conversation after the show, where he revealed a love for Italian food.

My next exposure to prog from the Netherlands was seeing Trace on BBC TV’s The Old Grey Whistle Test, performing Gaillarde from their first, eponymous album Trace (1974.) Having only previously seen Rick Wakeman and Keith Emerson with large, multi-keyboard rigs, I was stunned by Rick van der Linden’s keyboards. I noted, though, that he was an ARP synthesizer man, without a Moog in sight. Based on the third movement of JS Bach’s Italian Concerto in F major (BWV 971) and a traditional Polish dance, Gaillarde is more Emerson than Wakeman, predominantly organ-driven, a classical interpretation performed by a trio. Self-taught bassist Jaap van Eik plays neat contrapuntal lines and ex-Focus drummer (playing his transparent Perspex kit on the Whistle Test) lays down jazz patterns, sometimes at breakneck speed. There’s a drum solo on the album (The Lost Past) which calls to mind the drum solo at the end of Eruption (Endless Road) from Moving Waves, but it somehow seems to fit the Trace album better, sandwiched between two parts of the haunting A Memory, a song based on a traditional Swedish piece of music. My copy of Trace was bought in 1975 and remains one of my favourite albums. The follow-up album, Birds was released in 1975, this time incorporating more van der Linden penned pieces and featuring ex-Darryl Way’s Wolf drummer Ian Mosley, Way was a guest on the album playing violins on Opus 1065, another Trace interpretation of JS Bach. My copy, the cover of which was damaged during storage sometime in the last 20 years, was bought from the Leeds University record store on a trip to see Rick Wakeman playing in the uni refectory in May 1976. Like classic Focus albums, Birds contains a multi-section suite which takes up the entire second side of the LP.

I’ve since supplemented my vinyl with CDs and also picked up a copy of The White Ladies (1976) that I saw in Dublin a couple of years ago. Though ascribed to Trace, The White Ladies is Rick van der Linden and his former Ekseption colleagues. I first heard about Ekseption, a pre- and post-Trace band, in around 2004 when I subscribed to a Rick van der Linden internet newsletter that was run by his wife Inez. During this time he was suffering from some of the major complications of diabetes, requiring eye surgery and, if memory serves correctly, needing a pancreas transplant; he died in January 2006 from complications following a stroke. I bought a second-hand copy of what fans regard as the best Ekseption album, Beggar Julia’s Time Trip (1969) for £8 from Beanos and identified portions that van der Linden would recycle for Trace, most notably Bach’s Italian Concerto. Though somewhat experimental it is a good example of fusing rock and the classics, with a bit of jazz thrown in. Whereas Focus and Trace are indistinguishable from British prog, Julia comes across as being different, Continental European, a facet I attribute to the spoken words by Linda van Dyck. It’s still an enjoyable album so I snapped up a CD of Ekseption 3 (1970) / Trinity (1973) when I saw it in a record store in Auckland, New Zealand, in 2009, neither of which has the same quality of composition as Julia throughout.

I was alerted to Supersister by Prog magazine and now own To the Highest Bidder (1971) and Iskander (1973.) This music is fairly complex, with Highest Bidder hinting at Frank Zappa’s Hot Rats (from 1969.) The lyrics may be a bit throwaway but the music and musicianship is outstanding.

My most recent foray into prog from the Netherlands has been another time trip. I bought Earth and Fire’s Song of the Marching Children (1971) at the same time I bought The White Ladies in Dublin and though it’s not musically challenging, it’s in the same league as early Ekseption; I was also given a CD of the remastered first Earth and Fire album (1970), with the Roger Dean cover, as a birthday present this year which is really proto-prog.

I’ve made a distinction between British prog and that of other countries because I think there are stylistic variations based on local cultures and would suggest that most Italian bands have a distinct flavour that allows them to be grouped together in their own sub-genre. It may be because I got to hear Focus and Trace in the early 70s that I don’t think there’s much difference between Dutch prog and UK prog but whether or not there are differences, Focus and Trace have produced some of the best progressive rock, ever.



By ProgBlog, Jan 1 2015 08:13PM

It would be easy to do a prog retrospective of 2014; the festivals and other concerts, the important albums, other milestones... but I’m not going to because although I don’t mind looking at lists and comparing the thoughts of journalists (and their manipulation of source data, should they have asked for public opinion) with mine, I still regard it as lazy and relatively meritless.

On the face of it, compared to my birthday and previous Christmases, this Christmas was relatively prog-free. I did get Consorzio Acqua Potabile’s 40th anniversary edition of Il Teatro delle Ombre (The Shadow Theatre), a very nicely presented 4CD set that includes a 20th anniversary edition of ...Nei Gorghi del Tempo (In the Whirlpool of Time.) The music dates back to the 70s and I suppose it slots into a style that most closely resembles Banco del Mutuo Soccorso with the twin keyboards, though CAP are slightly less adventurous. There are multiple layers of instruments and strong vocals but I think the modern production may have taken something away from the compositions, despite the inclusion of vintage keyboards. The CD of live material, apart from the Banco-like titled Traccia Tre from 1979, ranges from the late 90s to 2011. I’d love to hear the music as it was presented in the early 70s. I also got Paper Charms, the complete BBC recordings of PFM. This 2CD+1 DVD set forms a kind of companion piece to the re-mastered, expanded Cook and captures the band at the height of their global fame. CD1, with introductions from Pete Drummond in clipped BBC tones, closely follows the track selection from the original Cook which had been released not too long before the appearance at the BBC Paris Theatre, London. The playing is exemplary and the mix is well balanced, though Drummond comes across as rather loud. There’s a fair degree of difference between the Cook version of Alta Loma 5 ‘till 9 [sic] and those on Paper Charms but the other material is similar. During one announcement, Drummond suggests that Four Holes in the Ground contains the influence of Greek music because it was the first song written by the band after half-French, half-Greek Patrick Djivas had joined the band from Area and I believe that he’s correct, even though Djivas does not get a song writing credit. The PFM box set, from my brother Richard, was accompanied by a Pink Floyd – The Wall pen which writes really neatly. My brother Andrew also got me some prog: Finneus Gauge’s One Inch of the Fall and (Bruford Levin Upper Extremities) BLUE Nights. The former had been on my wish list for a while because I’d read that the style was on the progressive side of jazz rock. I’m not a great fan of US prog (I own Day for Night by Spock’s Beard, Journey of the Dunadan by Glass Hammer and The Weirding by Astra and I’m not over impressed. I’ve also got Hot Rats which is excellent but I’m not sure that Zappa should be pigeonholed as prog. It may surprise you to find out that I’m also toying with the idea of trying out a Fireballet album.) I hadn’t picked up on the Echolyn – Finneus Gauge connection because I’ve not listened to any Echolyn but I think One Inch of the Fall is the best US prog album that I own. Laura Martin has a great, distinctive voice and the musicianship can’t be faulted. What makes it better than the other American prog is the uniform high quality of the writing; there really is no filler here and, though you can detect some Canterbury influences, it doesn’t sound like anyone else. This Canterbury influence is best exemplified by Scott McGill’s guitar work which, at times, is reminiscent of Allan Holdsworth. There’s a slight bias towards guitar (as opposed to keyboards) but that’s not a criticism. BLUE Nights, a live documentary of the Bruford Levin analogue of a King Crimson projecKt, takes the material from their studio album, which I like very much, and extends it into Crimson improvisational territory. The Chris Botti trumpet, along with Bruford’s precision drumming, puts the band in a modern jazz setting which is pulled towards progressive rock territory by David Torn’s guitar loops and effects. It’s clear that there’s a musical chemistry between the band members; they had previously appeared together on Torn’s Cloud About Mercury which covers roughly the same ground.

My main Christmas present wasn’t prog-related but it was conceptual. The now ritual pre-Christmas trip to Venice isn’t just about Rock Progressivo Italiano, it’s also about coffee. I’ve imported beans from Torrefazione Cannaregio in the past (www.torrefazionecannaergio.it) and stopping in the small shop for a morning espresso (€0.90) is an essential part of the Venetian itinerary. So, with the understanding that good coffee plays an increasingly important part of my life, Susan bought me a DeLonghi espresso machine and Daryl has provided a voucher for barista lessons. Awesome.

The one issue I have with BLUE Nights is that Tony Levin recounts in his BLUE Road Diary from the Japan Tour, April 5th: “There seem to be Starbucks in various parts of Tokyo, so decent espresso isn’t far away anywhere here.” I suppose that Starbucks tax avoidance might not have been such an issue in 1998 but it’s stretching a point to call their espresso decent! I attended the International Histocompatibility Workshop Conference in Seattle in May 2002 where the coffee was provided at no charge by Starbucks. Better coffee could be obtained outside the Washington State Convention Center [sic] at the Seattle Coffee Company (Seattle’s Best Coffee) which has apparently subsequently been subsumed by the mighty Starbucks. Having read Levin’s BLUE road diary, it’s interesting that the booklet that accompanies King Crimson's "57 Minutes Of Improvised Music" ThraKaTTaK CD contains a diagram for the ‘Crim Valet’, a portable espresso machine in a flight case with storage for cups, glasses and wine. This suggests that Levin is serious about his coffee and indeed, he used to have a page on his Papabear website called ‘Tony’s Coffee Corner’. The Crim Valet, aka Café Crim, did make it out on the road during a Crimson European tour around 1999 – 2000. Tony’s Coffee Corner also reveals that Levin owned a Gaggia which was sampled for inclusion on the track Espresso and the Bed of Nails from his World Diary album. Tony, whatever were you thinking? Starbucks, decent espresso?



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