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Still reflecting on the latest venture to the Italian Riviera, ProgBlog looks at the legacy of the port city of Savona: Delirium and Il Cerchio d'Oro who released the rather good Il Fuoco Sotto la Cenere in the autumn

By ProgBlog, Sep 25 2017 09:51PM

The 25th Progressivamente Free Festival is being held in Rome this week, featuring performances by classic and more recent instances of progressivo Italiano. The gigs, which run from Wednesday 27th September to Sunday 1st October at the JailBreak Club start at 21.30 in the evening and showcase only two bands per night, apart from on Friday when there are three bands and the performances commence half an hour earlier. I first heard about the festival in early July, when the shows were advertised as being held at the Planet Live Club, and planned a week long Roman holiday...



I’ve been to Rome a couple of times before, in August 1980 by InterRail as a student and eleven years ago on a break between annual visits to Venice with the family. My memories of that first visit include my first ever espresso in a bar somewhere along the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II (Bar Tassoni?); being denied admission to St Peter’s because I was wearing shorts and having to run back to the pensione on the Piazza di San Pantaleo to put on a pair of jeans; the hypocrisy of nuns selling religious tat outside St Peter’s; the watermelon stalls at the Circus Maximus; the lack of care afforded to the ruins, with rogue vegetation everywhere; and the feeling that two days was insufficient to take everything in. The family visit in 2006 was a ten night stay in the heat of July, based at the Hotel Novecento in the Lateran area, very handy for the Colosseum and close to the Manzoni metro station. Susan and Daryl hadn’t been to the Eternal City before so we went over some familiar ground for me. This time we braved the queues and visit both the Sistine Chapel and the Pantheon and we also used one of our days to visit Pompeii, retracing another trip from 1980. Daryl and I even ventured out one evening to a outdoor screening of Wallace and Gromit and the curse of the Were Rabbit at the Vittorio Emmanuel International film festival which was, if possible, even more funny in Italian.


The Colosseum 1980 (top) and 2006 (bottom)


I really like the city; I know it’s dirty and graffiti-riddled and unbearably hot in summer but the history of the place trumps the traffic, the tourists and the smoking and though there’s a rush on the streets, the pace of life slows when you sit in a bar or a restaurant. This second visit coincided with the early stages of my (ongoing) passion for progressivo Italiano. 2005’s Venice trip was the first where I’d deliberately looked for classic Italian prog on CD to add to some original vinyl from the 70s - PFM’s The World Became the World (1974), Cook (1974) and Jet Lag (1977) - which yielded Caronte by The Trip (1971); Contrappunti by Le Orme (1974); Donna Plautilla by Banco del Mutuo Soccorso (1989); Concerto Grosso nos. 1 and 2 by New Trolls (compilation released 1989); and an early live album by PFM when they included cover versions of UK progressive rock tracks in their repertoire, The Beginning 1971-1972 Italian Tour (released in 1996).

In 2006 I only managed to buy CDs in one shop, the Feltrinelli store in the Galleria Alberto Sordi which also had a café where we grabbed a bite to eat, but we did visit a slightly smaller branch on Corso Vittorio Emanuele II where I bought Jonathan Coe’s progressive rock-related tale of adolescence The Rotters’ Club in the English Language section. My diary doesn’t say what music I invested in but I’m pretty sure that I picked up PFM’s second album Per un Amico (1972), the Italian version of Cook, called Live in the USA (1974) and a compilation of early Le Orme, Gioco di Bimba e Altri Successi (released 1998). I think this was the trip where I also bought Io Sono Nato Libero by Banco del Mutuo Soccorso (1973).


The evening performances mean that Susan and I can see more of Rome and environs. We didn’t manage to get to Ostia Antica on our last visit because the train we were due to catch was crowded, worse than a rush hour commute on the Southern network in the UK; a few years later I discovered from a visiting (Roman) surgeon that there was a store called Elastic Rock and when he took a weekend break at home, he brought me back Principe di un Giorno (1976) by Celeste and Zarathustra (1973) by Museo Rosenbach; I’ve subsequently discovered there’s another excellent-looking record store called Millerrecords which I hope to get to wander round.


On Wednesday we’re being treated to La Bocca della Verità, who began their career in Rome in 2001 performing cover versions of UK and Italian prog – their name, which means the Mouth of Truth, comes from a Roman tourist attraction, a marble drain cover which may date back to before the 4th Century BC, imprinted with the image of a man’s face and with openings for eyes, nostrils and mouth. It is mounted on the wall of the portico of the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin (in the Aventine district) and is reputed to be a medieval lie-detector, where the mouth closes on the hand of liars. The six-piece began to drop borrowed material from their repertoire in 2004 to concentrate on original material, releasing their first album Avenoth in 2016, a heavy symphonic prog suite lasting nearly 78 minutes. Later on Wednesday is another local band Ingranaggi della Valle who released their second album Warm Spaced Blue on Black Widow in October last year. I saw them in Genoa in 2014 performing material from their 2013 debut In Hoc Signo which appeared to be inspired by the Mahavishnu Orchestra as much as any 70’s prog. What I’ve heard of their latest music is, if anything, more complex and more jazzy. The jazz rock continues on Thursday with Accordo dei Contrari (from Bologna) and Slivovitz (from Naples.)


Tourist attraction La Bocca della Verità


Originating in Sicily but working from Rome, Flea on the Honey releasing a self-titled album in 1971, then became Flea for their second album Topi o Uomini (1972) which was more progressive than the first, then after a break during which time bass player Elio Volpini formed L’Uovo di Colombo, they re-formed as Etna for one eponymous album in 1975 where the style had shifted to a Mediterranean-influenced jazz-rock. They appear on Friday as Flea on the Etna. Consorzio Acqua Potabile also take to the stage on Friday. Hailing from near Novara in Piedmont, they are another group I saw perform in Genoa during the 2014 Riviera Prog Festival and I’ve subsequently collected some of their material: the four CD, fortieth anniversary set Il Teatro delle Ombre (2014) and Il Bianco Regno di Dooah (2003). Though they toured a rock opera called Gerbrand in the 70s they didn’t make any studio recordings until 1993 with the excellent 70s-inspired ...Nei Gorghi del Tempo (which appears as a 20th anniversary edition on Il Teatro delle Ombre. Their Genoa appearance was made more special by the collaboration with Jumbo’s Alvaro Fella; C.A.P and Fella released an album last year on Black Widow, Coraggio e Mistero; Jumbo will be performing after C.A.P.



Saturday evening begins with Jenny and Alan Sorrenti and Gianni Nocenzi for what has been billed as ‘Italia 70’. I suspect there will be other artists but whether they’ll be performing Saint Just songs, Alan Sorrenti’s solo material (Aria from 1972 is considered an RPI classic) or B.M.S is pure speculation. Rounding off Saturday night is Semiramis. I bought their one and only album Dedicato a Frazz (1973) in 2009, paying £20 for a second-hand CD, an exceptional album that I’d like to own on vinyl.


Sorrenti siblings
Sorrenti siblings


Semiramis - Dedicato a Frazz
Semiramis - Dedicato a Frazz

There’s a mixture of the recent and original progressivo Italiano on Sunday, commencing with La Coscienza di Zeno, an excellent band with two keyboard players formed in Genoa who I’ve seen a couple of times before, in Soignies and in their home city. They perform classic-sounding RPI and both Luca Scherani and Stefano Agnini appear in Fabio Zuffanti projects. The free festival is closed with a performance by Biglietto per l’Inferno whose self-titled album from 1974 is awarded 5 stars in every publication on progressivo Italiano. I do like the album but I don’t rate it as highly as the Italian journalists because it’s quite heavy and lacks subtlety; the keyboard work is excellent and the flute is very expressive, which is good, but I think it’s more rock with a progressive edge than true progressive. Still, I’m very much looking forward to see them.



Biglietto per l'Inferno
Biglietto per l'Inferno

This is the first chance I’ll have had to see all but three of the acts and I can’t help being amazed by the spirit of the musicians and the organisers who manage to stage these festivals, not just in Rome but all over Italy, with an amazing frequency. I would have liked to have gone to Veruno for the 2 days of Prog + 1 at the beginning of September but for the time being I’ll just get ready to enjoy 11 bands on my Roman Holiday.










By ProgBlog, Jan 22 2017 11:19PM

Whereas 1976 ended on a relatively high note for progressive rock with what I now regard as the last decent studio offering from Genesis, Wind and Wuthering, it hadn’t really been such a classic year for the progressive rock genre though there were obviously important releases. Looking back through my collection it would appear that the product from mainland Europe shined pretty brightly. 2017 has started with the inauguration of President Trump in the US but 1977 started off where 1976 ended, with a trip to see Genesis at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall. It continued with the much-anticipated follow-up to Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd’s Animals. The entire album was premiered pre-official release, on John Peel’s radio show (January 20th, official release January 23rd.) That single exposure was enough for me to discern a qualitative difference between Animals and its predecessor; gone were the lavish keyboard washes and cutting synthesizer lines, replaced by a more traditional rock balance with organ and piano relegated to little more than rhythm work. I still went out and bought it, to discover that Rick Wright wasn’t included in any compositional credits and even Dave Gilmour only got his name on Dogs. It was fairly common knowledge that a decent proportion of the material which made up the LP had been presented to live audiences following the Dark Side tours, with You’ve Got to be Crazy forming the bones of Dogs and Sheep gestating as Raving and Drooling, the latter including far more synthesizer than on the finalised album version. Wish You Were Here is a good example of progressive rock; four years later The Wall is most definitely not prog. Sitting between the two, Animals doesn’t really conform to the requirements of the description either, though it does have its moments and does challenge the prevailing politics of the time, inverting the anti-Stalinist narrative of George Orwell’s Animal Farm and turning it into a rail against capitalism.


Animals - forty years old
Animals - forty years old

From the somewhat lacklustre and very disappointing Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die! of the previous year, Jethro Tull reinvented themselves in 1977 with the prog-folk Songs from the Wood. This was not only a coherent, redefining statement (that would last for a trio of albums), it also utilised the playing talents of long-term associate and strings arranger David (now Dee) Palmer on keyboards which had the effect of adding another layer of complexity to the music. I don’t think the music could be compared to folk because it really rocked; the title better reflected the subject matter itself rather than any treatment of it, espousing green issues and contentment through a more rural way of life dressed. Ian Anderson had always utilised the acoustic guitar in a singer-songwriter way but now he had a package that harked back to a bucolic idyll and even, in Hunting Girl, hinted at Lady Chatterley’s Lover. I really like Songs from the Wood, the upfront, punchy bass of John Glascock and in general the instrumentation and arrangements. I suppose if I were to lay any criticism at this record it would be directed at the sometimes twee lyrics but overall, for a song-based album, it compares very favourably with Tull’s prog-concept pieces like Thick as a Brick, A Passion Play and Minstrel in the Gallery.


Songs from the Wood
Songs from the Wood

It would be incorrect of me to dismiss Tull as a second-division act but the first of the major players to return after an extended break from the studio were Emerson, Lake and Palmer. The pretentiously-titled Works Volume 1 may have been a cock-a-snook to punk, the dominant genre of the time, indicating that they didn’t care what anyone else thought about their approach to music. Aesthetically, even the sleeve is deadly serious in monochrome with its small neat font and the concept, one side for each band member plus one side for the ensemble comes across as an indication of artistic control. I’ve always thought Works Volume 1 and the albums just before it invoked a superficial parallel with Yes activity: Yes released Close to the Edge, their defining LP in 1972, this was followed by a triple live set (Yessongs) which in turn was followed by the magnum opus double LP Tales from Topographic Oceans; ELP released Brain Salad Surgery in 1973, the pinnacle of their career up to that date, they then released the triple live album Welcome Back My Friends and their next studio outing was the grand double LP Works Volume 1. If the analogy is pushed further, the Yes hiatus was punctuated by solo albums; ELP’s absence from the studio ended with solo material presented within a group album (though Lake’s I Believe in Father Christmas and Emerson’s arrangement of the Meade Lux Lewis tune Honky Tonk Train Blues, released in 1975 and 1976 respectively were both charting singles, eventually ended up on the mixed bag Works Volume 2.) It’s easiest to analyse Works Volume 1 one side at a time. I find Emerson’s Piano Concerto no. 1 rather enjoyable, the piece cementing his reputation as a builder of bridges between the two worlds of classical and rock though which his influences shine. I’m not sure that it’s a great piece of composition but I like it. Lake’s side continues from where Still... You Turn Me On left off in 1973. I value Lake’s contribution to progressive rock as an integral part of the earliest incarnation of King Crimson and as bassist/vocalist for ELP. He may have considered himself a singer songwriter playing acoustic guitar who happened to play some bass but the ‘solo’ features on every ELP album bar the first are relatively poor affairs; nice voice, shame about the content. Having said that, I have a soft spot for C’est La Vie! Carl Palmer’s material works very well when the attention is on the percussion rather than his song writing; I could never work out why Joe Walsh should appear on an ELP album, which brings me to the group tracks. The Copland-penned Fanfare for the Common Man is safely back on ELP territory and the only gripe I have with it is the overrated sound of the Yamaha GX-1 when it would sound so much better using a Hammond. The Yamaha is more suited to the symphonic Pirates which, at a little over 13 minutes fits the prog mould far better, forming a mini-suite. Along with dinosaurs, you can’t go far wrong with pirates!


Works Volume 1
Works Volume 1

Yes also returned from the wilderness with Going for the One, an album which offered a nod to the punk ethos with the high-energy title track, albeit with a liberal dose of Anderson sensibility, with its trippy imagery (“so hard to find in my cosmic mind”) but the other four tracks are straight from the Yes universe. Parallels was left over from Squire’s Fish out of Water and is sonically closest to The Yes Album. With Wakeman back in the fold, the album is far lighter than Relayer and in Awaken, contains one of the best progressive rock songs, ever. There’s a nice balance in the compositions, with Wonderous Stories managing to compress a full prog epic into something less than four minutes to become a surprisingly successful single at a time when punk was riding high, and the understated, reflective Turn of the Century showing off Howe’s considerable talent on acoustic guitar. Yes music is always uplifting but this was somehow positive thinking presented in easy to digest chunks on a platter, beginning with the hope of Parallels, moving through unbounded joy (Going for the One) and reflection (Turn of the Century) to spiritual fulfilment (Awaken.) Wakeman’s return coincided with two solo releases: White Rock and Criminal Record, both very different from predecessors Journey and Myths and Legends, being much closer in style to Six Wives.


Going for the One
Going for the One

There were a number of other important releases through the year, many of which I also picked up at the time or within the next couple of years. Progressive rock fans readily took to Brand X whose 1976 debut Unorthodox Behaviour was followed up by Moroccan Roll. Their sound on the sophomore effort was fleshed out to a surprising extent with the inclusion of percussionist Maurice Pert, ensuring that any potential to stagnate as a straightforward fusion act was neatly avoided.

I’d already started to appreciate PFM and their 1977 release Jet Lag didn’t disappoint. I was catching up on jazz rock bands around this time and Jet Lag was the closest PFM would get to that sub-genre. I wasn’t too disappointed that the Sinfield lyrics had gone and was getting used to Bernado Lanzetti’s vocal style following his debut on Chocolate Kings. Bookended by the beautiful Peninsula and the anthemic Traveler the music and playing is outstanding throughout.

What did come as a shock was the change from Van der Graaf Generator to Van der Graaf. Losing both your organist and horn player might seem careless but Peter Hammill and Guy Evans reinvented the band with the return of Nic Potter on bass and the recruitment of violinist Graham Smith from String Driven Thing. The resulting The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome is no less complex but far more rough and ready than VdGG and more immediate, as though Hammill was once more channelling Rikki Nadir. I didn’t buy the album until a couple of years later but I encouraged my brother to go and see the band when they played Leeds University during what would become the tour that produced Vital. Tony also went to see Camel during their 1977 tour (and tracks played at Leeds would appear on A Live Record also released in 1977) but I had to make do with listening to a friend’s copy of Rain Dances. The arrival of Canterbury legend Richard Sinclair cemented the Moonmadness drift towards a more jazzy direction but the collection of shorter songs, though still achingly melodic, was a bit disappointing. I think that of all the albums from 1977 that I listened to at the time, this was the one which I recognised as signalling a shift in the behaviour of the record companies, requiring the band to put out Highways of the Sun as a single. Evidence of the affect of punk on prog bands is best illustrated by the difference between Playing the Fool and The Missing Piece, both 1977 releases by Gentle Giant. The former, a brilliant introduction to the band in the guise of career-spanning compositions performed live which I bought on cassette is pure prog; the latter, not added to my collection until many years later for good reason, was like nothing the band had released before and is very disappointing.


More from 1977
More from 1977

Other notable records from 1977 which I acquired later include Genesis alumni Anthony Phillip’s The Geese and the Ghost, Peter Gabriel I (I did buy the Solsbury Hill single in preparation for seeing his first solo tour) and Steve Hackett’s Please Don’t Touch; I also recently bought a second hand vinyl copy of Seconds Out. England were a band who were unfairly accused of sounding Genesis-light who released the highly regarded Garden Shed. I saw them play in Barrow but didn’t buy the album until years later, one of my first internet purchases. I’ve since invested in a 2LP version with bonus material. The first National Health album also deserves a mention as it is one of the few albums which eschewed record company directives and is brilliant, melodic and complex. Along with England, they stood out as examples of how prog could have developed. The Enid represented a bridge from the first prog era and, like Van der Graaf, were accepted by the punk movement. They followed up the excellent In the Region of the Summer Stars with the sumptuous Aerie Faerie Nonsense. The US equivalent of late golden-period prog, recently added to my collection, is the first Happy The Man album released in 1977 which is a genuine treat.


If 1977 had some highs and lows, it wasn’t obvious until much later on in the year that the genre was unsustainable, coming under pressure from an industry which was just waking up to realise its global punch, partly through political developments. It’s interesting that the year began with Roger Waters’ onslaught against this political climate but half way through we were treated to a vision of hope but things went downhill fairly swiftly from 1978; forty years on January began with President Trump and despite the amazing scenes of Women’s Marches from around the world in reaction to the US election, I’m not very hopeful.

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