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Recently returned from the 2018 Porto Antico Prog Fest in Genoa, where ProgBlog met up with last year's star turn Melting Clock, and discussion turned to the artwork for their forthcoming album which is due to begin recording in the next couple of weeks...

By ProgBlog, Jul 30 2018 01:52PM

My wife and I habitually visit flea markets and bric-a-brac shops on our tours of London and the south east, where I’m specifically seeking out vinyl bargains. Last week we were prompted to visit a shop closer to home, Atomica, in a business park off Croydon’s Purley Way, thanks to an article posted by Bygone Croydon which indicated along with the retro homeware, fashion and general relics, they had a selection of 50s – 80s vinyl. Despite being more of a showroom for their self-designed gifts which sell all over the world, the records didn’t disappoint because co-owners David and Nicky turned out to be late 60s, early 70s psyche and prog aficionados so after a good browse through a selection weighted towards prog and prog-related (choosing to buy Jethro Tull’s Live – Bursting Out and Tangerine Dream’s Cyclone, both from 1978 and both at a very reasonable price) I had lengthy chat about music with the couple, when I should have been packing my bag for the following day’s short break in Italy.



Displaying an indecision worthy of my notable family trait but in fact attempting to ensure that friends and family were all able to attend one or the other of King Crimson’s Palladium gigs in November before booking the tickets, the London shows sold out before I’d got answers from everyone. Fortunately, tickets were still available for the first 2018 UK performance in Bournemouth, so my friend Jim bagged a couple. A couple of weeks later during a trip to Milan, I saw a rather large advert for the Lucca summer festival pasted on a wall inside Milano Centrale railway station and, after I’d taken in the Roger Waters Us and Them tour date, I noticed King Crimson were due to play the festival on July 25th. On my return to the UK I touted the idea to Jim, who was very much interested, and tickets, flights and accommodation were all booked.



Strangely, my Tuscany guidebook has a slightly larger section on Lucca than on Pisa; the first Tuscan family holiday in 2013 was based in Pisa and we used the train to travel around the region, but never visited Lucca. This was rectified on the subsequent Tuscan holiday in 2014, having been told that the smaller city was probably nicer to visit than Pisa. I do like Pisa, which has two very good record stores, GAP in Via San Martino and La Galleria del Disco in Via San Francesco, and is well connected on the railway network but, apart from the obvious and spectacular Campo dei Miracoli and the museums in the Piazza del Duomo, there’s little else to do. Lucca, on the other hand, is really compact and contains a number of points of interest: Roman remains in the crypt of the church of San Giovanni and the shops and piazza marking the former Roman amphitheatre; the medieval Torre Guinigi crowned with holm-oak and the Torre delle Ore, the tallest of the towers in the city; the details on the west facade of both the Duomo San Martino and San Michele in Foro; Puccini’s birthplace museum; the art deco shop fronts in the Via Fillungo; all enclosed in broad Renaissance city walls. Lucca also has a fine record store, Sky Stone and Songs located on the Piazza Napoleone and which, on the current visit, had a window display replete with King Crimson recordings.


The festival auditorium was set up in Piazza Napoleone, covering a far greater area than I remember from my previous visits. The huge stage was to the west of the square, up against the Palazzo Ducale and, until a few hours before the event started, it was possible to amble in and out of the area. I was picking up the tickets when the soundcheck started at around 5pm and went to join a number of fans at the back of the seating area listen in as the band ran through a couple of numbers; it was obvious that the evening’s performance was going to be special.



Soundcheck
Soundcheck

By the time we went out to eat, the piazza had been emptied and a rather intimidating security cordon comprised of barriers erected in strategic places had been set up to prevent non-ticket holders from wandering in; more reassuringly in the early evening heat and humidity, there were plenty of paramedics around to cope with anyone suffering from dehydration and/or intoxication – it had been suggested that this was the biggest crowd of the European leg of the tour. After a visit to the merchandise stall for a tour programme and 10” limited edition Uncertain Times double EP we made our way to our seats in block I, row 18, where I was a little disappointed that our mid-price range tickets didn’t afford the view of the band I’d been hoping for, although we had a very good view of the giant screen just to the right of the stage.



The performance started on the stroke of 9pm following an announcement in Italian about not recording the event and not taking photographs; this was succeeded by a recording of Robert Fripp emphasising that to ensure we all had a great party we shouldn’t take photos during the concert but, because bassist Tony Levin wanted to take a photo of the crowd when they’d finished playing, we could take photos when Levin took out his camera. He added that at the request of his fellow band members, there would be two halves to the set separated by a 20 minute intermission. Remarkably, following my experiences in Genoa and Brescia for PFM and Le Orme respectively where a sea of 10” tablets and cases obscured my sight line to the bands playing on stage, Fripp’s ‘no photography’ request was heeded by most of the crowd and the use of smartphones and cameras was restrained.

The set list wasn’t too far removed from the last time I saw them, at London’s Hackney Empire in September 2015, though in the intervening period Bill Rieflin had taken a sabbatical and was replaced by Jeremy Stacey on drums and keyboards, then returned in the role of keyboard player, creating an octet. There was a distinct bias towards material written for early incarnations of the group, where the only song missing from In the Court of the Crimson King was I Talk to the Wind and every studio album up to Beat, with the exception of Starless and Bible Black, was represented by at least one track. The most recent studio album music was Level Five/Larks’ Tongues in Aspic part 5 (from 2003’s The Power to Believe) but they played parts of Radical Action (To Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind) written specifically for the three-drummer line-up, and the three drummers opened each half of the set with a remarkable percussive display, called for that evening A Tapestry of Drumsons and Drumsons of Psychokinesis. I was pleasantly surprised how much keyboard Fripp played, and how easy it was to distinguish the guitar of Fripp and Jakko Jakszyk when it had proved difficult for me to work out which line belonged to which guitarist in every version of the band including Adrian Belew; it was more difficult to work out who was playing which keyboard part when Stacey retreated to the back of his drum kit and the big screen showed Rieflin. The role of each drummer was fairly well delineated, with Pat Mastelotto adding a huge variety of colour with some novel bits of percussion and some non-percussion, much like Bill Bruford following the departure of Jamie Muir in 1973, Stacey’s keyboard responsibilities, and Gavin Harrison acting as the rhythmic anchor, even adding an impressive solo on encore 21st Century Schizoid Man. However, it was when the three operated as a unit that they most impressed, exemplified by their discipline and precision on Indiscipline.


Though Mel Collins had appeared on many of the originals played that evening (Pictures of a City, Cirkus, the Lizard suite, Islands) he didn’t simply stick to the written lines but was given plenty of room to extemporise, blowing jazz and quoting operatic flute. This free rein with well trodden pieces seemed to add to the enjoyment of the ensemble while also allowing the audience to experience the music in new ways; we were even treated to a new set of lyrics on Easy Money.


The performance, including the break, lasted over three hours. Though loud, the sound was really well balanced, making up for the slightly awkward seating position where it was easier but less desirable to watch close-ups on the big screen than get the big picture. I thoroughly enjoyed it, as did the rest of the audience who not only showed their appreciation at the end of each piece of music but responded to mid-song solos and key moments with enthusiastic applause. I was a bit surprised by the clarity of the subtleties and, strangely for a King Crimson gig, did not feel overpowered by the volume. I really hope that there’s going to be a DVD release of the concert at some stage in the near future because along with the quality of the audio, the camerawork for the big screens was also rather good.



Another successful trip to see a band in Italy completed, but I’m now looking forward to seeing Crimson in Bournemouth at the end of October...









By ProgBlog, Aug 30 2014 04:06PM

I’ve just spent a very enjoyable eight days in Tuscany. Based in Cisanello on the outskirts of Pisa, it was easy to get around the region using the railway system. I love the steep hillsides, with olive groves and vines dappled in warm sunlight and shadows from the cumulus clouds above; the uniform rows of stone pines and fields of sunflower and maize; the ancient hill forts originally occupied by long-passed civilizations.

The ideal holiday should combine a number of things, including appropriate weather (I do like my skiing!), some exercise, some relaxation, some culture, contrasting landscapes, good food. I may be a scientist but I like art and architecture; most of my photographs are architectural when previously they’d been predominantly landscapes. Our summer holiday this year was intended to cover most of the essentials, plus suitable interludes for browsing through the racks in record stores...

I’d put together a list based on personal preferences, descriptions from Andrea Parentin’s Rock Progressivo Italiano and Progressive Italiano by Alessandro Caboli and Giovanni Ottone, amounting to 23 mostly 70s RPI albums that I wanted to buy, believing that I might find maybe five of them. Top of the list was Terra in Bocca by I Giganti, which features prominently in the literature but, from talking to Alessandro Magnani of Pisa’s GAP records as well as hours spent in other music stores, copies are very hard to come by. On this visit to Pisa I didn’t actually buy anything in GAP but I did have quite a good chat with Alessandro. The shop is amazing, not least because Alessandro’s stock includes music he’s not too fond of, it’s full of vinyl and Alessandro can tell you about the style of music on any record. He very kindly played me some of Searching for a Land by the New Trolls which was organ-dominated and more like ELP than the blues-guitar infused proto-prog of the Concerto Grosso. It was evident he also liked prog, recommending Circus 2000 as something I should look out for, but also picking out a single track from an album by a folk artist (I don’t remember the name) that he cited as prog, and it was, but the rest of the album was singer-songwriter easy listening that was of no interest. Flicking through some albums he described one as being ‘very political’ and when pressed, he said it was left-wing, and wouldn’t have anything ‘from the right’. During the time I spent in there, three other audiophiles were browsing the records, asking questions and getting full answers; a truly interactive shop.

Pisa’s other record store, La Galleria del Disco (Sanantonio42 Records Shop seems to have been replaced with a clothes store that sells some music, rather than the other way round) does have a dedicated prog section and, because GAP was closed until a couple of days before we were due to return to the UK, I managed to visit twice and pick up a number of items from my list, plus a CD that wasn’t on my list but did interest me, Atlantide by The Trip (the first album as a keyboard-fronted trio) and a cheap Seventh Sojourn. Upstairs, there’s a fairly impressive selection of new vinyl for sale, indicating that Italians certainly have not fallen out of love with 12” albums and gatefold sleeves. This hypothesis was reinforced by the presence of turntables for sale in a few of the record shops I visited, including a Rega Planar 1 for €299 in Sky Stone & Songs, Lucca. This store has a reasonable collection of prog but it is mixed in with the full range of other Italian artists. Perhaps the most striking feature of the shop was the impressive range of Metal, both on CD and vinyl.

A planned trip to look for sea glass in Antignano allowed me to include a stop in Piccadilly Sound, Livorno. Atlantic Star, 36 properties away on the Via Grande had closed down, but visits to Piccadilly either side of lunch resulted in picking up three titles from my list, plus a fourth thrown in for good measure. Warner has a budget series of 2LP in 1CD and fortunately for me, the two Delirium CDs I’d wanted were included on the one CD. The bonus was the inclusion of Preludio, Tema, Variazione e Canzona on the CD with L’Uomo by Osanna.

The trip to Firenze resulted in another bumper crop, though on arrival I was disappointed with the branch of Galleria del Disco. The sottopassaggio leading out from the station has two stores and it wasn’t until we were returning to the station that we discovered the branch with the dedicated progressive Italiano. Outside of Genova, this is the only record store I’ve found that stocks a good range of BTF CDs, so I crossed another couple of classic albums of my list and indulged in three more recent releases, two from Fabio Zuffanti-related Finisterre and one from another of Zuffanti’s projects, Hostsonaten. I had picked up Fiaba by Procession, something I’d included in my 23, but chose not to buy it because of the absence of keyboards. Firenze is also home to Alberti. I went to the rather large branch in Borgo San Lorenzo, close to the cathedral. The prog was mixed in with other Italian artists and though I didn’t cross off any more titles, I bought myself a special edition 40th anniversary Banco del Mutuo Soccorso that includes three previously unreleased tracks, live tracks and a substantial booklet. I also couldn’t resist picking up a cheap copy of the first Yes album.

All in all this was a very successful holiday, ticking all the right boxes for culture, relaxation, scenery and exercise and also because of achieving 48% of my targeted albums. Tuscany next year?


My purchases were: Franco Battiato, Sulle corded Aries; Alan Sorrenti, Aria; Festa Mobile, Diario di viaggio della Festa mobile; Panna Fredda, Uno; The Trip, Atlantide; Arti+Mestieri, Tilt; Osanna, L’Uomo and Preludio, Tema, Variazione e Canzona; Delirium, Dolce Acqua and Delirium III - Viaggio negli Archipelaghi del Tempo; 40th Anniversary Banco del Mutuo Soccorso’s eponymous first album; Alusa Fallax, Intorno alla mia Cattiva Educazione; Campo di Marte, Campo di Marte; Hostsonaten, Winterthrough; Finisterre, In ogni Luogo and La Meccanica Naturale


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