ProgBlog

Welcome to the ProgBlog

 

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 9 2018 04:58PM

Britain’s National Health Service celebrated its 70th anniversary last week, having come into effect on July 5th 1948. Despite a relatively limited personal use of the Service with only one hospital stay for overnight observation following a head injury sustained during a mountaineering accident in the Lake District in 1976, and continued checks in the ophthalmology department to monitor for trauma-induced glaucoma after being hit by a squash ball in the eye in 2007, it’s good to know that a comprehensive health service, free at the point of delivery for everyone, exists in the UK. Sadly, free universal and comprehensive healthcare in the UK has been under attack for much of the last 40 years, even when Blair’s New Labour was increasing health spending by an average 5.4% per year, selling the public the idea of new hospitals (and other major projects) but actually committing the coffers in the public purse to fatally flawed PPI ventures from which hospitals in particular continue to suffer.

It’s widely remarked that the NHS has a special place in the hearts of British citizens although it’s always been highly politicised. Conceived by health minister Aneurin Bevan and introduced by Clement Attlee’s post-war Labour government, there was considerable opposition to the scheme amongst those with vested interests. Many doctors did not want to become employees of the government; hospital consultants wanted to continue to charge private patients for treatment and 64% of GPs opposed the NHS, preferring to treat patients privately, leading to the BMA to organise a campaign to ‘boot out Bevan’. Even nurses were against the plan, as it threatened their income from private family visits. Bevan finally won round doctors with the promise of new hospitals and badly needed equipment but significantly also agreed to allow doctors to continue to treat private patients in addition to their NHS work.


NHS 60th anniversary edition of Bevan's In Place of Fear
NHS 60th anniversary edition of Bevan's In Place of Fear

The Principles of the NHS:

Universal Access: The NHS was for all

Comprehensive: The NHS would treat all medical conditions. Doctors, dentists, opticians and hospital treatments would all form part of the service

Free at the point of need: Patients would not pay for treatment

The new NHS was to be paid for out of National Insurance contributions and would provide free medical services for all

Ambulance services were set up to cope with emergencies


I’ve been involved the service since 1981, one of the behind-the-scenes staff in a laboratory. Initially employed by the National Blood Transfusion Service immediately after graduation, within five years I’d expressed a few hundred litres of plasma from whole blood, pooled platelets, washed blood, made clotting factors VIII and IX, provided reagents derived from blood donations to hospitals in the South East, screened ante natal blood for antibodies to prevent haemolytic disease of the newborn and selected and crossmatched units of blood for patients requiring transfusion. I was working there in 1983 the virus responsible for AIDS was independently discovered by Gallo in the US and Barré-Sinoussi/Montagnier in France, naming the novel retrovirus HTLV-III and LAV respectively, before it became known as HIV in 1986 and, to reflect the importance of that discovery, changed the name of the band I was in at that time to HTLV-III.

In 1984 I moved to the section that covered bone marrow transplantation but after a successful two years in that post, I was told I was to be moved to a different department. Fortunately my predecessor, who had left to join the kidney transplant team at Charing Cross Hospital, was moving on again to Scotland; I applied for and was appointed to fill that vacancy, delivering a leaving party speech that criticised the management of the Transfusion Centre for virtually forcing me out. It’s satisfying but disappointing that things got much worse there after I left, all due to poor strategic decisions, in search of ‘efficiencies’.

The lab at Charing Cross was small and friendly and though much of the work was for renal transplants, we were actually part of Rheumatology. It’s good to have a different perspective and meeting professionals from other disciplines helped me see healthcare from a holistic point of view. With rumours of a pathology reorganisation circulating in 1988, a post at Guy’s Hospital offering research potential and an annual international conference proved too good to resist.


The Guy’s lab had something of a mixed reputation when I joined but within a couple of years we started to make some astute personnel changes and began to build up one of the most successful renal transplant teams in the UK, no longer treated as just a laboratory but sharing expertise with the medical and nursing teams.

The Conservatives introduced the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990 which created an ‘internal market’ for the supply of healthcare so that the state would no longer be the main provider, but act more as an enabler, forcing local authorities to assess people for social care and support to determine a patient’s requirements and to purchase the care from providers – the new NHS Trusts. Guy’s and Lewisham joined forces and became the Tories’ flagship Trust but hospital reorganisation in London, to make the service yet more efficient, meant that the Guy’s – Lewisham partnership was dissolved and Guy’s & St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, complete with a level of autonomy from the Department of Health, was created in 1993. A few years before, Guy’s had been singled out for major improvement, what was to have been the £140m Philip Harris House, a state-of-the-art seven storey wing designed to be conducive to effective healthcare. However, the inexplicable transfer of acute services to St Thomas’ Hospital, considered by many to have been a political move disguised by that reorganisation (Tommies was in a parlous state before the formation of the Foundation Trust) led to Philip Harris, a carpet magnate and Conservative Party donor withholding his £6 million from the project; the building sat empty for some time before being reassigned for outpatient services and some research facilities under the name of Thomas Guy House.


The creation of NHS Trusts immediately increased the running costs of a hospital because of the number of managers required to oversee the internal market and to control budgets. Cutting waste and making efficiencies has long been the mantra of officials but they failed to see the hypocrisy of paying management consultancies huge sums of money to produce reports to validate decisions made by hospital boards to circumvent discussion. This continued after Blair replaced John Major as PM in an attempt to show the public that New Labour was both a prudent manager of the public purse and that it was business-friendly. The machinations of GSTT managers or ministers in the Department of Health didn’t impact on me directly until 2008 when, encouraged by a government which delighted in ‘a third way’ but based on poor data collected pre-2006 for the Carter Report, it was proposed that pathology at Guy’s and St Thomas’ (also to include Bedford Hospital) should be part-privatised in a joint venture between the hospitals and outsourcing darlings Serco. Despite opposition from staff throughout the hospital and sympathy from the chair of the board of governors, the Joint Venture commenced operating under the title of GSTS Pathology on January 1st 2009 so, to ensure I couldn’t be singled out for my outspoken opposition to this development, I became a union representative and campaigned vigorously to stop all forms of NHS privatisation and the unfair treatment of staff.


Protesting against the privatisation of Pharmacy by Sainsbury's
Protesting against the privatisation of Pharmacy by Sainsbury's

GSTT was at the forefront of removing staff from its books through a series of privatisations; Pathology, the Post Room, Pharmacy, seemingly simultaneously oblivious to the wishes of staff and mounting evidence to show that in fact, privatisation was a contributory factor in declining standards of delivery of care. When the coalition government was formed in 2010 they quickly revealed a major shake-up in the provision of healthcare, Andrew Lansley’s Health and Social Care Bill (enacted in 2012), despite a Conservative manifesto pledge that there would be no NHS reorganisation. Now largely scrapped though still adversely affecting the NHS, other changes to public sector pensions and terms and conditions of work introduced by the coalition shortly after they came to power were part of a strategy to entice private sector providers to take over services; unfortunately the strategy worked, but not without seriously affecting provision of comprehensive, universal healthcare (according to a report by the NHS Support Federation, £7.1bn worth of NHS clinical contracts were awarded through an NHS tendering process in the year up to April 2017.) The changes were sold to the public as being necessary in an age of austerity but the government was defending its friends and the failed ideology that caused the collapse of the global financial system in 2008; George Osborne’s imposition of austerity measures to eradicate the budget deficit was really another strategy to break up any power remaining in the hands of the state and politicians and economists alike have criticised the approach, which is responsible for a continuing weak, low-growth economy.



On the occasion of the NHS’s 63rd birthday, I predicted that unless there was a change in administration, it would barely make it to 68. Fortunately I was wrong, though how it managed to survive the last three winter crises and a lengthy doctor’s strike is a miracle. It appears that the cuts to NHS funding have now been stopped but there’s still insufficient movement on the investment required for integrating health and social services. However much money we put into health is never going to be enough but it’s pleasing to see that the British public would accept a tax rise for the NHS. Bevan’s guiding principles for the service illustrate a willingness to eradicate inequality and what he founded may stand as the highest achievement for social democracy. To ensure his legacy continues to have a future we need to recognise the value of everyone who plays a role in healthcare provision, from the cleaners and the porters and post room staff and catering staff upwards. Jeremy Corbyn’s recent call to end the NHS internal market is also a key move, as competition between providers is likely to lead to unrealistic tenders, an uneven provision of care or a diminution of quality; the Lansley Act had the detrimental effect of splitting effective care pathways and raising costs through inefficiency.



I left Viapath (the re-branded GSTS Pathology) in 2015 to restart as an NHS employee in a different NHS Trust. Despite a national celebration of the service on its 70th birthday, I didn’t join in because the cheerleaders for the day, the higher managers who sanction privatisation of services and impose punitive sickness policies were handing out free muffins to all staff... The passion that many millions share for the NHS, despite its shortcomings, is the reason it’s still going and anyone who cares to can check that it ranks very highly on efficiency and social equity; the US with its private insurance-based system favoured by some of the more right-wing members of the Conservative party, spends far more on health per person with poorer and dreadfully inequitable outcomes.



So what’s the NHS got to do with progressive rock? Apart from the excellent band National Health (see ProgBlog’s February 2014 post National Health), it’s about the prevailing social conditions in the late 60s and the notion of equity of access; the founding of the NHS is one of the defining features of advanced social democracy, along with the provision of decent social housing, and opened the door for further democratising movements like access to higher education for students from all backgrounds. The prime movers in progressive rock appealed to the burgeoning student groups but also envisioned a better world and even attempted to challenge accepted norms through bridging the two worlds of high- and popular culture; I don’t believe that progressive rock would have developed in Britain in the same way if we’d not already made moves to make society more equal.


So the next challenge is to see how the NHS fares post-Brexit, but I agree with the words attributed to Bevan: the NHS will last as long as there’s folk with faith left to fight for it.








By ProgBlog, Jun 26 2018 02:59PM



It doesn’t take much to get me on an aeroplane to Italy, but the promise of a good band is an added incentive. The last trip to Milan for the FIM Fiera Internazionale della Musica was primarily about getting to see Anekdoten, something of a coup for the Black Widow Records-organised Prog On evening, with a support slot from La Fabbrica dell’Assoluto whose excellent 1984: L’Ultimo Uomo d’Europa was added to my record collection earlier this year. I’d also been informed that the third band on the bill, Hollowscene, was another amazing symphonic prog band well worth looking out for.


Originally a duo called Banaau formed in 1990 by guitar player Andrea Massimo and keyboard player Lino Cicala, they recruited drummer Davide Quacquarella and bassist player Dino Pantaleo to perform long-form suites inspired by T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men and The Love Story of J Alfred Prufrock and Edgar Allan Poe’s The Conqueror Worm, but didn’t spend any time recording the material. There was a hiatus following the departures of Quacquarella and Pantaleo lasting from the early 90s until 2011 when the pair met again and agreed to continue working on songs written by Massimo during that almost 20 year gap. In 2015 they officially re-emerged as a septet, augmented by Andrea Zani on keyboards, Elton Novara on guitar, Tony Alemanno on bass guitar and bass pedals, Matteo Paparazzo on drums and Demetra Fogazza playing flute and adding vocals, and released a highly-acclaimed 20 minute-long EP The Burial inspired by The Burial of the Dead, the first of five sections of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922).


For their first full-length album, Massimo and Cicala changed the band name to Hollowscene and replaced Novara with guitarist Walter Kesten. The new moniker recalls T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men but is also a play on the current geological era, the Holocene, and could even allude to the general state of music, a hollow scene. Once again, this features a lengthy concept, a five-part suite Broken Coriolanus and the album also includes a reworked version of The Worm, one of their original compositions, plus a cover version of The Moon is Down, a 1971 Gentle Giant song taken from Acquiring the Taste.


‘Broken Coriolanus’ is another T.S. Eliot reference, appearing in line 215 of The Waste Land:


Only at nightfall, aethereal rumours

Revive for a moment a broken Coriolanus


This itself is a reference to Shakespeare’s tragedy Coriolanus, based on the life of the legendary Roman general Caius Marcius Coriolanus who, following military success against uprisings challenging the government of Rome becomes active in politics. A proud, rude but genuine character whose nature, according to Menenius in the play


...is too noble for the world:

He would not flatter Neptune for his trident,

Or Jove for’s power to thunder. His heart’s his mouth:

What his breast forges, that his tongue must vent


Such a temperament made him unsuited to popular leadership and he is quickly deposed but, being true, he sets about trying to right wrongs in his own way and is forced to choose between his pride and his love for his family, ultimately bringing about his sad death.


Through no fault of theirs, Hollowscene’s performance in Milan was disrupted by a change to the published running order and a shortage of time during the soundcheck. I was expecting them to be the second act to play, following Prowlers, allowing them plenty of time to complete the entire Broken Coriolanus suite but they were actually the first band on stage which meant I missed their first track. What I did hear soon dispelled any disappointment because it was first-class symphonic prog that reminded me alternately of Tony Bank’s keyboard work for Genesis and, perhaps because of the double keyboards, occasional jazz phrasing of the guitar and the flute, National Health circa 1978. When they were rather hastily removed from the stage without completing their full scheduled set, presumably to keep the evening running to time, many of the audience were rather disbelieving; I’d just have to wait to get to hear the album.


I picked up a copy of the CD at the gig and the moment you click play it’s obvious that this is a very fine piece of rock progressivo Italiano. First track Welcome to Rome is simultaneously modern-sounding and a classic progressive rock piece. It begins with a fairly brief sinuous synthesizer and guitar line in an uncompromising time signature and gives way to a military rhythm which is very fitting with the theme, just before the vocals begin over harmonic flute lines. You get the immediate impression that it’s an uplifting (welcoming!) song, aided by fluent synth parts, yet there’s a rhythmical complexity underlying the entire piece. All the singing on the album is in well-delivered English. Massimo has a good voice that suits the story-telling requirements of the music; he’s not over-flashy and confines himself to a fairly narrow range, but he sings with a studied confidence. The group have a full, well-balanced sound, both live and on disc, and it’s clear that Genesis, Steve Hackett and Banks in particular, are a major influence.

A Brave Fellow follows in much the same vein; highly melodic, again with the same clean lead guitar which gives way to some excellent synth. A flute passage gives way to emotive piano and vocals, with constantly changing instrumentation and sounds. When the second set of vocals finish, they’re followed by an eerie synth with a staccato rhythm, replaced by organ that harks back to classic 70’s progressivo Italiano; slightly threatening, building gradually towards the denouement.

Traitor is played with a slightly increased tempo. It’s a predominantly vocal piece punctuated by relatively short but tasteful guitar breaks, the second, soaring, more lengthy than the first. That’s not to say there isn’t a great deal going on underneath the singing; there are busy keyboard parts, some strong melodic flute and the contrast of a short burst of more breathy flute.

Slippery Turns is more sedate than the previous track, beginning with more of the emotive piano and vocals before being joined by flute. It departs from the expected with a passage in Japanese from Atsumori, a classical musical drama by Zeami Motokiyo who lived from around the late 14th century to the mid 15th century, narrated by Takehiro Ueki:


Human life lasts only 50 years, Contrast human life with life of Geten, It is but a very dream and illusion. Once they are given life from god, there is no such thing don't perish


Atsumori was a 16 year-old killed in the battle of Ichi-no-Tani in 1184 who is said to have carried a flute into battle, evidence of his peaceful, courtly nature as well as his youthfulness and naïveté. Eliot is believed to have invoked Coriolanus for The Waste Land as an allusion to death in battle.

The tone on the Japanese-spoken section is solemn but gives way to one of Hollowscene’s trademark guitar breaks. Massimo speaks the last section over another staccato rhythm that reminds me of Watcher of the Skies, without the Mellotron, but with some bright synth.

Rage and Sorrow is a mini-epic and, at a little over 13 minutes, the longest track on the CD. The development of the composition takes in the full range of keyboard sounds you’d associate with prog and there’s a really good balance between vocal and instrumental passages. Fogazza takes on shared lead vocal duties at the beginning of the piece, which I thought were reminiscent of Amanda Parsons singing on National Health; a strong, clear, unaffected voice.

A truly dynamic conclusion to the concept, one of the sections that most transports me is an emotive 12 string guitar accompanied by highly melodic flute akin to the classic Genesis sound on Foxtrot or Selling England by the Pound but throughout the track the twin guitars really work well, with nice angular riffs providing a framework for the vocal melody lines.


The Worm commences with an extended passage of gorgeous early Crimson-like flute, floating above picked guitar chords and keyboard washes which I think represents the best of progressive rock. The keyboard line which is introduced prior to the vocals is closer to neo-prog, perhaps reflecting the era in which the song was originally written, demonstrating that Hollowscene aren’t simply attempting to recreate a 70’s vibe but selecting suitable references to make some outstanding modern symphonic prog. The song undergoes a number of tempo changes, injecting a sense of urgency with the use of triplets and even gets quite dark.

Gentle Giant’s The Moon is Down is relatively sparse, containing brief flashes of texture, with phased clarinet, sax and multi-tracked vocals and a relatively urgent instrumental middle section which could be seen as a template for the GG medieval sound; Hollowscene stamp their own form on the song with different instrumentation, beginning the piece with piano and flute but using fuzzed guitar behind the vocals, adding lead synthesizer to their middle section. It’s a nice nod to one of the classic 70s progressive rock bands.



The band have used the same cover image for the Burial EP and Hollowscene, taken by acknowledged master photographer Ernesto Fantozzi in 1961. The photo appears to be a view towards the Via Biscegli in Milan from the west or south west where the frozen ground fits the imagery of Eliot’s opening lines for The Waste Land. This attention to detail reflects the care in which the album has been put together. It’s altogether a really satisfying and very fine piece of work.


Hollowscene by Hollowscene is available on Black Widow Records BWR207









By ProgBlog, May 29 2018 06:10PM

One of my Record Store Day 2018 purchases, that is one of the limited editions specially produced for the occasion rather than one of the albums I happened to buy as I wandered through the stalls set out in Cremona’s Corso Campi on the day itself, was a 40th anniversary edition of UK by UK. My original vinyl pressing of this album is in perfectly good condition and I think it’s a well produced record but I was seduced by the promise of the booklet and intrigued by the idea of an Eddie Jobson re-mastering; I’ve not listened to the original LP for some time so I can’t be certain but I think the individual instruments are more discernible on the new release – it has a nice clarity.



Eight years on from the birth of progressive rock in the form of In the Court of the Crimson King, the genre was getting a little tired and large numbers of the record-buying public were getting tired of prog. Not helped by self-imposed exile from the UK for tax reasons but surely driven by creative burn-out to a great extent, the hiatus between studio albums meant that the three really big players in the field slipped out of the music paper headlines and created a void to be exploited and filled by the standard-bearers for Punk, claiming that the excesses of prog indicated how out-of-touch these bands were.

It wasn’t enough to simply release a ‘best of’ (though Yesterdays, released in 1975 was really my introduction to the first two Yes albums and something I still like.) Following the completion of the British leg of the Relayer tour in May 1975, bar an appearance at the Reading Festival in August that year, there wasn’t another UK appearance by the band until October 1977, though all five members of the group issued a solo album. ELP might be perceived as being the worst offenders, not playing on UK soil for 18 years after their 1st May 1974 show in Liverpool and though they performed in Europe and the USA later in 1974, they were absent from the stage between 21st August 1974 and 24th May 1977 with only a Christmas single (I Believe in Father Christmas, Greg Lake, 1975) and a near-novelty single (Honky Tonk Train Blues, Keith Emerson, 1976) to satisfy their fans. Pink Floyd seemed to have managed fans’ expectations quite well, despite the length of time taken between The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here, then Wish You Were Here and Animals and the lack of live dates, especially in the UK. Between 14th December 1974 and the first Wall show in Los Angeles on February 7th 1980, they undertook a three month long North America tour and then played Knebworth in July 1975, toured Animals around Europe including the UK with dates in London and Stafford and North America between January and July 1977. Two of the members also produced solo albums, David Gilmour and Rick Wright’s Wet Dream.


For my part, I was less satisfied with ELP’s Works Volume 1 and Pink Floyd’s Animals than I had been with their preceding records; Yes’ Going for the One was a radical departure from Relayer but I thought it was still high quality, with Awaken high up in the list of all-time great prog tracks. In the case of the former and the latter, I wasn’t over-impressed with the keyboard tones from the Yamaha GX-1 and Polymoog respectively; Animals featured far less keyboards than Wish You Were Here so that I hesitate to call it progressive rock. By 1977, other acts like Camel, Caravan and Gentle Giant had stopped writing epics and both Caravan and Gentle Giant had begun to lose their appeal to core fans; Focus seemed to have disbanded, having released an uneven album of studio scraps the previous year; and Genesis may have released Seconds Out but this coincided with the departure of Steve Hackett. I thought that the future belonged to jazz rock and bought my first Isotope LP.


Looking back, 1978 started on an exceptionally good note with the release of Bill Bruford’s first LP as a band leader Feels Good to Me and the eponymous debut from National Health, both records being examples of jazz sensibilities mixed with prog leanings which resulted in complex, melodious albums. I think Feels Good to Me has a more experimental feel, thanks to Annette Peacock’s vocals and using flugelhorn in a (broadly) rock context; National Health is more intricate and, in the tradition of the band’s forerunner Hatfield and the North, didn’t take itself too seriously.


A good way to start 1978 - National Health
A good way to start 1978 - National Health

Then came UK.

Following the demise of the trio version of King Crimson in 1974 which took Robert Fripp away from music for a couple of years, Bill Bruford and John Wetton continued their musical education by rotating through a number of different bands. I thought Bruford’s involvement with Gong and National Health were interesting and it was definitely quite pleasing to find him sharing a drum stool with Phil Collins for Genesis’ Trick of the Tail tour, as he appeared to be helping out all the right bands. Wetton’s move to Roxy Music and then Uriah Heep impinged less on my consciousness; I was never really interested in post-Siren Roxy and thought Uriah Heep’s music unadventurous. However, his touring arrangement with Roxy started before King Crimson officially ceased to exist . It was meant to be a temporary measure before Crimson was due to recommence touring, and served to introduce him to Eddie Jobson. The proposed 1977 collaboration between Wetton, Bruford and Rick Wakeman could have been amazing but its failure to get off the ground ultimately resulted in the formation of what was hailed as a ‘supergroup’: UK. Their eponymous debut is a slick progressive rock album with jazz rock styling thanks to Bruford and Holdsworth but the modern sound, courtesy of Jobson, made it seem quite different from long-standing progressive acts and newer groups from that time, like symphonic prog band England; the three-part In the Dead of Night is an indisputable prog classic though it’s only now that I’ve got the 40th anniversary edition, complete with lyrics, that I can distinguish the words. The song writing was mature, involving all the group members, leading to a truly coherent effort where equal weight was afforded to each individual and it’s my belief that this equality, the fluid guitar lines from Holdsworth, the power and precision of the rhythm section along with Jobson’s virtuosity on keyboards and violin, adding a contemporary feel but with a past tied to the early progressive era, that made the record stand out as something with significance for the whole genre, like a new In the Court of the Crimson King.




Jethro Tull’s Heavy Horses was also released in April 1978 and I really like this second offering in the prog-folk trio of albums, with an enhanced palette thanks to the guest violin of Darryl Way, though there was a distinct sense of continuity from Songs from the Wood rather than being something that stood out as unique. My copy of the LP, bought in Barrow, was a swap for King Crimson’s Earthbound which I had just bought but thought was disappointing. Thanks to the staff in Blackshaw’s for sanctioning the exchange.

Steve Hackett released his second solo album Please Don’t Touch which was quite different to 1975’s Voyage of the Acolyte, an album I rate higher than any post-Gabriel Genesis. I found it a bit of a mixed bunch and it’s that lack of consistency that marks it down – it’s not really UK progressive rock. Meanwhile, Hackett’s erstwhile bandmates released the decidedly thin end of the wedge ...And then there were Three... I first got a copy of Please Don’t Touch on cassette in 1981 or 1982 so I could also compare it to the excellent Spectral Mornings (1979); And then there were Three was acquired by a friend shortly after its release and I gave it a couple of listens before giving it the thumbs down. The seeds sown by the second-rate Your Own Special Way in 1976 were bearing a bitter fruit – Genesis could no longer be classed as a progressive rock band. Hackett’s other former colleague Peter Gabriel released the second of his self-titled albums which I don’t think can be called prog, either, though that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. Rather, it was an example of what we might today call post-rock, very much a successor of the first Gabriel solo album. If prog was to wither away, this would provide a reasonable alternative; the highlight has to be Exposure.

Van der Graaf Generator shed an organist, a saxophonist and the ‘Generator’ for 1977’s The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome, becoming more urgent sounding and, despite the excellent lyrics, more basic; it could even have been classed as prog-punk for sheer attitude. Bolstered with an appearance from David Jackson and with Charles Dickie on cello and synth, the group bade farewell (until the 2005 reunion) with a live album Vital. My brother went to see them in Leeds during that tour but it wasn’t until the reformation that I could really appreciate the intensity of the group. When I first saw Hammill performing solo in 1984 it was full-on but in a band context, it was off the scale.

Camel managed to keep one foot firmly in the prog idiom with Echoes and The Sleeper from their ’78 album Breathless but however good the melodies on the other tracks and the bright production, the relative brevity of most tunes makes it seem almost pop-prog descending into funk on Summer Lightning and outright silliness on Down on the Farm. This was another album bought by a friend at the time of its release but I don’t remember listening to it very often; I think we anticipated Peter Bardens’ departure because there appeared to be a tension between chief song-writers Bardens and Latimer, fuelled by an interfering record label, as they moved away from the early, classic Camel sound.

The cracks had not yet appeared in Yes but the cover of Tormato was a hint that all was not well. I bought the album on the day of its release, shortly before heading off to university armed with what I would discover was the best hi-fi in my hall of residence. I also managed to get to see them for the first time that October, in the round at Wembley Arena on the Tormato tour. The album contains some great ideas but the heavy-handed production detracts from the quality of the writing and the lack of a over-arching concept makes it appear devoid of a distinct identity. Taken on its own it doesn’t indicate the end of the golden era of progressive rock but it did suggest that Yes needed to rethink their future plans. The end of progressive rock was most starkly illustrated by Emerson Lake and Palmer with Love Beach. If the image on Tormato was a poor excuse for an album sleeve, the band photo on Love Beach was the antithesis of prog and that, more than anything else, meant I avoided the album until last year, and I only bought it then because it was cheap and I was filling a gap in my record collection. Even taking the best moments of Memoirs of an Officer and a Gentleman into account, it’s a really poor affair, succinctly exposing the true meaning of ‘contractual obligation’.


1978 ended with another National Health album, with a subtly different line-up to the debut but equally as good and, if anything, even more adventurous: Of Queues and Cures. National Health may get lumped in with the rest of prog but though the music conformed to many of the prog traits, the ease with which a substantial number of the musicians fitted into the British jazz and avant-garde scenes made them stand apart. Prog had withered without anyone to grasp the possibilities revealed by UK, whose 1979 follow-up Danger Money was a bit schizophrenic; reduced to a trio the material was a mixture of first-class retro-prog and verse-chorus-verse-chorus FM-friendly tunes played by progressive rock musicians.


The golden era of progressive rock was over.









By ProgBlog, Mar 6 2018 03:20PM

The Instagram and Twitter trend ‘9 albums that changed my life/mean most to me’ (#9albums) that appeared in January didn’t pass me by but its appearance on various social media platforms made me somewhat wary; as a piece of social investigation it’s an interesting topic but when internet monopolies get involved it becomes a little more sinister. I can’t be the only person in the world to get annoyed by adverts, including smart adverts, driven by clicks on Google, Facebook and Amazon. I want to make my own choices and, just because a large proportion of Yes fans might like Rush, it doesn’t mean that I do, or want to. Put another way, I’m not a lemming or a sheep and I know what I like (in my wardrobe). Why nine albums? Is it because it forms a neat 3x3 square for an Instagram photo or does the Instagram generation have an average of nine significant events in their lives? How should we define significant?


There were appearances of this question in January 2016 and 2017 but there’s evidence that the trend goes back to at least 2013. I suggest that it fits in with the New Year resolution phenomenon; a reflection on your life but one that doesn’t necessarily require any form of reappraisal or change. It’s all part of the challenge!

There don't appear to be any specific rules so I’ve arranged my nine choices chronologically by date of impact on my life. I got into prog fairly early so the chronology also fits roughly, but not exactly with the release date of the albums.


These are my personal choices:



Close to the Edge (1972) – Yes

It wouldn’t be fair to include the debut Roxy Music album, released three months prior to Close to the Edge, although Roxy were the first band to pique my interest in rock music when they appeared on BBC TV’s Top of the Pops playing Virginia Plain, because I only ever heard that single from the album. In September 1972 Close to the Edge was unlike anything I’d ever heard before and remains, in my opinion, the definitive progressive rock album and as close to musical perfection as you can get. It’s the reason I got into prog.



The Dark Side of the Moon (1973) – Pink Floyd

Likely to appear in a large number of the lists compiled across the world but this was the first new Floyd album to appear after I’d set out down the road of progressive rock. Before its release I’d borrowed a couple of bootlegs from a school friend and bought Relics but this seemed like a massive leap forward. I was hooked by the whole package; not just the music and the way the whole album linked together but the stickers and posters and the prism and pyramid imagery (I studied physics at school.) I was even impressed by Roger Waters’ lyrics which came in for some criticism in the music press.



Focus 3 (1972) – Focus

I was given a small transistor radio as a present for Christmas 1972 and one of the things that always seemed to be on Radio Luxemburg around 10pm was Sylvia, released as a single by Focus in January 1973. Focus 3 was circulated amongst friends of my brother and I was struck by the flute and what I felt was a distinct branch of highly melodic prog, to which I’d later add Camel and Steve Hackett’s earlier solo works.



Birds of Fire (1973) – Mahavishnu Orchestra

Jazz was the predominate musical form in our household even after my brother and I began to buy our own records, so the fusion of jazz and rock was something quite easy to get into, having been introduced on rock radio. The fluency and attack of the guitar, drumming like I’d never heard before and the interplay between guitar, keyboards and violin was just amazing; I bought the album in 1975 and it became key to opening up the extraordinary world of jazz rock where melody was sometimes sacrificed for proficiency: Isotope, Brand X, Weather Report, Return to Forever and even mid-70s Soft Machine.




Starless and Bible Black (1974) – King Crimson

This was the first Crimson album in our household and I still regard it as a mixed bag which goes relatively unnoticed between the groundbreaking Larks’ Tongues in Aspic and the influential Red. I find the first side of the original LP slightly unfulfilling despite the strength of Lament and The Night Watch; side two is brilliant and demonstrates the power of the group and a sublime mastery of tension and release. This obviously kick-started a life-long fascination with King Crimson but the cover inspired me to seek out Tom Phillips’ work at the Tate when I first arrived in London and more than that, I became such a great fan of John Wetton’s bass playing that I bought myself a bass guitar on my 18th birthday.



Rubycon (1975) – Tangerine Dream

This was my introduction to electronica. One of my rules for discovering and enjoying new music was the presence of keyboards, so Tangerine Dream had something of an advantage! I bought Rubycon shortly after its release having heard and been intrigued by Phaedra in 1974 and sold on the suggestion that they were influenced by Pink Floyd. I loved the single composition format over the two sides of the LP (Rubycon part 1, Rubycon part 2) which seemed to be a Virgin Records thing, but it was the amorphous other-worldly nature of the music, transporting you somewhere alien but largely benevolent which most attracted. I still maintain it’s the best record to listen to through headphones in the dark.



Cook (1974) – Premiata Forneria Marconi

Cook has probably had the most profound effect on my life after Close to the Edge and is responsible for my appreciation of Rock Progressivo Italiano. I can’t remember exactly how PFM came across our radar but I must have seen their performance on The Old Grey Whistle Test and Alan Freeman must have played them on his Saturday afternoon radio show. Cook was the first of their records that I bought but we were also listening to Photos of Ghosts, Chocolate Kings and Jet Lag, blown away by the musicianship and intrigued by the Italian take on prog.




UK (1978) – UK

As brilliant as this album is, it’s disappointing because it marks the end of the first era of progressive rock. At the time it seemed like it marked a new beginning, a strong album with excellent tunes and great playing and incorporating, through Allan Holdsworth and Bill Bruford, a jazz rock sensibility. Following the demise of King Crimson, it seemed like the formidable rhythm section which drove Crimson from 1973 – 1974 had, after some wandering that added to their musical educational, found an ideal home. Of the other ostensibly prog releases that followed, only National Health produced music of a quality that could match anything from the golden age of progressive rock. Genesis were down to three members and consciously going pop; Camel, directed by their record company, had given up on epics; Yes seemed bereft of a coherent concept and put out the patchy Tormato, where poly-Moog drenches everything apart from flanged bass, and ELP produced Love Beach.


Lux Ade (2006) – La Maschera di Cera

By 2005 I had begun to fully appreciate the breadth of output from Italian prog bands operating during the golden period of progressive rock, despite rarely featuring in the UK music press at that time. 2005 was the first year of an almost unbroken series of annual pilgrimages to Italy and the first where I consciously sought out record stores in an attempt to build up a collection of classic Italian prog. Fast forward to 2008 and it was only by chance that I came across a copy of Lux Ade in Beano’s second hand record store in Croydon and, tempted by the obvious 70’s keyboard set up, production courtesy of PFM’s Franz di Cioccio, plus the fact I had a 50% discount as a ‘member’ of Beano’s, that I handed over £5 to complete the best ever speculative buy I’ve ever made. This CD opened up the Italian progressive rock scene that re-emerged in the mid 90s to me and, in a parallel to hearing Close to the Edge, the first rock album I’d ever listened to, I think that Lux Ade is the best of the current wave of Rock Progressivo Italiano albums.



I found it relatively easy to come up with the bands that made up my nine but I originally chose Moving Waves instead of Focus 3 and Red instead of Starless. I seem to recall hearing The Inner Mounting Flame before Birds of Fire, but I didn’t own the first Mahavishnu album for some time and I actually most like Between Nothingness and Eternity (which I also bought in 1975.) It seems a shame to miss out some of my favourite albums but that’s not the point of the exercise; I tried to choose titles which had the most meaning and my taste tended to expand organically, with an appreciation for The Nice opening up ELP and then Refugee. It’s not unfair to say that my predilection for music hasn’t really changed at all in the 35 years I’ve been buying records, and that includes life-affirmative events like getting married and becoming a father. My wife went through the exercise and almost instantly came up with a fairly eclectic mix that seems to have more to do with life events than mine but also reflects a constant evolution, partly spurred by the discovery of music through Shazam: Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits, Let’s Get it On by Marvin Gaye, Bat out of Hell by Meat Loaf, Vienna by Ultravox, Private Eyes by Hall and Oates, Dare by The Human League, Chris Rea’s self-titled fourth album, True by Spandau Ballet and ending up with Truth Came Running, the first album by Australian singer-songwriter Mark Wilkinson, bought from the man himself as he was busking in Sydney in 2012.


I thought it might be interesting to ask a group of close friends and relatives, all with an interest in prog that was nurtured in the golden age, to come up with their nine albums. I grew up with almost all of them and most are regular gig companions; there’s no evidence that they’ve taken part in the challenge before and I didn’t stipulate that they must choose progressive rock releases. This is certainly not hard science but I thought it would be interesting to note their route into music and any divergence from core prog. Their responses, and an attempt at some analysis, will be published in the next blog...



By ProgBlog, Jul 11 2017 10:42PM

I’ve just ripped a rather large pile of my wife’s CDs to mp3 for her, nothing that remotely interests me but which does indicate the breadth of her musical tastes, according to categories ascribed by Windows Media Player: Soul and R&B; folk; electronica (not the sort that I like); country; pop; world. The selection generally dated from within the last five years and I noticed that most of the albums play for around 45 minutes with an average track length of a little over four minutes within a range of sub-three minutes to just over five. This near-standardised format would suit a release on 12” LP and though quite a few of these recent additions to her collection were originally released before the current vinyl revolution, at least one has been re-released in audiophile format and two, by the same artist, have ridden the recent vinyl wave with the one of them allegedly becoming the fastest selling LP for 20 years.



It’s well documented how progressive rock bands found the standard three minute single something of a constraint and it’s equally uncontroversial to suggest that in the late 70s, as the golden era was drawing to a close with very few exceptions, bands who were obliged to attempt to write a hit single by their label produced failures; prog relied on album sales and was a spectacular success in doing so. It’s hard enough to put together a winning formula for a hit single without attempting to include some form of coherent story or message and most of the singles in the 70s were aimed at a particular demographic, the adolescent in the early 70s and then when punk came along, older teenagers. On a sociological level this was to do with burgeoning self-awareness and searching for inclusivity; call me dumb but the tribe I ascribed to had long hair, wore flairs and suede desert boots and carried albums to and from school under our arms, as if to show the world how deep and interesting we were.


I’m not going to comment on the provenance of some, undeniably successful singles from prog-associated artists such as Greg Lake or the 1980s version of Yes and equally, I’m not thinking of edits of album tracks cut-down to favour air play but, in my opinion, the only genuine full-on hit progressive rock song of single length is Wonderous Stories by Yes which entered the UK Singles Chart at number 31 in mid-September 1977. Over the next four weeks climbed to its peak, reaching number 7 for the week of 8 October and it remained in the chart for the next five weeks. A favourite with fans and band members alike, the track somehow condenses epic Yes into 3’45, possibly because the song structure, built around a classical framework, incorporates signature features such as the harmony vocals and an uplifting vibe. It’s unclear to me how many new fans they attracted, especially in an era of punk. I didn’t buy the single in either of its formats because I owned the album but I imagine a fair number of pre-existing fans bought the special edition picture-sleeve 12” version in blue vinyl.




So what is the ideal track length, and what is the perfect album duration? As someone who began listening to music when the vinyl LP was the dominant format, I’m used to and therefore favour an album of 35 – 45 minutes of music. There are plenty of shorter length albums such as Electric Prunes’ Mass in F minor which, at 26 minutes, must be one of the shortest LPs ever, Rick Wakeman’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII (just over 36 minutes), and many of the 70s progressivo Italiano releases. At the other end of the scale, Genesis had a bit of a reputation for eking out every square millimetre of the record surface with Foxtrot lasting over 51 minutes, Selling England by the Pound at over 53 minutes, Trick of the Tail at 51 minutes and Wind and Wuthering just shy of 51 minutes; [the non-prog] Duke was over 55 minutes. Progressive rock is known for its utilisation of full dynamics and the more music included on an LP means less space between grooves and a reduced dynamic range, plus the increased likelihood of damage from a worn stylus and though my Genesis records play well, the side-long title track on Autumn Grass by Continuum which lasts over 26 minutes, has reproduction problems on my current set-up, my former set-up and on the system in the shop I used to check the quality of the (second-hand) disc.

I’m very much in favour of side-long tracks and most of my favourite groups have committed one side of an album to a single piece of music; all of them have indulged in long-form, which I consider to be one of the defining qualities of prog. From the ultimate progressive rock album Close to the Edge to each of the four sides of Tales from Topographic Oceans and Gates of Delirium; Atom Heart Mother and Echoes to Eruption and Hamburger Concerto; Tarkus to A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers; Music Inspired by The Snow Goose to Nine Feet Underground; Supper’s Ready (Horizons is the prelude) to Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play; Lizard to Mumps; Rubycon to Tubular Bells; Trace’s Birds to The Mahavishnu Orchestra’s Dream, there are also other brilliant almost side-long tracks like Grand Canyon Suite and Credo on the only studio album by Refugee.




It’s not that I don’t like sub-five minute tracks but I just don’t think they represent the best a band can do. Anything around 10 minutes or over should give sufficient scope for development of ideas to transport the listener on a journey through the composition; there ought to be sufficient time to employ a variety of rhythmic devices, changes in amplitude and different instruments or instrumental voices.

The CD format opened up a whole new world of possibilities and prog supergroup Transatlantic managed to fill an album with a single piece of music, The Whirlwind, lasting 77 minutes. This may be an exception but the temptation to fill the available time on a CD, whether with a single track or a series of shorter tracks, is ever-present. Where should we stop? My brother Richard has specifically commented on Nad Sylvan’s 2015 solo album Courting the Widow, suggesting that as much as he likes the compositions, he finds it hard to reach the end of the album (it lasts just over 70 minutes.) I think Richard’s observation applies far more generally and that there’s no real requirement to release something over 50 minutes long. Before the 90s King Crimson came along I’ve held ‘Crimson days’ where I played all original (vinyl) releases one after the other; I’ve done the same for Yes and Pink Floyd but unless you have the time to dedicate to listening to music, there’s no point. I’m someone who believes in the importance of the album as a complete entity and that the running order described by the artist is sacrosanct yet I’m unsure if it’s the lives we lead (wake/commute/work/commute/eat/sleep/repeat) which is restricting our ability to fully connect with music or if the length of a CD album itself that we find hard to assimilate in a single sitting. Is this a generational thing affecting those of us who grew up happy to turn over an LP on the platter or is it a Page family thing? Yes magnum opus Tales from Topographic Oceans was derided for its length (amongst other things) and attracted criticism for passages regarded as ‘filler’, so would it have benefitted from a CD format, if that had been available in 1973, allowing it to be produced as a 60 minute-long piece of work? I like to think that the natural breaks afforded by changing sides and changing discs provide enough break to allow us to enjoy the full 80 minutes. Then again, as much as I enjoy Anderson/Stolt’s Invention of Knowledge which lasts around 65 minutes, I find it difficult to listen to from beginning to end on vinyl or in digital format; perhaps familiarity plays a large part and it’s not just the length of the album. I no longer have the time I once had to sit down and properly listen.




In fact there’s no perfect length of either a single track or of an album. The physical restraints of the 12” LP which allowed up to 27 minutes of music each side, has the capacity to hold music which can have any number of twists and turns, whether they’re presented as one piece or as a series of tracks. It’s not the length that counts – it’s the quality of the music itself.


fb The blogs twitter logo HRH Prog 4 Line Up (F+B) Keith Emerson at the Barbican My Own Time