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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, Jan 8 2017 06:52PM

The Christmas and New Year bank holidays fell on days which allowed extended weekends and, in order to address some of the inevitable excess that occurred despite the reduced volumes of food and drink that were brought into the house, both weekends featured a cultural excursion into central London.

One of these was a trip to the new Design Museum, housed in the former Commonwealth Institute just off High Street Kensington, an edifice described by English Heritage as the second most important modern building in London after the Royal Festival Hall, which underwent an impressive refit to house the new exhibition spaces. I’d visited the building before, during the period of its former function, to receive a Wedgewood plate from the National Blood (Transfusion) Service for donating 100 units of blood, plasma and platelets and even in 1985, before I displayed any interest in architecture, I thought it was a remarkable building. The free, permanent display at the museum deserves more space and only scratches the surface of ‘design’. However, it still managed to mention album artwork and house a display of turntables. Perhaps they’re thinking of a temporary special exhibition of album artwork...


Interior of The Design Museum
Interior of The Design Museum

The other trip was to the Abstract Expressionism show at the Royal Academy of Arts (a far less attractive building, despite the Palladian influence on its design). The phrase ‘Abstract Expressionism’ was coined by critic Robert Coates in 1946 to describe a new phenomenon in American art associated with a generation of artists all working in the US but with diverse backgrounds: New York; the heartlands of the US; the West; European émigrés. I was interested in attending because I quite like the work of Jackson Pollock, one of the featured artists, having seen his work in the Guggenheim in Venice. It could be argued that without Peggy Guggenheim’s patronage there wouldn’t have been a Abstract Expressionist movement. Another reason I like Pollock is because I associate his artwork with progressive rock; though the art and prog movements took place in different decades, the room I most associate with listening to early progressive rock had a piece of my father’s artwork on the wall, a drip painting in white, yellow and red after Pollock and I seem to recall him with a board (in lieu of canvas) in the back garden of our first house wheeling his bicycle over a similar composition and this process of construction, as well as the complexity of finished piece, held a deep fascination.


The Royal Academy of Arts - Abstract Expressionism
The Royal Academy of Arts - Abstract Expressionism

The extended break still ended too early, even with a reduced working week but it was nevertheless good to consign 2016 to the dustbin of history. Domestic and global politics took a downturn just when we were thinking it couldn’t get worse, amplifying divisions and, for the first time in a long, long time, bigotry and hate speech seemed to have become legitimised. Apart from the power-play where more than one multi-millionaire labelled all journalists as elitist, 2016 did have what appeared to be more than the average number of deaths of famous musicians and this had a quite extraordinary impact on the feelings of those who had grown up with this music. I don’t particularly like David Bowie’s music but I understand that millions and millions of people all around the world did have some form of connection with Bowie, and Prince, Leonard Cohen and George Michael. I was personally more affected by the deaths of Keith Emerson and Greg Lake, two of the first rock musicians I’d ever heard but apart from reporting on their contribution to progressive rock in celebration of their careers, I remained relatively unmoved. I don’t mean any of this in a disrespectful way and if anyone, from any background, is able to positively influence someone in some way; give them some kind of meaning or put into words what they’ve not been able to express themselves, that’s not to be scoffed at. I’m approaching this from a rationalist standpoint; both Bowie and Lake had cancer and, at 69 years of age, had lived a full life which had reached a natural limit within statistical ranges. I reject the government argument that pensionable age should be raised because we’re all dying older because plainly that is not true. It might be the case that age at death has increased for some but, especially in areas of greater deprivation and reduced life-chances, longevity lags behind. A 2015 study from the King’s Fund Inequalities and life expectancy Changes over time and implications for policy by David Buck and David Maguire may have shown the relationship between income deprivation and life expectancy got weaker over the period between 1999 and 2010 but other factors, including employment, housing deprivation and some lifestyle factors go some way to explain differences in life expectancy between areas during the latter part of the study period, and that low employment, housing deprivation and smoking are among the factors that distinguish areas with persistently low life expectancy over time. The argument to raise the age of the state pension and to make changes to public sector pensions in 2011 which caused widespread public anger was part of a plan to make public sector jobs open to private business. It might be more economically sound to allow workers to retire to create decent, full-time jobs for school leavers and graduates who had been hard-wired to believe in home ownership but we’re going to find many of the workers in caring professions, who generally are not well paid, being ground down until they are incapable of working or dying before they can take their pensions.


NHS strike action
NHS strike action

I stood on picket lines and argued that even in the long-term, the NHS pension pot easily paid for itself as long as staff continued to be recruited into the scheme. I pointed out that the proposed legislation was because the cost of similar pension benefits was prohibitive to private healthcare providers, with plenty of friends in government, wanting to move into the UK; that pension reform and privatisation were inextricably linked and austerity was being used as a rationale to deliver cost-cutting and the decimation of the Health Service. Over the next year I witnessed the sale of NHS departments to private firms; soft targets going to DHL, Serco and Sainsbury, removing staff from hospital payroll and immediately cutting upfront costs. The damage to the NHS, alarmingly labelled a ‘humanitarian crisis’ by the Red Cross last week, includes no money for training, de-skilling, understaffing, endemic low-morale and stress-related sickness absence; throw in stories of European workers being told to prepare to leave the UK and it’s evident that there’s a catastrophe waiting to happen. Perhaps someone is waiting for the private sector to gallop in on a white charger...

I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a cultural thing particularly pertinent to current times, where not only access to music and film has been made easier, our ability to comment on and interact with others who feel the same, or the polar opposite, is part of the everyday landscape. I used to abuse the letters page of Barrow’s North Western Evening Mail with made-up opinions and made-up names in an attempt to lampoon parochial concerns (read: dog mess) but this ruse took a good deal of time and effort; I had to write the letter by hand, post the letter using Royal Mail and wait to see if the terribly elite editorial board would publish. If only Twitter and Facebook messages took two days, an editorial review and the equivalent of postage before they could be displayed. I’m not only guilty of mistreating the entire Evening Mail readership with letters and my poetry, I’m also in the business of spouting opinion on social media. That my ProgBlog somehow got mixed up with a Canadian political site of the same name may be of concern, but it earned a spot as the 24th most liberal blog detected by the Feedspot blog.

Meanwhile, at the back end of 2016, I was given a copy of the Greg Lake Live DVD for Christmas, a concert recorded in Stevenage in November 2005, less than a week before I went to see his performance in Croydon and dutifully watched it at the earliest opportunity. I recall enjoying the concert apart from a blues number which I refused to applaud because it was dire. This was Love You Too Much and I believe is evidence that Lake’s genuine creative period was over. I’m not fond of the later ELP material that’s included, either, beginning with the simplistic Paper Blood but also Farewell to Arms and Footprints in the Snow but the concert is well filmed and the band, including a young Florian Opahle on lead guitar, is really tight. Though it’s an accurate record of that tour, the bonus DVD material includes rehearsal time at Shepperton and some short interviews. One of these is with the promoter who predicts a great future for the ensemble and following the UK dates the band did play in Europe but his planned 2006 tour was cancelled.


Greg Lake Live DVD
Greg Lake Live DVD

Whereas Bowie and Prince maintained a sense of mystique and were able to reinvent themselves to remain relevant, I don’t believe that same can be said for the members of ELP, or even Yes who continue to tour, though they were giants that did at one stage rule the world of music. The relevance of the original progressive rock bands lies in their legacy, their experimentation and challenging norms. There are probably two generations who have been inspired by music that refuses to be packaged as industry standard and this innovation is what Lake and Emerson, and Chris Squire in 2015 should be remembered for.





By ProgBlog, Jan 3 2016 08:02PM

I was indoctrinated into prog rock at an early age. I can remember hearing music drifting out of the dining room when my brothers Tony and Gareth played records with their friends, so at a subliminal level the die was probably cast. I started going to piano lessons when I was junior school age, and while I can’t say I always enjoyed practicing and it certainly wasn’t cool with some of my school mates to play the piano, as I got a bit older and started playing more interesting pieces I did get more interested in music and this probably drew me further towards prog. After all, prog is probably “musicians’ music” to a certain extent. Funnily enough, my first album purchase, from WH Smiths in Lancaster, turned out to be in the (sort of) prog vein by accident. I bought Asia’s eponymous record not because of anything I really knew about the music, but because of the cover – the Roger Dean dragon really struck me. As I moved on to Parkview Comprehensive, I continued to go for piano lessons but also started to take an interest in the guitar. My sister had a classical guitar, and I started to learn from some of her tuition books – I can remember being very pleased when I was able to play Greensleeves. From that point (mid 1980s) Gareth started to make suggestions for my listening. This coincided with Barrow library starting to offer music to borrow – you could take out up to 4 vinyl albums a week in a sturdy cardboard case for a small fee – this allowed more than enough time to listen to the music and record them onto TDK C90 cassettes (I ignored the skull and cross-bones logo on the back of many LPs pronouncing “home taping is killing music”). As this was the early 80s there were still plenty of prog records in their collection. Allied to this listening I started to get interested in jazz. Dad was a keen jazz lover, with a decent size collection of Parker, Davis, MJQ, Stan Kenton, etc. records. As a consequence there was often some jazz playing around the house – or he was singing it!


For my 16th birthday I asked for an electric guitar. There was a small add in the North Western Evening Mail for a Stratocaster copy that I can remember Mum going with me to pick up for about £30. I can’t remember how long I kept this guitar, but it did give me the opportunity to try and emulate some of the guitarists I had been listening to. There are four records that influenced me most in my early excursions into electric guitar - the Camel live album Pressure Points, Greatest Hits of Focus, Horslips’ The Tain and Barney Kessel’s Swinging Party at Contemporary. I can’t remember if I bought the Camel album or if it was a present, but Andy Latimer’s melodic playing became a huge influence on me and remains so – I played that record over and over again, and though I could only play a fraction of the guitar lines at first, gradually my proficiency increased so I could play most of the album start to finish. The Greatest Hits of Focus record was one of the Fame compilations that were popular at the time and was a present from Gareth. Similar to the Camel record, I played this almost to extinction and did my best to emulate Jan Akkerman – no easy task and something I will never achieve! A less obvious choice, the Horslips record belonged to my sister Linda and somewhere along the line I “acquired” it – I’m not sure if she ever noticed it had gone as I still have it in my collection now. The adapted Irish jigs and reels and fast repetitive phrases that made up a lot of the record were good practice material. The Barney Kessel LP belonged to Dad and was my first introduction to jazz guitar. Though I didn’t really understand the jazz forms or how to improvise in a jazz context at this stage, I loved his tone and phrasing and I tried to work out some of the bluesy licks that were Kessel’s trademark.


Selection of early LPs
Selection of early LPs

By the time I went to Leeds University in 1988 I had passed on the Strat copy through another Evening Mail small add, and upgraded to a Marlin Sidewinder, purchased from R&T Music in Abbey Road. At the time (c.1987-8) the Marlin was a popular first ‘proper’ electric guitar. I remember owner Terry Turner had several in the shop, in various colours, including one in a not very appealing metallic purple that he couldn’t sell. I therefore managed to acquire it for about £100 – a £20 or £30 discount. I think it’s fair to say that the image of this guitar tended towards the metal player – it had a rudimentary locking nut, bridge tuners and floating trem – not the usual prog or jazz axe, especially in that colour!

I think the accommodation officer had put all the musicians together in my hall of residence, as the group of five that I shared with in my first year at Leeds ncluded a bass player and acoustic guitarist. I was introduced by them to some more modern Miles Davis, including Star People, which is a less well known Davis record, but one which opened my ears to the playing of Mike Stern and John Schofield. I started to work more on my jazz playing and attended the University Jazz and Blues Club, which gave me my first opportunity to play live.


Marlin Sidewinder in metallic purple - not a prog guitar
Marlin Sidewinder in metallic purple - not a prog guitar

During two summer breaks from University I worked at Glaxochem in Ulverston as a fitter’s mate and this allowed me to save up to buy a better instrument. The Marlin was again sold in a small-ad, and in 1990 I bought a Japanese Fender Stratocaster in candy-apple red. From new this was a great playing guitar and I still own it now, though I don’t think the electrics are particularly good quality – it has had three selector switches to date and the current one is broken.


PSR2 - forerunner to Ravenwing, live at the King's Arms Ulverston 10/6/15
PSR2 - forerunner to Ravenwing, live at the King's Arms Ulverston 10/6/15

Since then my musical ventures have covered various musical genres and my collection of guitars has grown, but progressive rock remains central. I currently have a band called Ravenwing that plays classic instrumental prog, mainly from the early 70s, by bands such as Camel and Focus (naturally), but also Yes, Rush, Steve Hackett, etc, and also some original material. After a short hiatus at the latter half of 2015, we hope to be out gigging soon in 2016 – come along and see us if you can!


Current guitars:

1995 Gibson ES-335

1990 Fender Stratocaster (Japan)

2003 Gibson Les Paul Studio

Takamine G-Series acoustic

Ibanez Artcore AS73

Peavey Milestone III bass



Guitars 2016
Guitars 2016
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