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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, Dec 5 2017 09:22PM

The Italian Riviera, stretching from the border with France to the west, down to through the Cinque Terre to La Spezia is a beautiful and often dramatic coast packed full of interesting places with well-preserved medieval quarters and fascinating histories. Genova is the regional capital and is close to the geographic centre; it’s also at the heart of the progressivo Italiano movement having been responsible for a good number of the original 70s acts and also, since the early 90s, producing a quite amazing crop of the current (and future) standard bearers.


Genova - San Lorenzo
Genova - San Lorenzo

Savona, west of Genova, was responsible for Delirium, one of the first Italian acts to adopt progressive traits. Originally a beat group called Sagittari, they changed their name when Ivano Fossati replaced the original vocalist in 1970 and released their favourably-regarded debut, Dolce Acqua (Sweet Water) in 1971. This turned out to be their only album with Fossati, though the televised appearance at the Sanremo pop festival (100km west of Savona along the coast) in February 1972 was responsible for the huge success of their single Jesahel where it finished sixth, which many regard as being the best-known pop song in Italy; I think it’s quite interesting that there’s a picturesque Ligurian town called Dolceacqua with an old, elegant single arch bridge and a 12th Century castle roughly 25km inland from Sanremo. Fossati was subsequently replaced with Briton Martin Grice on sax and flute and, after a disappointment with the jazz influenced prog of their second album, Lo Scemo E Il Villaggio (1972), they produced their symphonic prog masterpiece Delirium III - Viaggio Negli Arcipelaghi del Tempo in 1974 but split up following personnel changes in 1975.


Savona
Savona

I own a budget price ‘2LP in 1CD’ release of Dolce Acqua (with Jesahel as a bonus track) plus Delirium III - Viaggio Negli Arcipelaghi del Tempo, bought from Piccadilly Sound in Livorno on a day trip out from Pisa in August 2014, and managed to get to see the reformed Delirium (Martin Grice, Fabio Chigini on bass, Alessandro Corvaglia on vocals, Michele Cusato on guitar, Alfredo Vandresi on drums and original member Ettore Vigo on keyboards); the very enjoyable set contained a number of songs from the prog-folk Dolce Acqua but there was also good slices of 2015’s L’Era della Menzogna and 2009 comeback release Il Nome del Vento.


Delirium 2LP in 1CD
Delirium 2LP in 1CD

On my second trip to Savona I wandered into the Jocks Team record store (it was closed for lunch on my first visit) I picked up a Yes T-shirt depicting the cover of Fragile and the CD Il Viaggio di Colombo (2008) by Il Cerchio d’Oro who also hail from the city; this was me fulfilling my desire to acquire music from the home city of a group. Though they’d been around in the 70s, Il Cerchio d’Oro never managed to release an album of original material until reforming in the 00s, although they did produce some non-prog singles in the late 70s which emerged on a Mellow Records compilation in 1999 and La Quadratura del Cerchio, an album of rehearsal tracks from the mid 70s, including cover versions of songs by The Trip, Le Orme and New Trolls was released by Psych-Out Records in 2006.

Christopher Columbus lived in both Genova and Savona and provided the inspiration for Il Viaggio di Colombo, a well-presented CD and the first collaboration between the band and Black Widow Records. The sound is crisp and clear with Giuseppe Terribile‘s Rickenbacker bass high in the mix, providing the driving force for some 70’s sounding progressivo Italiano. It’s almost as though the 33 years between the snippets from La Quadratura del Cerchio and Il Viaggio di Colombo never existed. The use of sound effects such as the creaking of the wooden ship show a welcome attention to detail, though the concept, the writing and the playing are all first-class. There’s a bit of a Floyd feel to the production but the music is very much Italian prog; at times I’m reminded of Alphataurus.


Il Viaggio di Colombo
Il Viaggio di Colombo

I completed my Il Cerchio d’Oro collection in the Black Widow Shop, with 2013’s Dedalo e Icaro on vinyl and the most recent release Il Fuoco sotto la Cenere on CD. The former is stylistically similar to Colombo, a concept album in classic Italian prog style, nicely presented in its gatefold sleeve and I haven’t yet made up my mind which is better, Colombo or Dedalo e Icaro.


Il Cerchio d’Oro had played just before Delirium at the Porto Antico Prog Fest and I suspect that they were premiering parts of Il Fuoco sotto la Cenere which hadn’t been released at that time. For this version of the band, the original members Gino (drums) and Giuseppe Terribile (bass) and Franco Piccolini (keyboards) were joined by Massimo Spica (guitar), Piuccio Pradal (acoustic guitar, vocals) and Franco’s son Simone Piccolini (keyboards), plus special appearances from vocalist Pino Ballarini (ex-Il Rovescio della Medaglia) and drummer Paolo Siani (ex-Nuovo Idea), two guest musicians warmly appreciated by the crowd. I recall thinking that the compositions were well structured but there wasn’t the degree of complexity I was expecting though when I got my hands on the new release I thought it was equally as good as Colombo and Dedalo e Icaro, if not better. I was once again reminded of Alphataurus despite detecting a subtle shift towards a more conventional rock format, and where the concept is presented as a series of snapshots, rather than the linear narrative of the two preceding albums. In a move reminiscent of their 70’s performances, the final track on the album Fuoco sulla collina (Fire on the mountain) is a cover version of an Ivan Graziani song, which fits the overall concept, the idea that we live in a world where feelings smoulder under the ashes and from time-to-time, fire erupts, often violently.


Il Cerchio d'Oro - Porto Antico Prog Fest 2017
Il Cerchio d'Oro - Porto Antico Prog Fest 2017

Title track Il Fuoco sotto la cenere (Fire under the ashes) is a really good piece of prog which commences with a melodic figure and goes through multiple changes (including a section with a heavy, distorted guitar riff and some excellent organ which reminds me of Biglietto per l’Inferno.) It’s about the state of mind of a person who becomes unable to deal with everyday problems and suppress the rage which has been building up as their inner strength gets worn away, the fire that bursts from the smouldering ashes.

Thomas uses the Great Fire of London as an analogy for our ability to turn a bad situation into an opportunity; fire destroys but it clears the path for new opportunities and life can emerge phoenix-like from the ashes. The organ and guitar work really well together and the vocal melody is nicely underlined with synthesizer. The solo vocals aren’t particularly strong but there are some memorable melodies on the longest track of the album.

Per sempre qui (Forever here) relates the story of a character who spent much of his life away from his homeland in exchange for prosperity but in the end, the desire to return to his origins, the ‘fire under the ashes’ prevails over the materialistic urges. This is a relatively short number, sung with great emotion by special guest Pino Ballarini on the recommendation of Black Widow Records and who, it transpires was perfectly placed to narrate the song because the sentiment coincides with his personal story.

I due poli (The two poles) is about the conflict between two mental states, including the suppression either one of the aspects. There are obviously different degrees of this bipolar phenomenon which affect individuals to different extents. At its most extreme, there is perpetual conflict between the two sides with one dominant and one suppressed (under the ashes), instantaneously switched and transformed into ‘fire’ when the conflict switches. It begins with some almost Hackett-like acoustic guitar which resolves to melodic piano and Mellotron cello before commencing a short riff and getting a bit Floyd-y. It’s in this track where I find the greatest similarity to Alphataurus, in the vocals where they work as a chorus (and this is where the vocals are at their strongest.) There’s nice expressive guitar and some great organ work and even a trippy synth solo.

Il Fuoco nel bicchiere (Fire in the glass) is a story of alcohol addiction, where the protagonist never totally overcomes the need for drink though he’s fully aware of the consequences of his failure to do so. The melancholy which besets the character is reflected in the slow melody; the song was written by keyboard player Simone Piccolini who has been described by his father as possessing the appropriate DNA for penning Il Cerchio d’Oro songs. This is dominated by moderately heavy guitar riffs but has some nice piano and an interesting section which includes a theremin sound.

Il Rock e l’inferno (Rock and hell) plays on the idea that rock music is frequently though inappropriately associated with the devil, when it’s actually a means of communication, just transmitting a mood. It’s altogether heavier and the beat more simple than most of their other material, with the band stamping their melodies over distorted guitar riffs and classic Hammond sounding organ and wordless vocals which recall some classic early 70’s RPI moments.


Some critics have pointed out the weakness of some of the vocals and there are times where I’d agree, though I think the music more than makes up for these moments. The band acknowledged the difficulty producing a suitable follow-up to the critically acclaimed Dedalo e Icaro and the time spent attaining their trademark ‘vintage’ sound without compromising cleanliness and quality was obviously worthwhile; it’s a very good album. Though I’m not a great fan of the artwork on the cover, I do understand the links between the painting and the songs and I’m impressed that artist Pino Paolino, a former vocalist with the band, has used images set partly in a 17th century fortress located in Capo Vado, not far from Savona. By strange chance the area was devastated by one of the fires which raged in the hills along the Riviera last summer, clearing the way for new possibilities.


Il Fuoco sotto la Cenere by Il Cerchio d’Oro is on Black Widow Records BWRCD 204 (2017)


By ProgBlog, Nov 21 2017 04:02PM

Last week was the latest ProgBlog adventure in Genova (and a couple of cities along the Italian Riviera.) Not only did I get to see four amazing bands on two separate nights, I also managed to add to my vinyl and CD collections with visits to Genova’s Black Widow Records and Jocks Team in Savona, at the La Claque night of prog, plus a couple of 180g vinyl re-releases bought from newsstands, part of a series of Prog Rock Italiano in association with publisher De Agostini.


Jocks Team, Savona
Jocks Team, Savona

The Progressive Night was held at the La Claque club and organised by Black Widow. Ancient Veil opened proceedings with an acoustic set from a pared-down line-up of Alessandro Serri on guitar, Edmondo Romano on woodwind and Fabio Serri on piano, plus contributions from special guest Marco Gnecco. The sound may have been pared down since I last saw them as a full electric band in May, but their compositions are well-suited to an unplugged format and apart from a couple of moments where Alessandro had to fight a little to find the right key to sing, on tracks where the vocals commenced the song without an instrumental introduction, it was a fine performance of some beautiful, folk-inspired music. I’m still getting into their latest release I Am Changing from earlier this year, so my favourite track was one of those I’m much more familiar with, the Eris Pluvia album title track Rings of Earthly Light.


Ticket for A Progressive Night, La Claque
Ticket for A Progressive Night, La Claque

Ancient Veil, unplugged 11-11-17
Ancient Veil, unplugged 11-11-17

I’d had a chat with Melting Clock keyboard player Sandro Amadei in the Black Widow shop (where else?) when I popped in to say hello and buy a few albums after arriving in the city on the Friday, and when I arrived at La Claque for the gig I spoke to most of the band and was pleased to see that they’d got lots of support from family and friends in a packed club. I was even given a small memento: a Melting Clock plectrum which had featured in a promotional poster for the evening. I was told that this was only their second ever gig as an ensemble, the first being the Porto Antico Prog Fest in the summer, and they suggested that although the atmosphere in La Claque was incredible, the sound check had uncovered a problem with feedback when vocalist Emanuela Vedana sang at full volume. This was in contrast to Porto Antico, a large, semi-open space where whatever first-gig nerves they may have had, they could really let rip. They need not have worried; the audience was won over with the first song, L'Occhio dello Sciacallo (The Jackal’s Eye) which followed a short instrumental introduction Quello che rimane (What Remains) and the club’s acoustics didn’t cause any problems. My personal favourite is Antares, a mini-masterpiece of carefully crafted modern symphonic progressive rock. Their self-penned compositions hint at 70’s Renaissance, albeit with a distinct Mediterranean flavour; the twin guitars of Simone Caffè and Stefano Amadei add extra depth while the rhythm section of Alessandro Bosca (sporting a new 6-string bass and matching tie!) and Francesco Fiorito contribute complex but well-thought out lines to pin down the music.


Their influences might surprise a few people, considering the songs they’ve covered. At Porto Antico they performed a sublime rendition of Firth of Fifth, at La Claque they played an incredibly accurate version of Soon, the hauntingly beautiful coda to Gates of Delirium from Relayer by Yes, producing one of those spine-tingling moments which made the hairs on my arms stand up, and ended their set with a crowd-pleasing performance of Time from Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon. It turns out that Stefano and Francesco are into metal and Sandro likes Scandinavian jazz, though Simone is a David Gilmour fan. The mixture has somehow produced excellent results; their entire set was brilliant and heralds a very bright future.


Phoenix Again was the headline act of the evening. I met most of the band at the merchandise stand where I bought their three studio albums on CD; ThreeFour (2011), Look Out (2014) and Unexplored, released this year on the Black Widow Records label, and was very kindly presented with a T-shirt. From Brescia and originally called Phoenix when they formed in 1981 by Lorandi brothers Claudio (lead guitar, voices), Antonio (bass), Sergio (guitars) along with Silvano Silva (drums, percussion), they added keyboard player Emilio Rossi to expand their symphonic sound in 1986 but disbanded in 1998 without ever having produced an album. Following the death of Claudio in 2007 they revisited their music and, with the help of a number of guest musicians, released ThreeFour in 2011 under the moniker of Phoenix Again.

The current incarnation, first appearing on Look Out, is made up from original Phoenix members Antonio Lorandi, Sergio Lorandi (now taking on lead guitar and vocal duties) and Silvano Silva, plus two more of the Lorandi family, Marco (guitar) and Giorgio (percussion), and Andrea Piccinelli on keyboards. On record, their sound ranges from symphonic progressive to jazz rock, funk and experimental however, their live sound tends more towards the jazzy and has a much more urgent, hard edge which makes it come across as complex and intricate. I think I recognised the epic tune Adso da Melk from Look Out which includes a multitude of styles but has a section which reminds me of Camel’s Lunar Sea. The high energy set concluded with some banter between the audience and Marco Lorandi, who appeared to have been asked to pick out a particular tune or riff and this in turn gave way to a solo spot from Sergio who, as the crowd was dispersing, played beautiful renditions of first Steve Howe’s Mood for a Day (from Fragile) and then Steve Hackett’s Horizons from Foxtrot.


I stayed behind after the performances to speak to a number of the artists, congratulating Melting Clock on a magnificent show and getting introduced to local promoter Marina Montobbio who, it turns out, had been at the 2014 Prog Résiste festival in Soignies because of her work for The Watch who had headlined on the last evening. Resplendent in a pair of Gibson plectrum earrings, I’d seen her at Porto Antico taking photos of the different groups and also chatting to musicians, so I suspected she had some official role. Smart and knowledgeable, if I ever think about getting involved in promotion in the music business, she’d be top of the list of people to contact. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening thanks to the musicians and the organisers and I can’t believe anyone could have left the venue feeling disappointed.



PFM ticket
PFM ticket

I’ve waited a long time to see PFM play live and stayed on in Genova for their appearance at the city’s premier venue, the Teatro Carlo Felice. With a boarded-over orchestra pit the septet seemed quite far away, even from row 12 in the stalls, but I soon found out that sole surviving original member and de facto front man Franz Di Cioccio was able to take full advantage of the empty space. I’d burned the Italian version of the CD of their new release Emotional Tattoos, which came with my English-version double vinyl, and listened to this the night before on my mp3 player in preparation for the concert; they began with Il Regno from that album, which I think is one of the best tracks. They then performed a string of early classics: La Luna Nuova (from L’Isola di Niente, the original version of Four Holes in the Ground for anyone without the Italian releases); a surprising English language inclusion, Photos of Ghosts; Il Banchetto which appears on the second album Per un Amico and also on the first of their Manticore LPs Photos of Ghosts; Dove... Quando... part 1 and part 2, from 1972’s Storia di un Minuto; and La Carrozza di Hans and Impressioni di Settembre (which would become the title track from The World Became the World) also from the debut record. If the performance had stopped at this point I’d have been completely satisfied because the songs and the playing had already exceeded my expectations; this is what I’d waited for. However, the show continued with two more of the best songs from Emotional Tattoos, La Danza degli Specchi and Freedom Square, before the band took a 10 minute break. They recommenced with the Celtic-influenced Quartiere Generale but then moved into territory I was unfamiliar with, Maestro della Voce from the 1980 album Suonare Suonare, one of the only PFM releases I don’t possess and which featured violinist and current member Lucio Fabbri for the first time. There is a version on PFM: In Classic but it's not a track I listen to. This was one of two tracks from the entire evening which I found unsatisfactory but that’s because Suonare Suonare is considered to be PFM’s equivalent of ...And Then There Were Three, the first post-Gabriel, post-Hackett Genesis album, the mark of decline from full-on progressive rock. Normal service was resumed following an introductory explanation to the next piece from Patrick Djivas, who pointed out the importance of classical composers to the PFM sound and they played Romeo e Giulietta: Danza dei Cavalieri which had been covered on their 2013 PFM: In Classic album. The classical theme continued with Mr. Nine Till Five appended with Five Till Nine including their version of Rossini’s William Tell Overture. They left the stage only to return in less than a minute, before the audience request for an encore had even started in earnest, recommencing with their version of the Fabrizio De André song Il Pescatore. This had particular relevance for Genova, because De André, regarded as Italy’s best ever singer-songwriter for his mix of Ligurian folk influences with social commentary, came from the city. De André shunned public performance until 1975 but his 1979 tour featured PFM as backing band and allowed them to choose the set list and make the instrumental arrangements. The crowd had been calling out suggestions for what to play and it came as no surprise that part of the encore was the old favourite È Festa (Celebration on Photos of Ghosts) which included an amusing drum duet between Di Cioccio and Roberto Gualdi and some audience participation, encouraged by the PFM front man who was bounding around the entire front stage area (splitting the hall into three sections to chant Se-le-Brescion, as this version of the song is known.) They left the stage to tumultuous applause and even though the house lights came on, the crowd applauded and called for more music and eventually, the band conceded and returned to play what I believe was the theme from the 1966 comedy film L’Armata Brancaleone, the energetic folk-inflected Branca Branca Branca Leon Leon Leon written by Carlo Rustichelli. This was lost on me at the time, though my fellow concert-goers absolutely loved it; it’s been in the PFM repertoire for some time and I found it interesting to note that Carlo Rustichelli’s son Paolo was also a composer, releasing the prog Italiano Opera Prima in 1973.


The vocals were primarily handled by Di Cioccio but some of the singing was by Alberto Bravin, who also added keyboards. The main keyboard player, accurately interpreting the early material, was Alessandro Scaglione and filling the shoes of Franco Mussida, who left the band in 2015, was Marco Sfogli. The line-up proved very adept and though there was no flautist, these lines were provided by keyboards; it might also have been good to hear something from Chocolate Kings or Jet Lag, the latter album being a vehicle to showcase Djivas’ excellent bass technique but when you think that they played for over two and a half hours, promoting their latest release but also entertaining us with all the old classics, it was impossible to walk away without thinking that sticking around in Genova for three extra nights had been a good cause for celebration.












By ProgBlog, Nov 16 2017 10:26PM

Last weekend marked another milestone in the history of progressive rock. June 1967 saw the release of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which was certainly not progressive rock but which revealed a whole new world of possibilities. In Abbey Road Studios at the same time were Pink Floyd, also pushing boundaries, releasing The Piper at the Gates of Dawn three months later in August, not only stamping an indelible English whimsy on popular music but also staking out sonic territory in outer space. Procol Harum had released the JS Bach-themed single A Whiter Shade of Pale in May and followed-up their surreal musing with a self-titled debut album in September, offering mature and quite original R&B.



On November 11th the Moody Blues released Days of Future Passed. If Sgt Pepper’s wasn’t progressive rock, it was definitely the beginning of art-rock and the first concept package, utilising the notion of a song cycle and highlighting the importance of the lyrics by printing them on the sleeve; Piper wasn’t prog either but it marked the birth of UK psychedelic rock; Days of Future Passed wasn’t prog, but there is a reasonable argument to suggest it was the first proto-progressive album.

The Beatles have to take credit for a number of things, perhaps most importantly being a pop group who wrote their own songs, demonstrating an (at the time) unprecedented creative control which would become the norm for rock acts as the music industry began to change. The Beatles, along with George Martin, were responsible for pushing recording studio technology along, beginning with Revolver in 1966, an album which features George Harrison playing sitar on the track Love You To, extending the sounds available to pop music and also opening up western music to Eastern philosophy. Prior to this, most bands in the UK were relying on a rock vocabulary imported almost wholesale from the US and the Moody Blues were no exception. The replacement of Denny Laine and Clint Warwick with Justin Hayward and John Lodge on guitar and bass respectively introduced a folk influence to the group and as more time passed since they’d had success with their cover version of Bessie Banks’ Go Now with no sign of a follow-up hit, they decided to decamp to Belgium and write their own material, better suited to ‘lower-middle class English boys’, and move away from their R&B live set. Their new sound was defined by their use of Mellotron; keyboard player Mike Pinder had experience of the instrument from when he worked at Streetly Electronics in his native West Midlands, and sourced one from the local Dunlop Social Club at a bargain price because no one at the club could play it!

The story of how the album came to be made is well known; the band was in debt to Decca and, following a promising but unsuccessful self-penned single Fly Me High, was offered the chance to record an orchestra and rock version of Antonín Dvořák’s 9th Symphony From the New World for release on their Deram imprint for innovative new music, to promote their novel stereo recording technique, the Deramic Sound System, which gave improved channel separation. Once in the recording studio, the band persuaded producer Tony Clarke and orchestral arranger Peter Knight to drop Dvořák and record the song cycle which had become a staple at their gigs. Days of Future Passed (a title provided by the record company) was the result.

It’s likely that I first heard the album in 1973 as my sister was a big Moodies fan and we had a number of Moody Blues LPs appended to my dad’s jazz albums and an ever-growing collection of progressive rock. I liked some aspects of their music, In the Beginning from On the Threshold of a Dream for instance, but I thought there was a qualitative difference between what I was listening to (Yes, The Nice, ELP, Pink Floyd) and the Moodies, so consequently consigned them to a prog footnote and only in the past few years since I’ve been thinking more about the genre have I given them the reappraisal they deserve.

I don’t think the Moody Blues have ever been a progressive rock band but the idea of proto-prog is important. Orchestration in pop music may have already been commonplace but Days of Future Passed was the first attempt to bridge the pop and classical worlds. It’s ironic that The Nice used the 4th Movement of Dvořák’s 9th Symphony to extend their rendition of the Bernstein/Sondheim America; Keith Emerson was one of the prime movers for fusing classical music with jazz and rock and, with Ars Longa Vita Brevis appearing a year later in 1968, producing one of the most satisfactory early classical-rock hybrids on the side-long title suite. It’s been reported that Peter Knight, to his great credit, was keen to score the music for Days of Future Passed because at the time there really weren’t many voices from the classical world willing to rub shoulders with purveyors of popular music. Knight’s additions are quite in keeping with the pop of the Moodies but that’s one of the problems I have with side 1 of the album; I don’t think it’s aged at all well. The score lacks depth and drama and reminds me of music for some lightweight British movie from that time or even before; the saccharine strings and woodwind trills which open the record are hackneyed, though there’s a brief respite when each track theme is previewed. I do like the idea of Graeme Edge’s poetry on The Day Begins (Morning Glory and, at the end of side 2 Late Lament/Resolvement) and however much this influenced my attempts at teenage poetry, I can quite understand how it attracted accusations of pretentiousness. Dawn is a Feeling isn’t a bad song but the 2/4 sections ruin Another Morning and the orchestral introduction to Peak Hour. When Peak Hour gets going it actually rocks and the harmony work, a key component of the Moody Blues sound, reminds me of The Beatles. There’s more soloing on this track, easily the best part of the first side and this too adds to the impression that the piece is locked inside the mid 60s.

Side two is a different matter with better writing and more variation in each song, and more Mellotron. I’m not so sure about the bridge, but I like Forever Afternoon (Tuesday?) with its Mellotron line that surely inspired Barclay James Harvest, and I think it conforms to a classic Justin Hayward blueprint, even presaging Forever Autumn. The Sunset taps into the trend for Eastern music and Twilight Time is rather psychedelic, and could easily have been influenced by Pink Floyd. The stylistic variation continues with Nights in White Satin which is quite different from anything else on the album. It may be familiarity but I think it is a well-structured piece and deserves its reputation as an undisputed classic.


The orchestration doesn’t really supplement the songs but links them, acting to reinforce the themes and that’s why I don’t believe it succeeds in what it set out to do as described on the sleeve notes “...where it becomes one with the world of the classics.” The writing on side one lacks maturity, hardly breaking away from the pop of the time but side two, and the overall theme of ‘a day’ from sunrise to after sunset, would set a trend for other conceptual works. Opinion amongst Decca executives has been reported as ‘mixed’ when the record was completed but they released the album anyway, in the hope that it would recoup some of the financial investment in the project.

The rest is history; progressive rock as a genre wouldn't be the same without it.





By ProgBlog, Oct 29 2017 11:16PM

Something strange is going on in my local area. I’ve been around at home most evenings for the past two weeks and the fireworks associated with Diwali or the approaching Guy Fawkes Night have not featured at all. I wouldn’t discourage anyone from my neighbourhood, the Peoples’ Socialist Republic of Addiscombe, from celebrating the victory of knowledge over ignorance but I wonder if burning money on brief flashes of coloured light and a banging noise has been abandoned this year, along with a misplaced acceptance of austerity as the Bank of England strongly hints of a rise in the interest rate.


A witch hunt is never a good idea
A witch hunt is never a good idea

Maybe I’m just going around with my eyes closed but it seems there’s also less visible evidence of US-style Halloween advertising. I’d like to think that this is a rejection of commercialisation and whereas encouraging the purchase of pumpkins is quite acceptable, it would be best if they were consumed as a seasonal fruit rather than discarding perfectly edible portions and turning them into Jack-o’-lanterns. Our local Co-op doesn’t appear to be stocking them this year but whether that’s because the harvest has been affected by adverse weather conditions in Suffolk or the store has finally employed someone who understands that there’s an unacceptable level of food wastage at the beginning of November (from either an economic or moral point of view), I’ll never know. The store is selling a limited range of Halloween-themed confectionary but even this involves some self-assembly, with scary monster forming components included with a packet of gingerbread biscuits. Perhaps because it’s expected or easy, my Saturday edition of The Guardian included a couple of Halloween items, the most interesting of which was in the Review section where a handful of writers were invited to put a spin on the traditional ghost story with tales set in English Heritage properties and Mark Haddon set his in the York cold war bunker; cold war bunkers were the theme of my son’s MSc thesis for his Historic Conservation course and as a youth I used to illicitly visit the civil defence bunker at Abbot’s Wood in Barrow-in-Furness.


Civil Defence bunker, Abbot's Wood Hill
Civil Defence bunker, Abbot's Wood Hill

Thinking back to my youth, Halloween wasn’t really an important fixture on the calendar and when you were old enough to look as though you were old enough to buy fireworks you could visit the local newsagent for an array of items which, if used incorrectly, could (and did) result in life-changing injuries; our fireworks were utilised on Halloween for some ridiculous purposes which we deluded ourselves into thinking were scientific investigation, like attaching bangers to rocks and dropping them in drains to produce a plume of water. Bonfire night used to be more of a social fixture, though after university (my hall of residence used to put on a party and firework display with professional pyrotechnics and I was responsible for the advertising posters which hung from the balcony of the refectory at Goldsmiths’) it became clear that subscribing to these things was not only uninteresting but an unnecessary expense.


Bonfire Night, Loring Hall 1978
Bonfire Night, Loring Hall 1978

Halloween customs have been influenced by Celtic folklore and beliefs and some are likely to have pagan roots, linked to the Roman feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, or Parentalia, the festival of the dead. Its origins are most typically associated with the Celtic festivals of Samhain (Old Irish for ‘summer's end’), Calan Gaeaf (‘first day of winter’) in Wales, Kalan Gwav in Cornwall and Kalan Goañv in Brittany, celebrated on 31st October and 1st November to mark the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the darker half of the year. It was believed that the boundary between the world of the living and the spirits overlapped at this time, allowing the Aos Sí (spirits or fairies) to enter our world. Respected and feared, the Aos Sí were appeased with offerings of food and drink or part of the crop at Samhain to ensure that the people and their livestock survived the winter. The souls of the dead were also said to revisit their homes seeking hospitality, a belief of ancient origins common to many cultures; throughout Ireland and Britain, the household festivities included rituals and fortune-telling games incorporating seasonal fare, apple bobbing and roasting nuts. Bonfires were also part of the rituals where flames, smoke and ashes were deemed to have cleansing or protective powers.


In a tradition that goes back at least to the 16th century, the festivities of the Celtic communities of the British Isles included mumming and guising, dressing up as the Aos Sí, going from house-to-house in costume, reciting verses or songs in exchange for food. Also believed to be a protection from the souls of the dead, it’s likely that this behaviour is responsible for dressing up and trick-or-treating, the term ‘trick or treat’ first emerging in 1927. Throughout the centuries the power of the Church has enabled it to subvert and appropriate festivals from other, older customs and though we might sneer at a culture which believes that there are times during the year when the boundary between the spirit world and our world is less fixed, is it much different from the belief that there’s a powerful spiritual bond between those in heaven (the Church Triumphant) and the living (the Church militant)? The difference is that the Church has used faith and superstition to impose a doctrine designed to preserve its own power.


Halloween fits into this narrative as an illustration of the monsters subsequently subdued by an adherence to the liturgy of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day; a story designed to frighten us should we stray from the path of righteousness. In his Guardian piece, Haddon suggests that much of literary fiction, not only ghost stories, explores a deep anxiety about how we come to terms with our own mortality. So do we like to be scared, and does this translate into other art forms? I used to watch Hammer horror films after returning from an evening in the pub when I was a student (The Devil Rides Out from 1968 was a favourite) but that was because they were ridiculous; Hollywood horror was very big in the early 80s but it became derivative and it wasn’t until The Blair Witch Project (1999) where fear of the unknown was used to generate heightened tension, reinvented the horror genre.

A recent Twitter thread and an older Progressive Archives forum topic concerned ‘frightening’ music and though we might class King Crimson’s The Devil’s Triangle or some early Van der Graaf Generator (White Hammer, Man-Erg, Lemmings) as disturbing, I think the crux of both discussion points was horror. The rise of the Fundamentalist Right in the USA makes heavy metal the genre easiest to associate with horror, because of their insistence that pro-Satanic subliminal messages were revealed when Slayer and Judas Priest records were played backwards. Backmasking, as it is known, was popularised by The Beatles on Revolver and even Pink Floyd didn’t escape accusations of inappropriately brainwashing youths through the technique. More likely, the satanic imagery used by Slayer was simply adopted for commercial reasons, and the Iron Maiden mascot Eddie, depicted as controlling the devil like a marionette on the cover of The Number of the Beast may have caused outrage amongst the Moral Majority but the resultant public burning of Iron Maiden’s back catalogue generated huge publicity.


The first prog-horror link I came across was the use of the Tubular Bells overture in The Exorcist (1974) which I watched at a screening in Leeds long before I was 18, visiting my brother who was studying medicine at the University. What I missed out on for many years, not actively researching Italian prog until 2005, were the cult classic gialli films of Dario Argento, with Profundo Rosso (1975) considered to be the best giallo film ever made. I’ve now seen Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin twice, the first time at the beginning of 2014 where they performed tracks from all their classic soundtracks: Profundo Rosso; Suspiria; Roller; Zombi; Il Fantastico Viaggio Del Bagarozzo Mark; Tenebrae; and Non Ho Sonno. A year later I saw them perform the Profundo Rosso soundtrack live to a screening of the film at the Barbican and though the film itself may be critically acclaimed, it’s too psychedelic to be frightening, however good the music. It was hard to work out whether the audience at either of these performances was predominantly there for the cinematic or the prog- association. I was there for the latter but I think I may have been in a minority.



With roots in folklore, ghost stories and the supernatural should suit progressive rock but I can’t think of too many examples where this has been the case. Psychedelic prog-folk band Comus (named after Milton’s pagan sorcerer-king) channel a pagan vibe on First Utterance (1971) with material covering rape, murder, mental illness and sacrifice, and the music itself which varies from conveying primal malevolence to quiet, pastoral beauty, recalls the spirit of a independent horror film. I suspect that the best ghost-story album is Steven Wilson’s The Raven that Refused to Sing and Other Stories from 2013. You’d think the excellent Gustav Mahler-inspired Halloween by Pulsar (1977) should feature but the title was used because the band liked the beauty of the word and the way it evoked childhood, magic, fairy-tales and the imaginary, themes which are suggested in the music and lyrics.


Halloween by Pulsar
Halloween by Pulsar

According to a 2006 survey, the British hate Halloween and over half of British homeowners turn off their lights and pretend not to be home. 2017 looks like being a great deal worse for advocates of this celebration sponsored by confectioners and I know I won’t be answering the door to anyone on Tuesday evening. However, much more memorable than Halloween or the gunpowder plot is that Saturday 28th October is the anniversary of me seeing Yes for the first time, having been in London for less than a month....









By ProgBlog, Sep 12 2017 08:35AM

In an uncertain world, it’s very easy to surround yourself with the familiar, anchored to comforts which, for whatever reason, confer a sense of safety and reassurance. I’d like to think that I look upon on life as something of an adventure, searching for slightly unusual or enriching experiences. One of these was eight years ago, when my wife, son and I took advantage of close family living in New Zealand and embarked upon a two-week long tour of the country spanning the southern hemisphere transition of winter into spring, August to September. On my fiftieth birthday, a couple of days before we were due to return to the UK, Daryl and I jumped from the Auckland Sky Tower (and got the lift back up to do it again.)

This base-jump by wire is completely safe but when you’re weighed beforehand to calculate the forces required for deceleration and your harness is checked by a second individual, your mind does tend to stray towards irrationality: You’re falling from 192m and reach speeds of 85km/h. It’s an incredible thrill and it’s all over in around 10 seconds; on the second go we were encouraged to begin by falling off backwards!


Auckland's Sky Tower
Auckland's Sky Tower

Rationalising and calculating risk, as well as knowing your own physical limits are essential if you’re attempting something which appears dangerous. A long time ago I used to rock climb, nothing spectacular but involving both risk from the activity itself and also from the relative isolation should something untoward happen, this being long before the advent of mobile phones. A walking accident in the winter of 1976, slipping on snow while descending an improvised route from Great Gable in the Lake District as the weather deteriorated to such an extent that it was genuinely unsafe to continue, battered my confidence. I slipped, tumbled and fell about 120m down a scree slop where the pitch was such that there were plenty of rocks sticking up out of the snow cover. It’s remarkable that I didn’t break any bones but I did spend a couple of nights in hospital for observation because I’d lost consciousness at some stage during my ungainly descent. The A&E personnel thought I’d been involved on a motorcycle crash; it was common for local youths to buy motorbikes with their first pay check and almost as common for them to be involved in a serious incident within the following week. I suspect it’s the isolation that concerns me because it didn’t cause me to be afraid of heights; it does make South Side of the Sky resonate it little bit more. I’m just a bit more careful when I approach something potentially hazardous and more critical of the risks and benefits.


South Side of the Sky
South Side of the Sky

Endorphins, named so because they’re natural, morphine-like molecules (endo- means ‘from within’), are produced in the pituitary gland and hypothalamus. Their main function is to inhibit the transmission of pain signals but they also have a positive, euphoric effect; they are released in large quantities during pleasurable moments such as during extreme sports, during sex (especially during orgasm), eating chocolate, and when we listen to good music.

When it comes to prog, I tend to play safe and listen to albums from the ‘golden era’, preferring symphonic prog, keyboard-layered with its roots in classical music and jazz. The modern stuff that I like, possibly best exemplified by the current crop of Italian bands like Il Tempio delle Clessidre, Panther & C., Cellar Noise and Melting Clock, and also ESP from the UK, play music which has a grounding in classic progressive rock of the 70s. Along with jazz rock (last week’s playlist includes Barbara Thompson’s Paraphernalia (1978) and Deep End (1976) by Isotope on original vinyl), jazz and some classical music, this is basically my comfort zone. I do own some Magma releases, the classics Mekanïk Destruktïẁ Kommandöh (1973) and Köhntarkösz (1974) on CD plus what I thought might be the most accessible LP Attahk (1978), which I bought first sometime in the early 80s; I still find all three hard going. My older brother Tony also tries to keep me on my toes. Though our tastes overlap to a considerable extent he likes some rather uncompromising modern jazz and bought me Louis Sclavis’ L'imparfait des langues (2007) for my birthday 10 years ago. The music, originally commissioned for a performance in Monaco in 2005 cancelled at short notice due to the death of Prince Rainier III, was a deliberate attempt to challenge Sclavis’ compositional habits, using players from different backgrounds with whom he’d not worked before. The album was recorded in one day.


Magma collection
Magma collection

More recently I’ve been extending the boundaries of what I’ll listen to. I’m not particularly a fan of Hawkwind but I did like some of Robert Calvert’s ideas (I was really disappointed that his stage adaptation of Hype was cancelled within a week of opening – as I stood outside the theatre’s closed doors) and I finally got hold of a copy of Quark Strangeness and Charm (1977) on vinyl, even though it’s outside my normal listening habits. I’ve previously been dismissive of Roger Waters’ solo efforts having seen his The Wall and The Final Cut follow-up The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking in concert and owned a bootleg recording of the LP on C-90 which I wasn’t over-enamoured with. I thought the music descended from the widescreen of mid-period Floyd to narrow-focus, basic rock built around a riff that sounded as though it came direct from The Wall. However, I bought a copy of Is this the life we really want? because of the sentiment, knowing that Waters is a master of concepts and believes in superlative production values, left in the extremely capable hands of Nigel Godrich on this latest release. I also procured the quirky folk-prog-world music re-release of Syd Arthur’s On An On (2012) which is beautifully written and played, but not what might have been expected of me!



Having recently become semi-retired again seems to have loosened some of my listening inhibitions and whereas I’d look at an album in my youth, without hearing it in its entirety and rating it highly, I’d never own it. I’m now more open to recommendation and even experimentation, buying albums which I probably should have owned many years ago without listening to them beforehand. Sometimes I’m disappointed. So what? Yet there’s still one genre that I’ve not fully embraced, prog metal, though I’m coming round to see the blurring of distinction between the prog and the metal, even accepting an invitation to review the latest release by Texan heavy prog/prog metal outfit Process of Illumination (see my album review of Radiant Memory here.) I was lent a copy of Opeth’s Heritage (2011) by friend and Steven Wilson fan Neil Jellis because it forms part of what Wilson, who engineered the album, described as a trilogy, the other components being the collaboration with Mikael Åkerfeldt resulting in Storm Corrosion (2012) and Wilson’s second solo album Grace for Drowning (2011). Heritage contains some decent music, the first full departure from the band’s metal roots and fortunately dispenses with Åkerfeldt’s trademark death metal growl. His singing voice isn’t a million miles away from Ian Anderson’s during the classic Tull period and the compositions steer clear of the frantic, technical playing and heavy distortion I associate with metal. The title-track opener is a pleasant acoustic piano exercise and The Devil’s Orchard, like much of the rest of the album references the sounds of 70s prog – the organ work is quite rewarding, there’s plenty of electric piano and there are some tricky guitar riffs. The introduction to I feel the Dark could almost be Jethro Tull then roughly half way through the track it switches with the introduction of slow, crunchy power chords which in turn give way to some Mellotron. It never goes overtly ambient but I think I detect the Steven Wilson influence. Slither is probably the least interesting track as it’s like a race, with little development until an acoustic guitar passage which lasts until the fade. Nepenthe and Häxprocess display the players' sensitivity with good use of electric piano and some adventurous rhythmic patterns. Famine has flute, effects, gentle piano chords (c.f. Heritage) and gives way to fast guitar and Hammond. So what’s not to like? I think it’s an admirable effort with decent pitch, tempo and instrumental variation and you can’t fault the playing or the production; it just doesn’t grab me. Similarly I was recommended some Il Bacio della Medusa and bought the Black Widow records re-release of the eponymous debut (BWR, 2006) and bought a number of CDs by Peruvian prog band Flor de Loto when I was in Lima, only to be disappointed by the heavy edge – it wasn’t what I was expecting from either band. I’ve also got a download of The Gift of Anxiety (2013) by Sylvium and the Sky Architect CD A Dying Man’s Hymn (2011) neither of which are awful, start to finish metal by any stretch of the imagination but equally, neither is particularly inspiring.


Perhaps the greatest insult of all to my former listening habits was my recent acquisition of Kansas' Point of Know Return (1977) which I'm almost reluctant to admit I quite like. It's hardly up there with the greats but it's a decent effort, bought second-hand on spec. My comfort zone may be expanding but the more metal you get with your prog metal, the more reluctant I am to push those boundaries further. I’ll stick to the proto-prog metal of Red, thank you.


Point of Know Return (1977) by Kansas
Point of Know Return (1977) by Kansas






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