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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, 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 23 2016 05:48PM

Pink Floyd appear to be getting everywhere, setting themselves up as a cultural touchstone with a set of Royal Mail postage stamps commemorating their albums and live performances, and while there’s currently an exhibition at the Victoria & Albert museum You Say You Want A Revolution, Records and Rebels 1966 – 1970 which features the Floyd, there’s a dedicated Floyd exhibition at the museum planned for early next year. Despite their mass appeal and huge commercial success, Pink Floyd have been praised and derided in equal measure and though 2014’s The Endless River is likely to be their last release of ‘new’ material (the bulk of the record was from sessions with Rick Wright, who died in 2008) it’s only relatively recently that the surviving band members have shaken off their relative anonymity. Their sonic legacy stretches back an amazing 50 years so it’s neither unexpected nor unreasonable that their mark on the cultural landscape has acquired an establishment-like acceptance. The Guardian may not be the mouthpiece of the establishment but it’s as close to a voice of reason we’re going to get in the world of media and apart from the stories about the current and planned V&A exhibitions, it also put out a more politically relevant article about Gilmour, Waters and Mason at the beginning of the month. This explained their support for the Women’s Boat to Gaza, a group of women from all around the world who set off by sea from Barcelona to Gaza in October to highlight the virtual siege of Gaza, only to be intercepted by the Israeli navy resulting in the crew being arrested.




The Floyd machine ticks over nicely, revealing some astute business strategy planning. This has not only tied in with a fair number of the original generation of progressive rock fans of being of an age where they have a reasonable amount of disposable income with time to plug into the nostalgia business, but is also related to our appetite for youthful reflection with the upsurge in popularity of vinyl. I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve succumbed to the lure of freshly-pressed 180g discs; I’m more ashamed of having sold off my original LPs in the first place when I thought that remastered and repackaged CDs were the future. I treated myself to a new copy of Dark Side of the Moon just after Christmas, an edition that included the stickers and posters which had adorned my bedroom walls since 1973, and Atom Heart Mother and Meddle only a couple of weeks ago. My early Pink Floyd albums were bought between 1973 and 1975 and, apart from Wish You Were Here which I had to replace a couple of times due to its popularity amongst friends at my university hall of residence, were in what second-hand record shops refer to as ‘very good condition’, having been kept in plastic sleeves for much of their life and always handled with loving care. I don’t regret the remarkable rise in resale price of quality vinyl over the following twenty years but it is true to say that at the time I offloaded a large chunk of my collection to Beanos the Floyd were hardly valued currency, yet now you might pay £15 for a Dark Side or Meddle in good condition.

The just aired BBC4 documentary Pink Floyd Beginnings 1967 – 1972 was timed to coincide with the imminent release of the 27 disc box set The Early Years 1965 – 1972 and utilised some previously unreleased material from that collection, recently unearthed and enhanced. I really enjoyed this hour long film, mainly because it included some surprising footage such as the improvised piece Show Roland Petit, recorded in 1970 and shown on French TV in 1971 that presaged the Roland Petit Pink Floyd Ballet. There were also clips from two different performances of Atom Heart Mother, one with choir and orchestra filmed in Germany, one a band-only performance in France, both of which I found fascinating. The selection of film used also included the Syd Barrett-era band miming Jugband Blues in 1967 for London Line, a series commissioned by the government to promote London as a place for overseas investment. Jugband Blues is one of the tracks I tend to skip if I’m listening to A Saucerful of Secrets but watching the clip triggered an odd association. There are a couple of bars at around 1’56 into the track where the improvised brass reminds me of opening section Father’s Shout from the Atom Heart Mother suite. Atom Heart was one of my early Pink Floyd album purchases and is still one of my favourite Floyd albums, whatever criticism it has attracted from those involved in its gestation or from fans.




The recent vinyl reissue coincided with a large piece in the last edition of Prog magazine (Prog 70) and this suggests to me that the piece is having something of a favourable critical reappraisal. I think that Atom Heart Mother sits very nicely on the progressive span of the Pink Floyd timeline, with elements clearly linked to what had come before (think The Man and The Journey performances from the previous year and Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast, and the structure of the title suite and Echoes. The track A Saucerful of Secrets demonstrates a sonic lineage from the spacey, psychedelic improvisations of the Barrett era and forward to the solo tracks, most obviously the multi-part Sysyphus on Ummagumma; This was exploratory stuff which in turn set the scene for the band to work with an orchestra. I’d come into prog accepting the fusion of rock and classical, having been exposed to The Nice in 1972, and I remain in favour of the symbiosis of group and orchestra, though the use of the choir on Atom Heart Mother may have been the first time I’d knowingly come across a wordless choral piece, giving the track a cinematic scope which conjures images of prehistoric peoples and landscapes, quite the opposite to the rather futuristic sounding title. Whereas my original LP excluded Ron Geesin from the credits for the track Atom Heart Mother, this was corrected by the time of my 1994 CD. Composer and musician Geesin seems to have been an inspired choice for a collaborator, known to Roger Waters through a shared love of golf and having worked together on the film soundtrack Music from The Body (1970), because his orchestration is sympathetic to the band’s ideas and creates a remarkably cohesive whole, from overture, through development to reprise and denouement. I have to admit that I’m not over enamoured by side two. Psychedelic Breakfast is mildly amusing; a very Floydian experiment in sound effects punctuated by some decent ensemble playing, but If, Summer ’68 and Fat Old Sun all fall into a category I’d class as straightforward rock, uninspired and unchallenging, joined by all of side one of Meddle bar One of These Days, and the La Vallée soundtrack Obscured by Clouds.

I think the qualitative difference between compositions on the two sides of both Atom Heart Mother and Meddle reflect the differences between individual song writing and group collaboration. I have recently reappraised Piper at the Gates of Dawn and as much as I love the whimsy and the psychedelic nature of the songs with Barrett’s unconventional guitar and Wright’s dreamy organ tones, these songs don’t pretend to want to change the world or set themselves up as genre defining. That’s not intended to be a wounding criticism because I do like the first Floyd album, but it is of a certain time and place. It seems to me that the immediate post-Barrett period was somewhat difficult for the group, with Rick Wright initially taking on song writing duties, followed by Roger Waters. The route to success appeared when the band began exploring different sounds and alternative studio techniques, something that was easier to do as a group rather than as individuals, collaborations resulting in the first side of Atom Heart, the second side of Meddle, Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here. As ideas dried up, Waters shouldered responsibility for the bulk of writing but, though his ideas were undeniably grand, the lack of group input reflected on the quality of the output. The Atom Heart Mother suite was the first time the band collaborated on a side-long piece and it remains a classic 46 years later.






Atom Heart Mother was originally released in October 1970





By ProgBlog, Jul 7 2016 09:34PM

An odd letter dropped through my letterbox this morning, white envelope, A5, bearing the legend Do Not Bend.

This turned out to be part one of my Royal Mail stamps purchases, issued to honour Pink Floyd, featuring some of the band’s best known album covers and marking 50 years since the group turned professional and became the house band of the London Underground movement.

This portion of the consignment was a set of postcards, featuring the stamps which include album covers The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Atom Heart Mother The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Endless River and also postcards depicting live performances, to illustrate the ground-breaking nature of the band with their extensive use of lights and film projections.

The Royal Mail have billed this as a celebration of the Floyd, calling them “one of the most influential and successful British bands of all time,” adding “few bands in the history of rock have managed to carve out a career as rich and expansive as that of Pink Floyd.” According to Royal Mail publicity material, they worked closely with the band to produce the collection. The innovative album covers have become instantly recognisable design classics and could have been made for a special stamp collection; The Division Bell album cover appeared on a stamp in 2010. Album cover designers Hipgnosis, co-founded in 19668 by Aubrey Powell and Storm Thorgerson, have rightly been acclaimed as being at the forefront of album cover art, originally using experimental photographic techniques and travelling around the world to find the right location for a photo shoot.


The second part of my consignment will be the top of the range Prestige bundle which includes a presentation pack, framed stamps and The Dark Side of the Moon Maxi Sheet which itself includes ten stamps set against the Dark Side album image. I get the sense that Royal Mail is borrowing Floyd iconography, like the Discovery and Immersion editions. This is first for me, not being into philately, but it seemed like it was one of those too-good-to-miss opportunities, a limited edition that has already been removed from Royal Mail’s website.

Rather poignantly, the issues mark the 10th anniversary of Syd Barrett’s death on 7 July 2006


STAMP-BY-STAMP (from the Royal Mail website)

THE PIPER AT THE GATES OF DAWN (EMI Columbia, 1967)

Pink Floyd’s psychedelic debut is named after Chapter 7 of Kenneth Grahame’s classic children’s novel, The Wind in the Willows, one of frontman Syd Barrett’s favourite books. Photographer Vic Singh shot the cover image using a prism lens given to him by George Harrison some weeks earlier.

ATOM HEART MOTHER (EMI Harvest, 1970)

Pink Floyd’s fifth album provided them with their first UK Number One. It was also the first of their LPs not to feature the band’s name on the front of the sleeve, setting the tone for subsequent albums. Hipgnosis, co-founded by Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell, designed the cover - the cow’s name is Lulubelle III.

THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON (EMI Harvest, 1973)

With sales in excess of 40 million copies worldwide, The Dark Side of the Moon remains in the Billboard chart in America over 40 years after its release, and has been entered into the Guinness Book of Records as the longest-charting album. Created by Hipgnosis, with graphics by George Hardie of NTA, the prism device is a classic.


WISH YOU WERE HERE (EMI Harvest, 1975)

With a theme of ‘absence’, the Hipgnosis design message was summarised by Storm Thorgerson as ‘not being present in a relationship or conversation’. The concept even extended to the album being shrink-wrapped in opaque black plastic which had to be slit or removed to access the music and images.

ANIMALS (EMI Harvest, 1977)

Animals was released as punk raged. While Johnny Rotten wore a T-shirt with the slogan ‘I Hate Pink Floyd’, Nick Mason busied himself producing The Damned’s Music for Pleasure. The photograph of Battersea Power Station features the now legendary floating inflatable pig designed by Roger Waters.

THE ENDLESS RIVER (Parlophone Warner, 2014)

Ostensibly a tribute to the late Richard Wright and described as a ‘headphones’ album by David Gilmour, The Endless River beat all records for volumes of online pre-orders. For the album cover, Aubrey Powell discovered 18-year old graphic designer Ahmed Emad Eldin’s enigmatic work, which was recreated by design company Stylorouge and photographer, Simon Fowler.

PINK FLOYD LIVE

While their studio work has always been important, Pink Floyd have been defined by their live performances. Their early shows in 1966 at London’s UFO Club married the use of pioneering liquid light effects that matched the psychedelic quality of the music itself.

By 1973, the band’s stage set was further expanded to mirror the dramatic sensibilities of the music: the tension that pervades The Dark Side of the Moon was reflected by lighting director Arthur Max’s innovative work, which included a 15-foot model plane flying over the audience, crashing on stage in sync with the explosion during the track On the Run. The In The Flesh Tour (aka The Animals Tour) of 1977 continued that pattern of spectacle through the use of inflatables, including the now famous pigs, and saw Pink Floyd make US stadiums their own.

Next came the Wall, Roger Water’s ambitious theatrical concept base on alienation which saw a physical wall built between the audience and the band.

Some 14 years later, spectacular stadium shows had become the norm, with Floyd underlining their status as pioneers during The Division Bell Tour, captured to great effect on the p.u.l.s.e DVD and beating all records in terms of gate receipts.

1st Class UFO Club, 1966. The UFO Club opened on Dec. 23, 1966. Pink Floyd were booked for the opening along with Soft Machine.

1st Class The Dark Side of the Moon Tour, 1973. This show included the special effect of a plane crashing into the stage at the end of the song On the Run.

£1.52 The Wall Tour, 1981. Gerald Scarfe and Roger Waters designed a series of animations for the Wall Tour. These animations were projected onto a 40-foot high wall of cardboard bricks which was gradually built between the band and audience.

£1.52 The Division Bell Tour, 1994. Over 5.3 million tickets were sold for this tour and it grossed approx. 100 million US dollars.





By ProgBlog, Apr 26 2015 09:27PM

There’s a fair amount of literature that refers to the second album by a group as the ‘sophomore’ effort. This is largely a result of American journalistic influence, the term coming from the American education system and, while any increase in the quantity of material relating to or simply discussing progressive rock is to be welcomed, I have a problem with sophomore and I’d like to register my disapproval of the term; I believe the word is an interloper.

There are many bands, especially those from the 70s progressivo Italiano scene, that only managed to release a single album but there can be a problem with a second release, in terms of critical appraisal by fans and professional music journalists, if the first album garners acclaim but the subsequent release doesn’t meet expectations. Though it’s good to diversify, in true progressive spirit, a conscious decision to avoid criticism of producing a ‘son of…’ it’s certainly not inappropriate to develop a style.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, the problem occurs for both groups that developed during the late 60s and those that arrived on the scene with pre-formed expectations, like ELP. For most groups that evolved from acts that were in existence during the pre-progressive days of psychedelia and blues, Pink Floyd, The Nice, Yes, Jethro Tull, Gentle Giant, 'progressive' describes the process of becoming prog itself and this journey was informed by cultural, demographic and technological changes. In this way The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, though certainly not prog rock, caused something of a stir and managed to reach no.6 in the UK album charts; the next album, A Saucerful of Secrets might have made it to no.9 but the ousting of Syd Barrett disappointed fans, critics and the group’s management. It’s no surprise that Piper and Saucerful are stylistically disparate; the overriding impression of Piper is the Barrett-penned whimsy and not the instrumentals that formed the core of their live set. Saucerful simply moved the band in the direction of space-rock and I get a sense of music organised as architecture, something that I think was a defining idiom of their far better, progressive material in later years.

I prefer Ars Longa Vita Brevis and Time and a Word to The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack and Yes respectively where there’s evidence of maturity of song writing but I have a preference for Air Conditioning over Curved Air’s Second Album because Second Album merely rehashes the same formula as on their first release. It’s my opinion that the first, fully formed prog album is In the Court of the Crimson King and, because it was a genre-defining release, anything that followed was liable to disappoint. In the Wake of Poseidon is very much in the style of In the Court but that’s no great revelation because much of the material that would go on to comprise Poseidon had already been written and road-tested by the original band members; the structure of the tracks Pictures of a City and In the Wake of Poseidon closely resemble 21st Century Schizoid Man and In the Court of the Crimson King respectively. The example of Crimson reveals another factor that needs to be taken into account: the impact of personnel changes on the direction of a group. Whereas Yes replaced members one at a time (until the joint departure of Anderson and Wakeman between Tormato and Drama) which gave the impression of a group positively seeking direction in a controlled manner, the shifting personnel involved in the very early years of King Crimson appeared as seismic changes; that In the Court and Poseidon sound closely-related is also due to the retention of key players Greg Lake and Michael Giles as guest musicians. I would class Genesis as a band who developed their style in a manner similar to Yes, and despite replacing a guitarist and a drummer at the same time, their stylistic refinement followed a smooth path, reaching maturity with Foxtrot, their fourth release; Yes reached their pinnacle with their fifth album, Close to the Edge.

ELP arrived on the scene in 1970 as individuals from known, successful groups and produced a distinct and coherent first album that still rates as one of my favourite albums of all time. Tarkus, their second album contains more developed ideas, culminating in the side long suite that gives the record its name, but it lacks the overall balance of Emerson, Lake & Palmer with two decidedly non-prog compositions, Jeremy Bender and Are You Ready Eddy? The first supergroup, ELP had to hit the ground running or face the ignominy of artistic failure. I think their output, taken album by album up to and including Brain Salad Surgery is consistent but, within each of these records there is always some material that is below-par and unnecessary.

Mike Oldfield may have spent a number of years as a jobbing musician before stunning the world with Tubular Bells but his first solo effort was a game-changer, affecting him personally and also inadvertently helping to establish the fledgling Virgin empire. That he would release a second album was beyond doubt. Whether it could possibly be as original as Bells was a far more difficult question to answer. After selling my original vinyl copy of Tubular Bells (but later regretting it) and keeping my original Hergest Ridge LP, I’ve grown to believe that his second album is a much more satisfying effort. Of course there are similarities between the two compositions but Oldfield seems to have learned and remedied the deficiencies in Bells. Embracing the talents of his erstwhile band-mate David Bedford and expanding the instrumentation to provide a symphonic scope, Hergest Ridge conjures a sense of place, of open countryside and wilderness, something that a piece titled Tubular Bells could never do. I’ve come to this conclusion after 40 years, so perhaps it’s best not to dismiss any band’s second album as ‘more of the same’ or a ‘dramatic departure’. Both approaches, seeking a definitive style and radical departure can be equally valid as long as the goal is to further the music through increased proficiency or taking on new ideas.

On reflection, most second albums by exponents of progressive rock are of a similar standard to their first albums. There aren’t that many groups who stun the world with a brilliant debut and then go on to produce a stinker but there are plenty who follow the same formula with good results; Greenslade and Bedside Manners are Extra, Trace and Birds, Fruupp’s Future Legends and Seven Secrets. The downside to this approach became evident as the 70s moved on and prog lost favour with the media and the buying public; changes in style were dictated by the requirements of the music industry and not by the artists. One of the last great prog albums of the 70s was UK by UK; the second album which contained some good material was already showing signs of a more commercial appeal.

By ProgBlog, Dec 7 2014 05:57PM

The headline for a review of a Procol Harum gig in The Independent last week suggested that Procol Harum should be considered on an equal footing to Pink Floyd http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/reviews/procol-harum-dominion-theatre-gig-review-poised-to-reclaim-their-rightful-place-alongside-pink-floyd-in-the-prog-rock-pantheon-9882262.html?origin=internalSearch but I’d have issues with this even if I held The Independent in any regard. Founded in 1986 by disaffected Daily Telegraph journalists, The Indy (as it liked to be known) maintained the banner "free from party political bias, free from proprietorial influence" until 2011 but always retained a pro-market predisposition. Fellow Barrovian Chris Blackhurst became editor in 2011 after circulating around the business pages of a number of Tory rags; Blackhurst was a student in my form at school whose father was a Conservative councillor and, though he says he originally was in favour of the comprehensive school system, wrote an op-ed for his paper in 2012 asking for the resurrection of Grammar schools. Owned by oligarch and former KGB Foreign Intelligence officer Alexander Lebedev since 2010, the standing of The Independent plummeted further in my eyes.

Forget my issues with the newspaper’s ownership and editorial bias. Procol Harum (named after a Burmese Blue cat that had been misspelled, the cat was meant to be called Procul Harun, ‘beyond these things’) do have a potential claim to a place in progressive rock history: In Held Twas In I, from their second album Shine On Brightly released in December 1968, is an almost side-long multi-part suite that some might consider to be the first prog track. Procol are obviously most famous for A Whiter Shade of Pale, the most played song on UK radio, a track that was released before but didn’t appear on their first (eponymous) album. The most striking thing about this single which came out before the album, is Matthew Fisher’s organ figure, a loose approximation of Bach’s Air on a G String and there’s nothing like it on the entire debut LP. Fisher, from South Croydon, had spent two terms at the Guildhall School of Music but had decided musical studies didn’t suit him. However, I think the best tracks on Procol Harum are those which most feature Fisher: the excellent Conquistador; the instrumental Repent Walpurgis (which was written by Fisher but does include some nice guitar); and She Wandered Through the Garden Fence, where the organ is gospel-jazz. Not even the classical motifs can hide the blues that dominate the rest of the album; the lyrics are almost all throwaway despite the strong vocal performance from Brooker but the playing is always solid. With the possible exception of Conquistador, none of this is prog, or even proto-prog territory. The more psychedelic songs sound a little bit like the shorter Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack offerings from The Nice but compared to Piper-era Floyd, there’s no sonic exploration and even Syd Barrett’s lyrical whimsy, set within the context of the dawn of psychedelia, comes across as something new and different. Perhaps this is because the Floyd were less established as musicians; intending to become a song writer, Brooker had originally ended his playing career (with The Paramounts) in 1966 when Pink Floyd were only just settling on a steady line-up and managing to get paid bookings. Both bands played to their strengths: Procol were a very British R&B group and Pink Floyd were plotting their course towards space rock.

Much of Procol’s second could have been written for their first album. The exception is the near 17 minute masterpiece In Held Twas In I which, though it wasn’t the first side-length track (Ars Longa Vita Brevis had been released a couple of months beforehand), it incorporated a broader sonic palette, utilising sitar and harpsichord, absorbing musical and theological influences from the East. It was both thought-provoking and fun and one of my student day party pieces was to recount the opening section Glimpses of Nirvana: “Well, my son. Life is like a beanstalk. Isn’t it?” The piece was a composite; shorter songs very neatly segued together to produce the full track but it is, nevertheless, a pretty successful and fulfilling piece of music. Matthew Fisher was again invited to provide material and he also sings on the section that he penned, In the Autumn of my Madness, which has a very memorable melody.

I first heard this song on Live In Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, owned by one of Tony’s friends; with a much revised line-up and released in 1972, it coincided with my discovery of progressive rock. I bought the live album from Our Price in Lewisham in 1980 because apart from the epic In Held, it also has a really good version of Conquistador. This and a copy of Exotic Birds and Fruit that I picked up very cheap somewhere in the first few years after my arrival in London were my only Procol Harum albums for a very long time. I subsequently gave my copy of Exotic Birds away to a local charity shop having only played it a couple of times in twenty odd years and deciding I didn’t really like it. I had heard Something Magic (1977) on more than one occasion, an album owned by Infield Park Gang associate Mark Baker which, though not brilliant, wasn’t too bad mostly due to the side long track The Worm and the Tree. Those were the dog days of prog and the music on Something Magic reflected a lack of musical adventurousness. Exotic Birds and Fruit had been bought without a prior listen but at the time I figured that an album from 1974, from a band many consider to be a founding member of the progressive rock movement, would be ok. It wasn’t because they’d abandoned orchestrations and returned to more blues-based rock.

Meanwhile, Pink Floyd had gone from strength to strength, embraced long-form composition and recorded (a studio album) with an orchestra and choir (Atom Heart Mother, 1970) and gone on to break records with the chart longevity of Dark Side of the Moon. The Floyd were outward looking, Procol Harum were inward looking.

In 2005, former organist Matthew Fisher launched a legal battle against pianist and vocalist Gary Brooker over the musical copyright of A Whiter Shade of Pale. His initial success recognising that he had written the organ introduction and counter melody and therefore deserved royalties was challenged by Brooker at appeal and it wasn’t until Fisher took the case to the Law Lords, where he argued that a win without royalty money was never going to be recognised as a win at all, that Fisher emerged victorious. Baroness Hale, one of the five Law Lords involved in the hearing said in her contribution to the rulings: "As one of those people who do remember the Sixties, I am glad that the author of that memorable organ part has at last achieved the recognition he deserves."

Just because A Whiter Shade, Conquistador and In Held Twas In I were prime examples of the direction of travel of rock music in the late 60s, it doesn’t make them prog. A quick scan of articles by Pierre Perrone, the author of the Independent’s review, does not include much about progressive rock. More disturbingly, he had previously given the musical Rock of Ages a four star review. I assume his headline was referring to the recent release of The Endless River after a gap of 20 years but Perrone needs to do some better research if he's going to write about prog.


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