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A frantic fortnight of  gigs for ProgBlog began on March 9th at Genova's Angelo Azzurro Club, a much loved venue under threat of closure. Marina Montobbio's series of Lady Prog Nights was on its third event featuring local symphonic prog bands Melting Clock and Panther & C...

By ProgBlog, Mar 19 2018 08:38PM

At the beginning of 2018 the proprietors of Genova bar and music venue L’Angelo Azzurro posted a message on their Facebook page that suggested that after almost nine years of putting on concerts they were very likely to have to close down for good because they had insufficient funds to cover their rent and were facing eviction. The energy, dedication and passion they’d put into the club really could not be questioned and the local musicians I’ve spoken to were seriously concerned about the loss of a venue that had been very supportive of the Genova progressive rock community; limiting the potential exposure of bands of whatever genre would have undoubtedly had an impact on a number of up-and-coming local bands.

Owners Danilo Lombardo and Katya Daffinoti launched an appeal for €6000 through the issue of shares and within the first three days had managed to collect over a third of that sum, prompting them to acknowledge that the club was more than simply their business, it belonged to family, friends, musicians and music fans within the community as ‘a shelter and a reference point.’ They received many certificates of esteem which indicated that their commitment over the past few years had obviously left good memories with the musicians who came to play and those in the audience who came to watch. By the end of January they were very close to reaching the total and held open meetings to discuss future plans and suggestions for improvement. I arrived at the club, still going strong and with more performances announced, on Friday 9th March.

I’d gone along to support Melting Clock, playing their third gig and premiering some new material that has been written for their forthcoming album and the event, part of a series organised by local impresario Marina Montobbio called ‘Lady Prog Nights’ was made even more attractive by the second act of the evening who already have two high calibre symphonic prog albums under their belt, Panther & C.

L’Angelo Azzurro is relatively quick, cheap and easy to access by public transport in the evening, costing just €1.60 for a ticket from Genoa’s main station (Piazza Principe) to the suburban stop Genova Borzoli, from where it’s a 10 minute downhill walk to the club. Unfortunately, Google maps drops a pin by a roundabout in what appears to be the middle of nowhere so it took me a little while to work out where the venue really was and how to get there, descending the hill beyond the roundabout then almost doubling back on myself through a 1930s industrial estate; a trip reminiscent of getting to the Progressivamente 25 festival at the Jailbreak Live Club in Rome last October or BMS at Circolo Colony in Brescia in January. I’d had to join the Circolo Colony club in addition to getting a BMS ticket; for this Lady Prog night entry to the gig was a one-off payment of €10 which included membership of the club. It was really good to meet up with friends from previous trips to the city and it was patently obvious how much the club meant to this community; the place was full and buzzing with anticipation.

I was seated behind a table occupied by members of Panther & C. along with their friends and family and was told by flautist/vocalist Mauro Serpe that he’d be joining Melting Clock on stage, for what I assumed was one of the surprises Melting Clock had hinted of. The event began with a short introductory speech by Montobbio about the club and the special brand of Genovese symphonic prog we were about to be treated to, but there was a delay before the band could start because there were problems with Simone Caffè’s acoustic guitar lead which took the house sound engineer a little while to rectify.

Once the guitar lead was fixed, the set commenced with the short instrumental Quello che Rimane, a track very much in keeping with the melodic symphonic prog style that characterises the band. Material that they’ve played on the previous occasions I’ve seen them followed: L’occhio dello sciacallo; Banalmente (first played at La Claque last November); Caleidoscopio; Strade Affollate; each song revealing nuances I’d not previously detected as the musicians had become more confident in their performance. I’ve previously compared them to Renaissance and while Emanuela Vedana’s voice matches Annie Haslam’s beautiful vocals, there’s something more adventurous about the music of Melting Clock, something in the layered sounds of the twin guitars of Caffè and Stefano Amadei that add an extra degree of complexity. If I was detecting new subtleties in the songs I’d heard before, I wasn’t prepared for the latest composition to be played live for the first time, Vetro. This song involved sudden stops and changes and reminded me of the early classic Italian prog bands, taking their lead from UK prog, most notably King Crimson. Stefano and Sandro Amadei both suggested that they’d been a little nervous of tackling something of that difficulty for the first time in front of an audience but I thought it sounded remarkably tight and contrasted nicely with the flowing tunes I associate with the band. The technical challenge faced by the musicians, not least drummer Francesco Fiorito and bassist Alessandro Bosca, will have tested the audience in a different way. I actively seek out music that could be difficult to listen to and though this wasn’t in any way extreme and would still be classified as symphonic prog, I can’t believe that it didn’t make a few people sit up and marvel at the writing and execution of the piece; the applause at the end of the song suggested that the crowd really appreciated an excellent piece of music.

We were back on familiar territory for the next two songs, my favourite Antares and the evocative Sono Luce before Panther & C.’s Serpe joined them for their final number, by tradition a cover version of a prog classic. In acknowledgement of Marina Montobbio’s fantastic efforts getting the series of concerts off the ground, they played a song that originally featured Steve Hackett, one of her all-time favourite musicians, Firth of Fifth, with flute provided by Serpe.

Apart from the glitch at the beginning of the set, the sound was mostly good. The mixing desk was at the side of the stage so the engineer had to walk out in front of the band to judge how well he’d balanced the instruments and it took him a couple of trips to get Vedana’s vocals to a suitable level in the mix. Being a bit of a fan of keyboards, I wouldn’t have complained if they’d been a little clearer when the band was in full flight.

The Panther & C. performance was as good and professional as you’d expect. I’m relatively familiar with their music having bought both of their CDs when I last saw them at the Porto Antico Prog Fest, so I’m beginning to pick out more subtleties in their music, too. The set was a mixture of material from both of their albums (my personal favourite was ...e Continua ad Essere which segued into Giusto Equilibrio) but whereas you expect them to play high quality symphonic prog, the theatrics of Serpe also play an important role and that’s not something I’d particularly noticed before or something that comes across on CD. In a previous review I’d incorrectly ascribed opening song La Leggenda di Arenberg to the famous cycle race through the Arenberg forest but, aided by the CD booklet I now understand it’s about the Flemish king Helmut, and how he battled bravely despite being outnumbered by another army with around 100000 cavalrymen. Legend tells of the reappearance of Helmut and his foes for one night every year, disappearing as the sun rises.

This has caused me to reappraise the band. The musicianship is of a very high standard (Serpe on flute and vocals; Alessandro La Corte on keyboards; Riccardo Mazzarini on guitars; Giorgio Boleto on bass; and Falco Fedele on drums) and the compositions are well-crafted and the lyrics poetic. They certainly tell a very good story through both music and words; add in the use of masks and it’s clear that they’ve derived some inspiration from early Genesis.

Montobbio and her husband very kindly gave me a lift back to my hotel at 2.30 am – public transport had shut down by the time the gig ended – but in the intervening period while the two groups packed up their equipment, I was introduced to some other members of the Italian Riviera prog scene: Bruno Cassan who is based in Nice and is responsible for, amongst other things, Prog’Sud in Pennes-Mirabeau, France (Panther & C. played there in 2017); and Il Tempio delle Clessidre bassist Fabio Gremo (who had come along with ITDC guitarist Giulio Canepa to support his good friends from Melting Clock.) The sense of community can’t be understated, and it would be a terrible loss if L’Angelo Azzurro was forced to close. Every time I visit the city, I’m awed by the friendliness of everyone involved in the prog scene in Genova: the support from the staff at Black Widow Records, the work and enthusiasm of Montobbio, and a world of welcoming musicians. I’ll be back

By ProgBlog, Jul 5 2017 07:55PM

The 2017 Porto Antico Prog Festival is being held in Genoa next week (Friday 14th – Sunday 16th July) and as I’m going along, I thought I’d take a look at some of the bands who are performing. Panther & C. play early in the evening on Saturday. I saw them at the Fiera Internazionale della Musica in 2014 and thought they were a confident ensemble playing an impressive melodic symphonic progressive rock, somewhere between the classic Italian style and subsequent incarnations of prog.

Yet another band from the new centre of progressivo Italiano, Panther & C. formed in 2003 but didn’t release their debut album L’Epoca di un Altro (Another Time) until 2015. The entire recording clocks in at less than 38 minutes which may be the ideal length for a vinyl LP but, considering they had other material that was already in a polished format in 2011 and the album only came out on CD and digital formats, it’s somewhat unusual for the times. That’s not to take anything away from the group who play beautifully constructed progressivo Italiano and tend to mix 10 minute+ compositions with shorter pieces. This first release boasts two epics; the opener Conto alla Rovescia (Countdown) and the closing La Leggenda di Arenberg (The Legend of Arenberg.) The latter, if my interpretation of the song is correct, relates to the cobbled track, once used by miners but now an integral part of the infamous Paris-Roubaix classic one-day cycle race, as it runs through the Arenberg Forest in northern France. It’s predominantly instrumental but the vocals possess an expressive, theatrical touch. I detect hints of Locanda delle Fate, especially the interactions between piano and flute and if there’s any reference to the UK prog scene, I’d suggest they were influenced by Lamb Lies Down-era Genesis. The line-up for the first album was comprised of Riccardo Mazzarini on guitar; Mauro Serpe on flute and vocals; Alessandro La Corte on Keyboards; Giorgio Boleto on bass; and Roberto Sanna on drums.

It’s appropriate that they’re once more playing on home turf because they recently released their sophomore effort Il Giusto Equilibrio (The Right Balance) (Black Widow BWRDIST 668), an album which is not yet available in the UK. Sanna has been replaced by Folco Fedele on drums but this doesn’t appear to have changed the sound in any way. This album, like the first, features five tracks mixing short pieces with three longer ones so that the running time is extended to 47 minutes; once more suitable for vinyl. Unlike the first album, Il Giusto Equilibrio has a loose theme linking the five songs, how mankind attempts to reconcile the human condition, finding the right balance between the competing essentials of existence.

Opener …e continua ad essere… (...and Continues to Be...) is firmly in classic territory, commencing with a baroque harpsichord figure before being joined by wildly racing vocals and guitar which in turn subside to calm section which has some haunting Camel-like flute drifting on to the end of the track; short, but perfectly formed. The second (title) track Giusto Equilibrio contrasts the beauty of nature and the dark side of nature, like the lion killing the gazelle. This is the first of the extended pieces and is mostly in the classical style. There’s a particular moment where the piano and organ work together in a style similar to that developed by Banco del Mutuo Soccorso and the changes in style and tempo reinforce this feeling. The track ends with a quite wonderful expansive guitar solo. Oric is the other short track, about the ‘hopes of positive feelings in the transition from one life to another’ neatly distilled into a gentle ballad with mellow picked guitar chords, Mellotron strings and choir and some Genesis-like flute. It works because it provides a dramatic contrast to the other, more full-on prog. Having said that, the second of the three lengthy tracks Fuga dal Lago (Escape to the Lake) begins in a similar fashion. This instrumental has been around since at least 2011 and relates to the need to escape from the stresses of everyday life. There are some amazing melodies weaving their way through this piece, from early Crimson flute passages to some immediate post Gabriel-era Genesis guitar and keyboard lines. The earliest versions of the piece could have fallen into the new-age category and though snatches of programmed keyboard sections remain, it’s now largely shaken off that feel but sounds like neo-prog rather than 70s prog. The last song, the 13’40 L’Occhio del Gabbiano (The Seagull’s Eye) commences with the same mellow picked chords of Oric but builds nicely. It describes a gull who witnesses the attack on the Twin Towers in New York on September 11th 2001, comparing the majesty of natural flight with the murderous intent of the hijackers. The vocals express a remarkable sadness but it’s predominantly instrumental with some great guitar and synthesizer melodies (think Misplaced Childhood and post-Hackett Genesis for sounds), all expertly held together with a dextrous, inventive rhythm section.

The album artwork probably won’t suit all tastes. Whereas L’Epoca di un Altro is illustrated by stand-up cardboard figures of the band in a manner not dissimilar to the figures depicted on the cover of Vital by Van der Graaf, Il Giusto Equilibrio has hands ripping through a leather hide. Fortunately, there’s a hint of revealing something interesting or intriguing behind the ripped covering.

Look beyond the sleeve – the music inside is well worth a listen.

See you in Genoa!

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