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At the start of a four-day immersion in gigs and record buying, ProgBlog attended the album launch of Gryphon's first studio release for 41 years, ReInvention.

More akin to the eponymous first album from 1973 than the more proggy later material, it's a worthy addition to the Gryphon canon

By ProgBlog, Aug 20 2018 03:25PM

I met up with an old school friend last week. Though we have always exchanged Christmas cards and occasional emails, usually around the time his band is about to release some new music which he will dutifully send me, I’d not seen Bill or his wife, Anna, for thirty years, the last time being at their wedding. Bill lived two doors away from me in Barrow, was in the same year at school and, as part of a tight-knit group of adolescents, we grew up liking the same music, the direction of which was set by my older brother.

I played bass and Bill played drums in a band influenced by early Pink Floyd and King Crimson until we departed for separate universities; we listened to records, analysed and discussed music and last Monday, in the Royal Oak, Borough, a pub without any form of electronic amusements where even the contactless payment facility failed to work, began making up for lost time in conversation about music over well-kept beer from Harvey’s of Lewes.



Having not long before returned from a trip to Italy, talk naturally turned to PFM, who’s Photos of Ghosts, Cook and Chocolate Kings were first obtained by Bill. I hadn’t realised that he wasn’t so much a fan of Jet Lag, despite its jazz rock leanings and his proclivity for jazz and jazz rock, or Chocolate Kings, because of Bernardo Lanzetti’s English vocals and what he suggested was a move away from the earlier band sound, with its distinctive Mediterranean feel. Favouring their post-millennium output, he also thought that Emotional Tattoos was the best thing they’d done since Photos of Ghosts. For my part, I agree that Emotional Tattoos is a step in the right direction, with a couple of tracks that do hint at their 70s prime, but I think the Mediterranean warmth that pervades their early work is largely absent. There’s less use of change in amplitude and other devices to add contrast to an individual piece of music than there used to be, less contrapuntal interplay and no flute; as much as I like Lucio Fabbri’s playing, I miss the flute when the current band play the old material. Still, based on Bill’s recommendation, I’ve just invested in a copy of Dracula from a seller on ebay, a CD I saw when I was in Rome in 2006 but failed to buy, but I’ve never seen it anywhere since.



I tend to play the English version of Emotional Tattoos because that’s the version I own on vinyl, but I listened to the Italian version (which came on CD with the 2LP) before going to see them in Genova last year. Bill and I agreed that the Italian version was better, like their 70’s material that was available in both Italian and English. I’m not trying to suggest that I don’t like PFM’s English language work as Photos of Ghosts and The World Became the World include faithful re-workings of songs from Storia di un Minuto and Per un Amico and I’m not too put out by Lanzetti’s singing; unfortunately, Peter Sinfield’s words required a more nuanced delivery than the band were capable of, though I found it pleasing, not understanding the social situation in Italy at the time, that they accepted his environmentalism and his compassionate lyrics.



The topic of Italian bands singing in English was also raised when I was talking to Melting Clock at the Porto Antico Prog Fest, who employ their native language for their original material. They also play one or two progressive rock classics during their live set, where vocalist Emanuela Verdana sings with confidence when they perform accurate renditions of Genesis’ Firth of Fifth, Time by Pink Floyd or Soon, the coda to Gates of Delirium by Yes; this not only demonstrates their understanding of prog history, but it’s also a clever device to ingratiate themselves with members of an audience who may not have heard their self-penned music. We were unanimous in agreement that it was preferable for a rock progressivo Italiano bands to sing in Italian, but they also understood that overcoming the language barrier was likely to make their music accessible to the wider public and were considering, at least on one of the formats for their forthcoming debut, to include a bonus track of original music with lyrics translated and sung in English to expand their appeal but also, like veteran local group and Black Widow Records stable mate Il Cerchio d’Oro on their 2008 album Il Viaggio di Columbo, include English translations of the Italian lyrics.



It could be argued that world-wide appreciation for the entire sub-genre of RPI was facilitated by Greg Lake, Keith Emerson and Manticore Records. PFM manager Franco Mamone passed on a tape of the group to Greg Lake who, to the surprise of the Italians, listened to and liked what he heard, and invited them to Fulham to see and hear them play. Peter Sinfield was working with ELP at the time and compared their musicianship to King Crimson (PFM performed cover versions of 21st Century Schizoid Man and Pictures of a City on their first Italian tours in 1971 and 72) and suggested that English language lyrics would make their music universally appealing, and the band agreed. Banco del Mutuo Soccorso were also signed to Manticore after Emerson had heard them play and became a huge fan. Banco (1975) was their first release for Manticore, containing one original track (in Italian) and re-workings of material from Banco del Mutuo Soccorso and Io Sono Nato Libero in Italian and English, followed in 1976 by a concept album Come in un’ultima cena / As in a Last Supper released in both Italian and English.



Le Orme, another of the most successful RPI bands, also experimented with an English version of one of their highly regarded LPs with the aim of conquering the UK and US. Released on the Charisma label, Felona and Sorona had lyrics written by Peter Hammill (who was signed to Charisma), based on the concept provided by Tagliapietra, Pagliuca and Dei Rossi so that his words closely followed the original story.



In a modern twist, when La Maschera di Cera released their continuation of the Felona e Sorona story Le Porte del Domani in 2013, they also released a version in English, The Gates of Tomorrow, with a very subtle alternative mix and a less subtle variation of the album sleeve, painted by Lanfranco who had provided the original art work for Le Orme. In addition to Italian groups releasing an alternative version of an album for the English-speaking market, which spreads beyond the four acts listed above, there are examples found in my collection of groups who only sing in English (The Trip, Cellar Noise, Hollowscene); those like Banco, PFM and Osanna who have released albums with a mixture of Italian and English lyrics; and those who have released both all-Italian and all-English albums (Nuova Era with Dopo L’Infinito and Return to the Castle respectively).



The phenomenon of non-native English speakers singing in English isn’t restricted to Italy; plucking a few more examples from my collection are Tasavallan Presidentti from Finland (Wigwam don’t count because they were Anglo-Finnish); Pulsar from France (both French and English are used on Strands of the Future, 1976); Germany’s Eloy and Triumvirat; Aphrodite’s Child from Greece; Earth and Fire, Focus and Supersister from the Netherlands; Albion from Poland (Broken Hopes, 2007); Spain’s Iceberg (Tutankhamon, 1975, a mixture of Spanish and English); and Sweden’s Anekdoten and Wobbler. So what influenced these choices? Was it simply the likelihood that the music would be more universally accepted, with concomitant success, if they used English lyrics? I’m not so sure it’s that straightforward; there’s a theory that in Italy during the 70s in there was something of a backlash against groups singing in anything other than Italian when the political tension is well documented. It’s strange then that PFM should release their anti-American opus, Chocolate Kings as an English language LP but that album might give a hint why there’s a melange of native- and English languages used throughout progressive rock in mainland Europe .

The title track on Chocolate Kings spells out that the US army, an occupying force in Italy following the Second World War, became unwelcome when fascism was defeated and bribing the local populace with candy and consumer items was insufficient for them to gain the goodwill of the locals; it could even have been seen as a potential source of friction, especially with the polarisation of political viewpoints in the late 60s and 70s. American and British music arrived in Italy through major ports like Genova and with further influx from a mixture of cultures it’s not surprising that Genova has played an important role in the development of musical styles, though a crucial element was retaining some of their own heritage and identity, including a desire to sing in their own language. It could be argued that the adherence to a ‘romantic style’ also helps to explain the attraction of UK progressive rock in Italy.

A similar situation occurred in Germany, though there was a greater concentration of American armed forces. The counter-culture generation, born after the war, largely rejected Anglicised music but also opted to break from their own traditions to create their own music scene, disrespectfully dubbed Krautrock by the English-speaking media, which has since become massively influential in its own right. The more mainstream prog bands tended to develop along the lines of the space rock of early Pink Floyd although Triumvirat became something of an ELP-clone.


Progressive rock started as an British phenomenon and was absorbed an integrated by many European countries putting their own stamp on the movement, including choosing whether or not to adopt English as its official language. The eclectic mix of influences that helped to form progressive rock indicates that there was no manifesto for the genre to remain 'English', and many bands stuck to their native tongue; this enriched the scene and made it a joy for the UK and US audiences to discover something new. Sadly, globalisation means that the music industry, which once thrived on creativity, now treats artists as commodity, fulfilling the fears aired in Chocolate Kings. The trend for an increasing number of mainland European prog bands to sing in English may reflect the attitudes of the market but would anyone dispute that most fans prefer Italian bands to sing in Italian?


I personally like all non-UK bands to sing in their mother tongue because it sounds more fluent, more poetic, more passionate and more believable but it all boils down to whether or not a band feels that English lyrics best serve the purposes of their music.











By ProgBlog, Aug 12 2018 09:30PM

There was relatively short notice for this year’s Porto Antico Prog Fest and it was only held on one day, Friday 3rd August, so the event was made up with two bands performing original music, Ancient Veil and Sophya Baccini’s Aradia, plus two bands contributing towards a ‘tribute night’, Get ‘em Out from Milan playing Gabriel-era Genesis, and Outside the Wall playing Pink Floyd from 1973-1980.



Ancient Veil began proceedings with a really enjoyable 45 minute set that included pieces from their three studio albums, Rings of Earthly Light (as Eris Pluvia), Ancient Veil and last year’s I am Changing, reflecting their live album Rings of Earthly... Live, with performances taken from two 2017 appearances at Genova’s La Claque club, released this year. Their music is predominately prog-folk, largely due to the variety of wind instruments played by Edmondo Romano which are sometimes used to give a Celtic feel, but Alessandro Serri adds some jazzy acoustic guitar and, during the epic 17 minute Rings of Earthly Light suite, played guitar parts with the Steve Hackett-invented finger tapping technique. The scope of this song, which at times invokes Genesis and Focus, is the reason it’s my personal favourite.


Ancient Veil - Porto Antico Prog Fest 2018
Ancient Veil - Porto Antico Prog Fest 2018

I took a break for almost an hour to have dinner with my wife and came back to witness Get 'em Out embark upon their last number of the evening, Supper’s Ready. It’s impossible to underestimate the affection that Italian prog fans hold for early Genesis but there are a couple of explanations for the appeal, one offered by long-time band associate Richard MacPhail who thought the appreciation came from the emotional content of Genesis’ music, presented as long-form, romantic, almost operatic suites which form an important part of the country’s musical heritage. Steve Hackett linked their success to the theological association of the storylines in many of the songs which, as well as in Italy, seemed to strike a chord in fans from other catholic countries, and also thought that the Italians especially, picked up on the Greco-Roman myth told in The Fountain Of Salmacis.


Enhanced by back projections and the costume changes of vocalist Franco Giaffreda, decent reproductions of Gabriel’s Narcissus flower and Magog head, Get ‘em Out proved to be an excellent act providing an accurate interpretation of the classic 1972 Genesis song, including the set design and instrumentation and, much as MacPhail describes in his book, even for a tribute act each section was cheered because so many of the audience knew every note and nuance of the song, singing along or mouthing the words.




Get 'em Out - Porto Antico Prog Fest 2018
Get 'em Out - Porto Antico Prog Fest 2018

I’d been looking forward to Sophya Baccini, even considering buying one of her albums from the pop-up Black Widow Records stall but on reflection I maybe should have gone for dinner an hour later so I'd not have missed Get 'em Out. Hailing from Naples, Baccini is a flamboyant vocalist with involvement in a number of musical collaborations including her heavy rock band Presence and her work with some of the most recognisable names in Italian prog, like Banco del Mutuo Soccorso’s Vittorio Nocenzi, Lino Vairetti of Osanna, and appearing as a guest on Delirium’s 2009 album Il Nome del Vento. Sophya Baccini’s Aradia is her current project and the band focused on their second album Big Red Dragon (William Blake’s Visions) from 2013.

Intrigued by the ‘dark prog’ tag and her ability to combine operatic vocal and experimental electronic elements, I was immediately disappointed with the quality of the sound, muddied by the use of delay on the vocals so that it was difficult to determine whether her vocals were in Italian or English (she sings in both); the only track I could fully discern was Satan from Big Red Dragon. Keyboard player Marilena Striano was also plagued with monitor problems at the beginning of their set but she did go on to provide some of the most interesting moments in a performance that conformed to ‘dark’ but was lacking in prog. The rhythm section of Isa Dido (bass) and Francesca Colaps (drums) was solid enough but lacked invention and the guitar lines provided by Peppe Gianfredo, despite the nice tone, were fairly predictable, devoid of the creativity and experimentation I was expecting.


Outside the Wall is a well known and acclaimed Italian Pink Floyd tribute band and, judging by the enthusiastic reaction of the crowd, easily met expectations. I thought they did a decent job if you ignored the frequently forgotten words, though they rhythm section of Mauro Vigo (drums) and Fabio Cecchini (bass) were, in common with the Waters-era Floyd, arguably the weakest link; Vigo’s timing was a little off and Cecchini added a few too many redundant funky frills. Performing most of The Dark Side of the Moon, including accurate sound effects, the title track and Shine On You Crazy Diamond from Wish You Were Here, plus Comfortably Numb, Another Brick in the Wall (part 2) and Run Like Hell from The Wall (even though the audience, when asked, appeared to want a selection from Animals), the most accomplished piece was The Great Gig in the Sky, with an outstanding vocal performance by Elisabetta Rondanina. Martin Grice from Delirium, a reliable presence at the prog fest (his band hail from Savona, a short distance west along the Riviera), added the Dick Parry saxophone parts on Money and Us and Them which he reproduced accurately and with feeling. I also enjoyed the film that they used to accompany them, made up mostly from genuine Floyd footage for Dark Side and The Wall interspersed with original cuts.


Although I would have preferred a bill of all original acts performing over two days, the size of the crowd, possibly reflecting the draw of the music of Genesis and Pink Floyd, seemed much bigger than at the 2017 Porto Antico Prog Fest. This is important because the event has to draw in punters to ensure it can continue. I had a great time, meeting up with the Black Widows Records team who organise the event, saying hello to Mauro Serpe from Panther & C. and watching proceedings with all the members of last year’s surprise star turn, Melting Clock.


I can exclusively reveal that Melting Clock is booked to begin recording their debut album later this month and, if everything goes smoothly, have a record ready for sale in November. Part of our conversation related to cover artwork and I was shown the design for the album sleeve, then asked what I thought about their proposed cover and about album artwork generally. It was something of an honour to preview the cover art (I like it a lot) but I didn’t back up my opinion with a full explanation why I think an appropriate album sleeve is an important part of the whole package, which I think should also take the music and (where possible) the live experience into account.

My preference for an album sleeve is a photographic image, because the medium, though both easily digitally manipulated and suitable for abstract work, best represents realism; I’m also an avid photographer with an inclination for scenery and architecture. I love much of the work of Hipgnosis but one of my favourite pieces is John Pasche’s design for Illusion by Isotope (1974) with a cover photo by Phil Jude - the depiction of headphones with a mercury-like fluid connecting the two ear-pieces was part of the reason I bought an Isotope LP and listen out for more jazz rock. However, I’m also partial to a good painting, graphic design or some other form of artwork, like Henry Cow’s iconic sock imagery.


The presentation of an album used to be one of the factors I took into account when I was first attempting to discover new music in the early 70s, a time when the 12 inch LP format offered the best possible option for displaying images, innocently believing that art direction was more the responsibility of the group than the label and hypothesised that a band that invested in decent artwork was likely to have taken equal care with their music. Pre-prog, The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) with a design by Peter Blake and Jann Howarth pioneered a new form of album presentation, opening the doors for cover art to reflect the musical and lyrical content of the release.


The presumption, good artwork equates to good music, didn’t always stand up. Examples I use to illustrate the failure of the theory are Gentle Giant’s Acquiring the Taste and the second Italian release by PFM, Per Un Amico, where the covers are awful but the music is excellent, and the alternative situation with a great Roger Dean cover but music not to my liking, Badger’s One Live Badger, but there are many other examples of good music wrapped in awful artwork and vice versa.

There are a number of artists and design teams who have a strong association with progressive rock but the most famous has to be Roger Dean, predominantly for his work with Yes. Whereas Hipgnosis images sometimes only obliquely refer to an album title or lyrical references, there is usually some allusion to the subject matter. On the other hand, Dean’s paintings have less of a concrete relationship with the subject matter because, on the two studio albums Close to the Edge and Tales from Topographic Oceans, Jon Anderson was utilising the sounds of words rather than their meaning when penning lyrics. Even though there is no concept linking Fragile and Close to the Edge, Dean constructed a coherent narrative thread, explained in the paintings adorning the triple gatefold of Yessongs and later revisited in a number of live releases from Yes and Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe, that nevertheless formed an instantly recognisable visual brand.


I believe there are tangible benefits to a long-term partnership between a musical entity and a particular designer, where music, lyrics and visual motifs create a coherent artistic vision, a gesamtkuntswerk, readily recognisable to the record-buying public. For a band like Melting Clock embarking upon their debut album that have yet to build up such a relationship, it is essential to be comfortable with the trust placed in the artist to interpret their musical ideas to grace the album sleeve. Those of us who have heard their demo EP or seen them live know how good the music is; I think the cover artwork fits their vision.

By ProgBlog, Aug 16 2015 08:59PM

It may be the largest seaport in Italy, served by several cruise lines, but Genova is hardly geared up for tourism. I first visited the city in May 2014 for the Riviera Prog Festival but was intrigued by the UNESCO World Heritage designation for the largest medieval city centre in Europe including the Palazzi dei Rolli. This vertical city also has some unusual modes of transport. Your 100 minute ticket (€1.60) is good for the Metro, local train services, the bus and elevators and a funicular railway. The lifts are incredible – I couldn’t quite believe the map last year when I saw ‘ascensore’ marked and I somehow managed to walk right past one; last week, when I went for a return visit with my wife Susan, I made sure we used them. There’s even a Starship Enterprise-like lift that travels horizontally for some distance before ascending – possibly the only example of its kind in the world.

It seems appropriate that Genova should host an annual prog festival though it’s actually a music festival associated with a musical equipment fair held in the Fiera, the exhibition centre reclaimed from the sea in the 1960s.

Last year the excellent Black Widow Records (Via del Campo 6R) had decamped to the prog festival leaving the shop closed but on our first afternoon we somehow managed to make the pilgrimage to what I can only describe as one of the best record stores I’ve ever visited. Small in area but filled with vinyl and CDs, owner Massimo Gasperini is a fountain of knowledge and also friends with a number of musicians. He may not have been quite prepared for the Englishman who came into his shop and encouraged by his wife, began to select a rather large pile of CDs. Rather than having the CDs themselves accessible, Massimo has saved space by displaying four CD covers in plastic wallets the size of a vinyl album. It also meant that the storage racks could be uniform; a system I’d previously seen in Rossetti Records in Milan. On former trips I’d taken lists or one of my Progressive Italiano books but the gaps in my collection are becoming fewer and fewer and I now recognise what I want to acquire without too much trouble. The gaps that do exist are generally more recent album releases, bands that formed or reformed during the third wave of progressive rock and these 90s onwards groups aren’t all covered in my books. I have to rely on engaging the shopkeeper in conversation, mostly in English because my Italian is very basic, using a shared appreciation of the music itself. I was both surprised and impressed to see a copy of Marsbeli Kronikak by Hungarian symphonic prog band Solaris. Initially released in 1984, this is a highly regarded piece of work and somewhat difficult or expensive to come by in the UK. When I last checked my Amazon wish list it was selling for £43; I bought it there and then for €17. It really is a well-crafted melodic piece of work, spoiled only by some harmonica on the last of the two bonus tracks.

An old release from 1973 that I’d not previously come across in any of my travels was Melos by Cervello, the only record they produced before breaking up. I was aware that there was no keyboard player in the band but there’s plenty of flute and they utilise some interesting dynamics; the entire concept is based around Greek myths which is enhanced by a strong Mediterranean feel.

I saw Il Tempio delle Clessidre at the Riviera Prog Festival last year and was impressed enough to buy their first CD and a T shirt from their merchandise stand. I’d previously seen a review of their 2013 album Alienatura in Prog Magazine but I’d not actually seen it other than at the music festival. They’re a Genova band and their material is released on Black Widow Records so it wasn’t too much of a surprise to pick it up in the shop!

I’ve now seen La Coscienza di Zeno twice, on the second day of Prog Résiste last year in Soignies and again the following month, once more in Genova. I think I preferred the Genova set more, possibly because I’d heard the material which has some neat hooks but can also be quite rhythmically complex. A lack of ready cash and a shortage of luggage space meant I didn’t buy anything on either of these occasions but I couldn’t resist buying Sensitivita (2013) this time.

I’d resisted buying Latte e Miele records until I got a copy of Passio Secundum Mattheum from 1972 on a day trip to Padova from Venezia late last year. I‘d originally been put off by suggestions that the members of the group were inspired by religion but found the music and musicianship quite incredible, genuine classic Italian prog and anyway, rather religion than dodgy right-wing politics. I’ve been looking out for Marco Polo Sogni e Viaggi from 2009 but Black Widow had Passio Secundum Mattheum The Complete Work which is a 2014 remake of the original album, extended and rearranged and released on the Black Widow label – Latte e Miele being another Genovese group. It’s interesting to see the list of narrators who appear on the album, a list that includes other Genovese and some of the greats from the original RPI scene.

I’ve been a Goblin fan for some years and managed to find a copy of the eponymous Cherry Five album, which I like a great deal, in Pisa a couple of years ago. I was delighted that a reformed Cherry Five had just released Il Pozzo dei Giganti which is based on Dante’s Inferno, on the Black Widow label. It’s quite clear they’ve picked up from where they left off in the 70s; not only is it thematically Cherry Five material but the analogue keyboard sounds are very fitting.

Finally, Massimo produced a CD that wasn’t in the racks and asked if I was interested: Palepolitana by Osanna, the just-released reinterpretation of Palepoli from 1972 by the current line-up. I explained that I was a big fan of the original album but less impressed by their later material; Landscape of Life (1975) has two great tracks but the line-up was in transition for that album and the remaining material is really very throwaway. Massimo told me that the original Palepoli was supposed to have been a double album and the current group had not only recreated the material released in 1972 but included the songs that would have made up the other LP in the proposed double album, described as “an act of love for the city of Naples...” There are hints of the very early material, the Mediterranean feel mixed with psychedelia but I still prefer the three tracks Ora Caldo, Stanza Citta and Animale senza Respira which continue to reveal surprises.

That’s my advert for the Genoa tourist board. I've not mentioned one other of the Genova greats: La Maschera di Cera. I've got all their albums apart from Petali di Fuoco (2010) plus a considerable number of albums by Fabio Zuffanti. Coincidentally, Genova featured in the travel section of The Guardian this weekend http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2015/aug/14/italy-genoa-food-drink-chocolate-walking - it was as though I was still there...



By ProgBlog, Oct 12 2014 06:04PM

Sometimes prog themes turn up in unusual places...

Many years ago I didn’t appreciate the Zoology classes drawing animal skeletons and stuffed or pickled specimens and I wasn’t keen on spending a two hour Geology practical lesson drawing rugosa, an extinct order of coral that were abundant in Middle Ordovician to Late Permian seas. I had wanted to do Biophysics at York but disappointing A-level results meant that I ended up doing Botany and Zoology, with Geology as a first year option (that I somehow managed to drag on into my final year) at Goldsmiths’ College, University of London.

Though I would probably make a different choice of course and career if I could have my time over again, the landscape around Barrow extending up into the Lake District but also including a decent amount of coastline, instilled a love of the natural world and the natural sciences. Having been told by my headmaster at the age of 11 that I didn’t read enough, I embarked on a fifteen year literary binge that took in classics (Austin, Bronte, Dickens, Hardy); modern classics (Hesse, Kafka, Peake); fantasy (CS Lewis, Tolkien); SF (I distinctly remember the yellow jackets on hardbacks by Ursula Le Guin, published by Gollancz that I would borrow from the town library); and a burgeoning genre aimed at children, from Robert Westall’s The Machine Gunners to Alan Garner’s Weirdstone books, a trilogy recently completed by the excellent Boneland (2012). Landscape and literature became important influences; the geology of Low Furness was moderately complex and was responsible for the industrial landscape superimposed over the natural. In my mind, I equated Tolkien’s The Shire to the contours of the former haematite workings around Furness, perpetually verdant by virtue of the prevailing moisture-laden westerly breezes from over the Irish Sea. Local ruins Furness Abbey, Piel Castle and Gleaston Castle imposed their history on the scenery but I was equally interested in landmarks that added to the mythical setting: Birkrigg Stone Circle. My interest in the cosmological was partly inspired by this environment; the artificial light from the town was effectively cut off by the drumlins that surrounded Furness Abbey and clear nights were ideal for stargazing. On more than one occasion a small group of us would access the playground of St Paul’s School at night, itself surrounded by tall trees that eliminated any extraneous sodium glow from the street lights, and lie there, staring up at comet showers. I link this behaviour with my love of progressive rock; the exploration of my environment, the thirst for the written word and the possibilities linked to space travel all fit in with grand prog themes.

That my school years were important in forming who I’ve become has only relatively recently become apparent. It was around the time when my son Daryl was completing his studies that I realised that my youth exploring Furness and the Botany, Zoology and Geology classes all fitted in with my understanding of the universe. I think that my undergraduate courses were badly taught and that’s why I didn’t really appreciate comparative biology.

This knowledge may have lain dormant but there was also a continuing accumulation of information as I attempted to show him things I’d learned, tried to answer his questions and also listened to what interested him.

The unusual place to discover a prog theme, a Rock Progressivo Italiano theme in fact, was on the beach at Lancing in West Sussex. At low tide one weekend, the family were taking some mild exercise on the beach and came across rocks perforated by even-sized holes. It’s hard to believe that this effect was not the result of some human derived mechanical activity, simply because of the regularity of the holes, but I recalled some ancient zoology and knew that the holes were produced by burrowing marine animals. I was reminded of this episode as I travelled home from work last Friday when I was playing Concerto delle Menti (Concerto of the Mind), the only album by Pholas Dactylus, a band from around Bergamo, released in 1973. The group was named after the marine mollusc Pholas dactylus which is found around the north Atlantic and Mediterranean shores and was once a revered source of food. This shellfish has a couple of interesting properties; it is luminescent (a property recorded by Pliny that probably accounts for its esteem) and it is also capable of boring into rock; the chalk of West Sussex can’t have presented too much of a problem because the creature is capable of boring into gneiss, a form of high grade metamorphic rock.

The album was based on an apocalyptic poem by their vocalist Paolo Carelli who narrates the story by spoken word, rather than singing and the lyrics laid out in the inner sleeve are preceded by an enigmatic sentence attributed to Paolo Marcello: “A tall column made of bricks... ...each brick a word... ...the meaning of which you can understand just by looking at the base or on top of it...”

The storyline borrows imagery from a variety of biblical sources, most notably Revelations, something that had previously been attempted by Aphrodite’s Child and Genesis, but this comes across as more frightening and psychotic and includes a very abrupt ending. The spoken passages are punctuated by extended musical interludes that vary between jazz, jazz rock, pastoral breaks and psychedelia, representing the build-up and release of musical tension. Carelli’s words and voice fit really well though some online reviewers find the narration irritating; personally, I like the poetic flow. The opening section sets the scene “You are going to take a tramway. In a while you’ll be on an old, battered tramway carriage, looking like you after a black, empty, paranoiac day...” which hints at possible inspiration through stimulants and certainly suggests that the tram journey is a bad trip. The album is really one piece, split into two parts by the restrictions imposed by the original vinyl format and unlike many RPI releases, which barely include over 30 minutes of music, this is a very lengthy production with part 1 lasting over 29 minutes and part 2 almost 24 minutes. When I first listened to it, I knew that I would need to listen to it again without distractions to really appreciate the startling originality and subtle nuances of the work. Despite a well-received live following the album had poor sales and critics were at best indifferent to the work. I think this unique piece of work ranks as one of the best hidden gems of the original RPI scene. Sadly, the group broke up following the album’s release.


By ProgBlog, May 25 2014 06:31PM

I booked a direct flight from Gatwick to Genova, on British Airways, at a sensible time in the morning. What could be a better start to a weekend of Italian prog (16 - 18 May 2014) than that? It’s a shame trains from East Croydon were not running as smoothly as perhaps they should have but I managed to make check-in with a couple of minutes to spare. The flight was short and relatively comfortable but, though the airport at Genova is only 7km from the city, there’s no metro or train to take you there. There is a bus which takes about 40 minutes but they’re at odd times and so, starting from Croydon at 7.20 in the morning, I eventually reached my hotel, the NH Plaza, at a little after 2pm local time.

I was drawn to Genoa because it seems to be the new home of progressivo Italiano. It’s the biggest port in Italy and is a major point of entry into Europe so, like prog, the city is open to a variety of influences. Armed with a map that I picked up from the airport tourist information I set off for the Fiera di Genova, an exhibition space that’s more accustomed to international boat shows and which sits like a grounded UFO in an industrial estate. The route I took, including a couple of minor inadvertent diversions, revealed the city to be built on a number of levels and I could look out from a bridge to see parapets above and below me like a scene from an Escher painting. Getting down to the coast to the Fiera entrance involved a fairly circuitous route but a set of steps on the road level above the exhibition area allowed me to cut off a huge curve in the road. I thought it remarkable that a three day pass to the event cost less than €33 but this wasn’t simply a prog festival, it was an international fair dedicated to music in all its forms so the trade stands will have helped to subsidise the event. I thought that was an exceptionally reasonable price for 23 RPI acts including some big names in the progressivo Italiano world: La Maschera di Cera; Aldo Tagliapietra; Locanda delle Fate; Alphataurus; Gianni Leone; Osanna; and Gleemen. From a single gig by an RPI band, Goblin, in February this year, I seem to have gone a bit over the top recently; four Italian bands at the Prog Résiste festival last month and now three days worth in one setting.

As I entered the site I was immediately assailed by a phalanx of DJs pumping out dance music and, interestingly, the safe sex stand. Various stages were set around the central hall, which was not in use and appeared to be undergoing some form of renovation. The prog stage was set in a car park adjacent to the upper entrances to the exhibition space but rather too close to a drum demonstration set up where at various times you could hear Blondie and Police covers. Sounds from inside the exhibition hall also filtered out; the pop tunes of a dance class and the multiple beats of a drum demonstration.

The prog acts seemed to have been organised by the staff of Black Widow Records who had closed their shop in the old town for the duration and had a stall in the exhibition centre.

The range of bands on offer meant that there were acts to suit all tastes but, having read Fabio Zuffanti's recent blog about Italian audiences and prog I should have been better prepared for what I would regard as only small gatherings in front of the stage. Though there were never less than 50 in the audience for any of the acts I watched, there can never have been more than 200 at any of the performances which, in the industrial scale of the setting, felt to me to be somewhat disappointing.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the music which made me aware of some new bands. Il Tempio Delle Clessidre are a Genoese band and their drummer, Paolo Tixi featured on Fabio Zuffanti’s recent solo album La Quarta Vittima. They played melodic symphonic prog and are regarded as something of a successor to Museo Rosenbach because of the inclusion of vocalist Stefano Galifi whose voice has matured since the days of Zarathustra. Opening act Panther & C. were good symphonic prog in the mould of Steve Hackett with a very physically expressive vocalist/flautist and though Unreal City played some material that was more straight-forward rock than prog, they had a flamboyant keyboard player, Emanuele Tarasconi who played in the style of Keith Emerson. I also enjoyed Not A Good Sign who were evidently influenced by King Crimson, and Ingranaggi Della Valle who played a cross between prog and jazz rock, revealing a Mahavishnu influence. The set from La Coscienza di Zeno was better than the performance in Soignies.

Another really lovely feature of the event was that the protagonists wandered in and out of the crowd throughout the day. Fabio Zuffanti and Martin Grice were both fully in evidence on day one; Alvaro Fella, formerly of Jumbo and now confined to a wheelchair spent much of the second afternoon watching the performances and signing copies of Jumbo CDs before taking the stage with C.A.P; and I had a very pleasant chat with Richard Sinclair over a beer on the last afternoon before his appearance with Prophexy. He’s resident in southern Italy and runs a music club, offering his musical expertise in return for an annual fee of €50 which also gives you two original CDs per year. His performance with Prophexy was because they’re averse to anything in 4/4 time and they love early Caravan and Hatfield and the North. It was very nice of him to address me personally when he said “hello” to the crowd. Contact richard.sinclair@alice.it for details.

The other unforgettable part of the weekend was La Maschera di Cera performing Le Porte del Domani in full (though Zuffanti was touring his solo album in Canada), followed later that evening by Aldo Tagliapietra performing the entire Felona e Sorona.

I quite like Genova, with its UNESCO world heritage sites that I visited in the mornings before the prog started, and I haven’t seen the entire city. This means that I’ll be booking a ticket if there’s a good line-up for the festival next year.


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