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ProgBlog goes to the Biennale Architettura 2018 in Venice but still manages to find prog connections - and a relatively new record store...

By ProgBlog, Nov 19 2018 02:31PM



Contrary to my previous pronouncements about the availability of prog in Venice, I can now reveal that there is a relatively new record store in the city, Living in the Past, Sestiere Dorsoduro 3474, 30123 Venezia, and it’s pretty good. Venice was where I first made a conscious effort to collect Italian prog, in 2005, when there were two shops to choose from. My diary from that particular trip reveals that sometime after lunch on Wednesday 13th July, the second day of the holiday (my wife’s first time in Venice), we began winding our way back towards San Marco via the side streets of Dorsoduro, a slow but purposeful journey in the afternoon heat. Anyone familiar with the city will appreciate how you find yourself doubling back on your tracks as you seek a bridge over a canal so that what looks like a straightforward journey on a map devoid of detail is in fact fiendishly complex. I maintain that undertaking adventures through Venice’s maze-like alleys is the best way to explore the unique city, where you come across well-known tourist spots and less recognised gems by accident. That particular trek resulted in the discovery of what looked like prog heaven, despite its name: Discoland, a music shop with all manner of progressive rock CDs in the window, including the entire 2005 re-mastered catalogue of Van der Graaf Generator; Egg; King Crimson; Gentle Giant; Steve Hackett and more... but it was closed for lunch! A quick check of the time revealed that the store was due to reopen in 15 minutes so I popped into the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition in the Chiesa di San Barnaba until the shop owner returned, late. I asked if he had any Italian prog, but he said no. Rooting around did reveal that he had a couple of CDs by The Trip so I picked out Caronte, reissued in a cardboard sleeve, the first Egg album, and The Least we can do is Wave to Each Other, H to He, Pawn Hearts and Godbluff from the VdGG selection.


Though considered a classic progressivo Italiano record, I’m not actually such a great fan of Caronte (1971), a concept album based on the ferryman character Charon from Dante’s Divine Comedy who initially objects to taking Aeneas, a living man, on his boat; Charon is re-interpreted by The Trip as a metaphor for conformity. It’s steeped with psyche/blues characteristic of proto-prog, so comes across as more Iron Butterfly than The Nice. The Trip were actually founded in London in 1966 and included Ritchie Blackmore on guitar but the future Deep Purple guitarist had departed before the arrival of Joe Vescovi, whose keyboard style, influenced by Keith Emerson, is the best feature of the band. The other Venice music shop was Parole & Musica in the Castello Sestiere where I bought an early PFM live compilation The Beginning 1971-1972 Italian Tour. A day trip to Treviso on that 2005 holiday also involved finding a record shop where I bought Concerto Grosso n.1 and 2 by New Trolls, the very disappointing Donna Plautilla by Banco, and an album I’d really wanted to buy in Venice itself, Contrappunti by Le Orme, because that was where the band formed. Originally a beat group, they underwent some personnel changes and then released what many regard to be the first RPI album, Collage, in 1971. I managed to get to see the current incarnation earlier this year in Brescia with David Cross as a guest musician. The album that I most associate with the city is actually Le Orme’s Florian, released in 1979, named after Caffè Florian, alleged to be the oldest establishment of its kind in Europe, dating from 1720 and located under the Procuratie Nuove in piazza San Marco. A two-year hiatus following 1977’s Storia o Leggenda allowed the group to prepare for what seemed like a radical departure from progressive rock, where the electronic instrumentation was replaced with acoustic and early instruments. The result is still recognisable as Orme (they dropped the definite article from their name for the release) even though it should more correctly be referred to as chamber music or chamber prog; the original idea is said to have come from keyboard player Tony Pagliuca who realised that audiences were turning away from prog but didn’t want to subscribe to the mediocrity of commercial pop. The pieces on the album are effectively a protest against destructive economic forces within the music industry and those in the wider world choking other aspects of Italian culture. The lack of a record shop on the island(s) meant I had to look elsewhere for a copy, eventually finding the CD in Vicenza’s Saxophone record store on a day trip out from Venice in 2014; I found a second-hand vinyl copy earlier this year, on Record Store Day, on a stall in Cremona.



I spent a couple of days in Venice during the summer of 1980 on a month-long Interrail trip, staying on Giudecca in a youth hostel, and was blown away by the city. During that stay PFM were playing somewhere in Mestre but I didn’t have the wherewithal to organise getting to see them. On 15th July 1989 Pink Floyd famously played on a barge floating in the Grand Canal, nearing the end of the Momentary Lapse of Reason tour. This was broadcast live on Italian TV and precise timing restrictions meant that some songs had to be curtailed before their natural ending. I recorded this performance when it was shown on UK TV but that disappeared in a clear out of VHS tapes years ago – it’s now available as an unofficial DVD release Pink Floyd ‎– Pazzia & Passione - Live In Venice '89 from Room 101 Entertainment.

The closest I ever got to live prog in Venice was seeing the construction of a stage for Peter Gabriel playing an open air concert in piazza San Marco in 2007; we were staying less than 50m away in the Albergo San Marco but our flight back to the UK was a matter of hours before the performance – apparently Signal to Noise and Washing of the Water were played at the sound check in the early afternoon, where Gabriel acknowledged the fans who had begun to gather around the square after realising that he was present on stage. If that had happened in the last couple of years I’d have found accommodation for an extra night and bought a flight for the following day.






Despite the presence of Living in the Past and the historic connection of Le Orme to the city, Venice doesn’t really appear to have much of a connection with the modern prog scene apart from being somewhere bands like to perform – King Crimson finishing their mainland continental European tour with two dates at the end of July this year at Teatro La Fenice, for example. The ubiquitous newsstands of Italian cities, normally packed full of journals and periodicals, handy for picking up copies of Prog Italia and maybe the DeAgostini classic rock progressivo 180g vinyl reissues, are filled with tourist tat in Venice. Last year my wife found a copy of Prog Italia on Lido for me but there was nothing on any newsstand in any of the main Sestiere this year, or in any of the larger Tabacchi.


Apart from the basic accommodation on Giudecca, I’ve previously only stayed at hotels close to the piazza San Marco when visiting Venice. This trip was a departure from that norm, splashing out on an NH hotel in Dorsoduro abutting neighbouring Santa Croce, an area largely tourist-free but filled with students; there are two universities in the area, Università Ca’ Foscari and IUAV, the architecture school, contributing to the really good vibe. There’s a relative paucity of Venetian gothic and a noticeable presence of more modern architecture, which may explain the lack of visitor interest despite its proximity to the cruise ship terminal, Santa Lucia station and the bus terminus, one of only two places where cars are allowed (the other being Lido) but there are still dozens of friendly restaurants and bars where an Aperol spritz is half the price you pay in London. It wasn’t supposed to be a prog trip – we’d gone for the Architecture Biennale – but there does seem to be more than a passing link between architecture and prog, beginning with the early years of Pink Floyd at Regent Street Polytechnic.


However far removed from modern prog, the city is still able to turn up references to the genre in some of the oddest places. Hats Off Gentlemen it’s Adequate have just released a new CD, Out of Mind which includes the track De Humani Corporis Fabrica, named after Andreas Vesalius' treatise on human anatomy from 1543 which challenged the prevailing doctrine proposed by the Greek physician Galen in the second century AD. I’m a particular fan of the song because it features some of Kathryn Thomas’ gorgeous flute and also includes a passage in 13/4 time, so when I came across the Mario Botta Architects’ installation in the Corderie at the Arsenale, a tactile, circular timber structure where the work of students was presented as tabernacle-like architectural research, I was amazed to find a section labelled De Humani Corporis Fabrica!


Like all cities Venice continues to change. Living in the Past was previously a second hand bookstore but was revamped in 2017 as a shop selling books and second-hand vinyl. There’s a decent selection of Italian prog along with a good selection of international prog and classic rock. Handily, it was a five minute walk from the hotel where we were staying and though I didn’t imagine that I’d find any records on this trip, I still had my cotton LP bag to hand for my purchases: Par les Fils de Mandrin by Ange and David Gilmour’s About Face, an album I’ve never physically owned in any format but once had a tape recorded from a friend’s LP. The shop is certainly a welcome addition to the Venetian landscape, a retail gem amongst some of the most stunning architecture in the world.








By ProgBlog, Mar 26 2017 08:54PM

The latest edition of Prog magazine (Prog 75) arrived last week with a somewhat surprising cover story: The 100 Greatest Prog Anthems of All Time. Not only had I missed the call for voting but I wasn’t sure what readers were supposed to have voted for. It turns out that what they had asked for was our favourite track, and their feature was actually a list of ‘the 100 Greatest Prog Songs of all time’, also described as ‘pretty much the definitive list of prog songs old and new’. Not surprisingly, the Prog website anticipated the response to the published list; a byline predicting ‘feverish debate’.



As happy as I am to wade through a comprehensive list, knowing I’ll disagree with a good proportion of it (although in this instance I have 17 of the top 20 in my collection, just not in the same order of preference), I do think compiling lists is lazy journalism. However, I wouldn’t want to diminish the not inconsiderable task of compiling the list, as it’s likely that there were very large numbers of votes cast. The feature also includes some new insight into the making of some of the albums highlighted, such as David Cross providing background thoughts on King Crimson’s Larks’ Tongues in Aspic from 1973 and a decent-length interview with Steve Rothery.

My gripe isn’t with the list, although Close to the Edge should have been at number 1 instead of Supper’s Ready, not number 2, but with the magazine’s cover and headline. According to the on-line Oxford English Dictionary, the word ‘anthem’ derives from old English antefn or antifne, a composition sung antiphonally, itself a derivation from late Latin antiphona (see antiphon); the alternative spelling with ‘th’ was probably adopted in the 16th century. Whereas there’s a nationalistic connotation to anthems, solemn or patriotic songs officially adopted by a country as an expression of national identity, and a subtly different appropriation where a rousing or uplifting song becomes identified with a particular social grouping, political body or cause, I’m not convinced that what we now recognise as anthems have any place in progressive rock.

This may not always have been the case, as Aldo Tagliapietra, bassist from Le Orme, has described the use of ‘stereo’ choirs in the Basilica di San Marco in his native Venice. This is an example of an antiphon, a hymn or a psalm performed by two groups of singers chanting alternative sections like a call and response and whether you believe in a Christian God or not, progressive rock has roots in liturgical music.

Call and response isn’t limited to either church music or prog but forms an interesting device in narrative songs. Perhaps it’s not surprising that Genesis, with their moniker and background in Charterhouse public school (and public schools had strong church links; Charterhouse was founded by Thomas Sutton in 1611 and built on the site of the ruins of a Carthusian monastery) should employ multi-character vocal parts on a range of albums: Harold the Barrel from Nursery Cryme; Get ‘em Out by Friday (Foxtrot); The Battle of Epping Forest (Selling England by the Pound); Robbery Assault and Battery (A Trick of the Tail); and All in a Mouse’s Night (Wind and Wuthering). There are some examples where a call and the response aren’t vocal, the best of which are on Between Nothingness and Eternity by the Mahavishnu Orchestra; normally a duel, Mahavishnu use three lead instruments in fiery exchanges, interplay that hints at the difficult nature of the quest for spiritual enlightenment.



The common understanding of an anthem involves a short, distilled message, largely because this is the easiest way to get a message across, be it a patriotic call or an environmental protest. That’s not to say progressive rock can’t be used to highlight some ecological or political concern; Yes’ anti-war themes in Yours is no Disgrace and Starship Trooper and their use of ‘green language’, especially on Close to the Edge and Tales from Topographic Oceans embrace counter-cultural thinking but the message isn’t clear-cut, relying on a deeper engagement with the audience. On the other hand, Don’t Kill the Whale, although still not an anthem, is a direct call to humankind to respect sentience in another species which cynics thought was simply the group jumping on an environmental band-wagon, but in fact their musical philosophy pre-dates the realisation that we were hunting whales to extinction.


An anthem has to include vocals and, in the context of pop or rock music, not only requires a structure that invokes euphoric feelings, it has to serve as something that is closely associated with a particular band. It’s a sweeping generalisation to say that minor chords are gloomy and major chords are ‘bright’ but, apart from increasing the tempo (which gives a sense of urgency or striving) it’s possible to make a chord sequence sound more rousing by opening up the chord; taking the middle note of a triad and raising it by an octave. In terms of association with a group, sticking to a pre-existing structural verse, chorus, bridge formula helps a little, as does revisiting familiar lyrical tropes, but in a world where visuals are as dominant as sounds, subscribing to a group’s visual identity is also a helping factor. A tendency towards style over substance is more rock than prog rock which is why I’d include Asia’s Heat of the Moment in the anthemic class. It just seems to me that there’s a propensity for stadium AOR and heavy rock acts to churn out this sort of music, so that wearing the patch on your cut-down denim jacket becomes an emblem of belonging, waving devil-horn hand gestures and singing along with 50000 others who have lost their own individualism to bask in the enveloping identity of the group.

As a season ticket holder of many years at Crystal Palace I can see, and I’m very wary of mob behaviour. It’s no surprise that national anthems are sung at the beginning of international matches; the sub-text is that two teams are going into battle. At league level we wear the club shirt and sing and chant club anthems in lieu of violence and, for some die-hards, the result is everything, not simply entertainment. I’m a bit intimidated by this fervour and though I always want Palace to win, playing well and demonstrating cohesiveness is nearly as important as coming away with three points. I think that immersion in the mob, whether it’s at a sporting event or at a gig is a repudiation of your individuality, whereas progressive rock is about inclusivity while retaining individualism; a realisation that different cultural influences makes more interesting music, that diversity is to be celebrated.



I suspect that the Prog editorial team simply made a poor choice of words when it came to putting together the front page of the magazine, which leaves us with the question: Are there really any prog anthems? I may go to gigs and sing to myself, sometimes with my eyes closed like some old dope, but I don’t like a singalong or to be encouraged to clap along to a piece of music because it interferes with my appreciation of what is being played. I suppose these moments get as close as anything to being anthemic but the complexity of the music normally brings audience participation to a premature close. The use of encores, playing well known and appreciated tunes, kind of fills the requirement for an anthem without necessarily being anthemic. Heat of the Moment, the culmination of John Wetton’s search for commercial success while retaining a relatively high degree of musicality would fit the bill, but stomping out verse-chorus-verse-chorus isn’t really prog.

If there was a Yes anthem it would be I’ve seen All Good People. Not surprisingly, I’m least disposed towards it out of all the songs on The Yes Album because the All Good People section comes close to straightforward rock. It remains a live favourite however, the second most played song by the band, where it frequently appears as an encore and audience clapping is encouraged. The most played tune is Roundabout which, despite the success brought about by the truncation into a radio-friendly single, chops and changes too many times to be an anthem.


The answer lies with Emerson, Lake and Palmer who covered the William Blake / Hubert Parry Jerusalem. This may seem like a return to the theme of church music, or even the idea of a national anthem but Blake has also been appropriated by a wide range of people who recognise a spirit of utopianism in his writing. Rugby fans may bellow out the hymn in an effort to galvanise their team while right-wing commentators remind them that perhaps Blake wasn’t quite as patriotic as they thought; rationalists like Dawkins and Bronowski and Marxists like EP Thompson have sided with him; he inspired Gordon Giltrap’s excellent prog-folk Visionary. His Complete Works was the first book of poetry I ever bought. It may be the Elgar’s orchestration of the hymn provides much of the uplifting feel but the ELP version, with Greg Lake’s clear voice ringing through, is a call to all followers of progressive rock.







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