ProgBlog

By ProgBlog, Mar 27 2020 05:40PM

Everyday normal service has been increasingly abnormal since at least 2016 and probably since 2008. The UK’s EU referendum result might have seemed like a bolt from the blue but the shockwaves from the global financial meltdown, especially the austerity measures introduced by the new government in 2010 where the wrong demographic was punished for the shortcomings of capitalism, presaged the conditions necessary for the descent into irrationality and self-harm. The decline really began long before the 21st century when the influence of large corporations, becoming multinationals during a period of rapid globalisation that showed no signs of aversion to the exploitation of the mineral wealth or workforce of developing countries, embarked on schemes to protect their own value at the expense of the general population, democracy and the natural environment.

The power and behaviour of vested interests has eroded the mechanisms of world governments to the extent that we’re unable to respond appropriately to the current coronavirus crisis. Poor animal husbandry and unregulated exotic live meat markets facilitated the rise of a novel zoonosis; early reports of a new viral respiratory disease in China were suppressed and medical staff branded enemies of the State; the near-universal use of smartphones, implicated in a pandemic for the first time, acted as an ideal vector for spreading Covid-19; the connectivity of people, a benefit of globalisation, allowed the virus to spread as tourism and business continued as normal; vehicle and industrial pollutants responsible for inflammation of the respiratory tract exacerbated the severity of the disease; and in the UK, where 10 years of deliberate underfunding and deconstruction of the NHS has left staff shortages in every department, we are saddled with a Prime Minister unwilling to restrict the freedom of movement of its citizens, a PM whose initial policy acknowledged that Covid-19 would kill off the elderly as the rest of the population gained herd-immunity. However, it’s important to point out that no single country is to blame for the rise and spread of Covid-19, it’s a failure of regulation and standards.


BBC News coronavirus update 26/3/20
BBC News coronavirus update 26/3/20

I have to admit that when the disease first appeared in China, I was sceptical of its severity and perhaps foolhardily, I was skiing in Sauze d’Oulx, an hour away from Torino, while a number of provinces in neighbouring Lombardy were under lockdown. Coronavirus is common and anyone with only mild symptoms caused by Covid-19 will have a degree of immunity to the new strain because they’ve been previously exposed to other coronavirus. The rapid global spread and the mounting death toll in Italy, the epicentre outside of Wuhan, exposed a worldwide lack of preparation for a new pandemic, and that’s what changed my mind.

Though banning concerts, viewings at the cinema, spectator sports and other forms of human congregation will save some lives the cost, quite justifiably, is a restriction on our normal behaviour. What’s unacceptable is that any shutdown should result in a loss of income for workers and while some countries have agreed packages that will ensure no individual suffers from hardship during the crisis, the UK government has only just begun to address the very real concerns of millions of self-employed, those on zero hour contracts, anyone that doesn’t fall under the key worker banner, and those in rented accommodation but there’s no money available until June and it’s impossible to access the site for the derisory Universal Credit. Many musicians fall into this category, as do others working in the industry such as road crew and studio technicians.


Musicians' Union appeal
Musicians' Union appeal

Within the first ten days of a coronavirus impact survey of its 32000 members by the Musicians’ Union, it was estimated that musicians in the UK have already lost over £20m in earnings. Over 4000 responded to the survey with 90% saying their income had already been affected by social distancing rules, the closure of live venues and school closures, because many musicians make at least part of their income through teaching. The union announced that a new hardship fund would be set up to pay grants of £200 to out-of-work musicians to provide a small amount of relief to its members, adding that the government needed to provide urgent clarity on what wider support would be available, and called on the record industry to also play its part.


Eamonn Forde's 9 ways you can help your favourite band
Eamonn Forde's 9 ways you can help your favourite band

The first response I saw to the disruption to the livelihoods of musicians was an online article by Eamonn Forde (from Classic Rock) on the Louder website, 9 ways you can help your favourite band which neatly sets out the rationale behind some very supportive actions you can take to help secure the future of music. I attended 46 gigs between 2018 and 2019, some of which featured bands from prog’s premier league but many more were smaller or less successful acts. I tend to buy a tour programme when I go to see one of the really big groups but I’m more inclined to visit the merchandise stand for music, on vinyl if possible (recent purchases include The Lighthouse by Iamthemorning, and No Fear of Looking Down by Jadis, for instance) but I’m not unhappy to indulge in a CD or DVD (The Lifesigns debut album and Live in London - Under the Bridge, More Than Meets the Eye by Jadis, Cellar Noise’s second album Nautilus, the first three Hats Off Gentlemen it’s Adequate releases Invisible, When the Kill Code Fails, and Broken but Still Standing, Metamorphosis by Hamnesia.) I prefer to buy music direct from the artists and if it’s not available at gigs or there are no upcoming shows, the band’s own website invariably includes merchandise or redirects you an appropriate site like CD Baby. I got my (vinyl) copy of Exegi Monumentum Aere Perennius by The Rome Pro(g)ject direct from Vicenzo Ricca’s The Rome Pro(g)ject site, and got The Water Road on CD and an LP version of The Clockwork Universe by Thieves’ Kitchen from The Merch Desk via the band’s homepage. If you like a band, it’s sensible to sign up to their notifications. You’ll get advanced notice of upcoming performances (when they eventually resume) and of forthcoming releases. While there is often no problem obtaining tickets for some of the gigs I attend – I’ve been in an audience of about 10, the other nine being musician friends of the band for one concert in the rather splendid Teatro Altrove in Genova where I thought it was such a culturally significant event I’d have to pre-book my ticket to ensure my place


Event 16, Teatro Altrove, Genova
Event 16, Teatro Altrove, Genova

If you sign up to a band's mailing list you’re less likely to miss out on a special edition or limited release. A 2019 Facebook post, shortly after I’d discovered the Norwegian proggers, alerted me to the impending release of Jordsjø’s Nattfiolen; my red vinyl copy is from a limited run of 200; the first LP pressing of Sky Over Giza by La Morte Viene dallo Spazio which I’d seen advertised on their Facebook page (they caught my attention because they were on the same bill as Melting Clock at a gig in Genova which I was unable to attend) was a run of 500 copies divided into ten different colours representing different planets, selling for €17 plus p+p. I chose ‘Earth’.


Sky Over Giza on vinyl
Sky Over Giza on vinyl

Links from a group’s own website frequently redirect you to their Bandcamp store. I’ve been banging the drum for Bandcamp for some time now, but it has taken on greater significance since cities have come under lockdown and record stores, not considered to be an essential service by governments, are currently closed. It’s the artists themselves who post your album when you buy something via Bandcamp, and the price quoted is a minimum suggested price, leaving you free to decide whether you’re willing to pay more. There’s also the opportunity to leave a message for the artist – a nice bit of connectivity that fits in with the prog ethos – that is often acknowledged by the musicians by including a hand-written ’thank you’; it’s like having a 24/7 merchandise desk at your fingertips (T-shirts and bundles of items are available.) It’s probably lazy, but I give Bandcamp gift vouchers at Christmas to encourage the recipients to seek out new music and support artists. It’s possible to listen to a full album without buying it, but I don’t think trying something out is abusing the system. I’ll always buy a copy on a physical medium if I like the material and there’s one available but I do buy downloads if there’s not.


Thank You note from Raphael Weinroth Browne
Thank You note from Raphael Weinroth Browne

I was please that I ticked most of the boxes from the article but was quite surprised by one suggestion – Get political: campaign for better deals for acts, something that really appeals to me. I’m well-versed in fighting against seemingly insurmountable odds through my former union work and the music business doesn’t have such a great history when it comes to looking after artists. Forde’s piece goes on to suggest that those who use streaming services should buy physical copies of the music they like because streaming revenues are tiny, providing a stark example of the iniquitous behaviour of faceless and bland record companies. You should also remember that Spotify or whichever other service you’re using is charging you to harvest your personal preferences for its data-crunching algorithms, nudging your choices.

The other personal omission from Forde’s list was that I haven’t yet subscribed to a crowd-funding campaign, but that’s because I have not yet come across an appropriate project to subscribe to. I really like the idea – I’ve put money into Crystal Palace FC to ensure the club’s continued existence during their periods in administration, because I believe the club provides an important community role – and would willingly help out an artist that I liked if they ticked all the appropriate social and political buttons.


Listening to and writing about music forms a major part of my life and though it’s not what puts bread on my table, I’m concerned about the people who provide me with this pleasure and who, like many of the self-employed, have only been left with promises. Investing in the music that we love now, through Bandcamp or otherwise directly with the artists, not only provides a revenue stream but also sends the message that once we’re through these unprecedented times, we’ll support them in the future.


Covid-19 should be taken seriously - for its effects on health and the way it turns everyday life upside down.


By ProgBlog, Mar 22 2015 07:20PM

I've just spent a fantastic week on the slopes around Sauze d'Oulx - the annual family skiing trip - with my son Daryl and brother Richard. One slightly irritating feature of a holiday in a ski resort is the music - you get pop hits from decades ago (Cyndi Lauper's Girls Just Want to Have Fun; The Bangles' Walk Like an Egyptian; Take On Me by A-Ha; Olivia Newton-John singing Take Me Home, Country Roads) or timeless, bland 120bpm Europop that could have been an Ibiza anthem from 1999 or a Val d'Isere hit from 2005. This stream of rubbish is an insult to everyone. Sauze d'Oulx is in Italy, home to some diverse and brilliant prog. My first time skiing was a couple of valleys away from Sauze in Bardonecchia and the live band at the hotel kindly played a PFM song, rather well, when we submitted a request. So how prog is skiing?

The old insult slung at prog is that it's elitist. I don't agree with this sentiment despite the fact that a fair number of both major and minor protagonists have had formal training to a high level; skiing could also be called an elitist sport though this no longer holds true as cheap air fares and package holidays have opened up resorts to all comers. Of course, some resorts are more exclusive than others... Prog and skiing both require technical mastery and rely on equipment that has evolved to enable boundaries to be pushed further and further back, whether that's sonic creativity or shaving fractions of seconds off downhill timings; both disciplines require practice if you wish to advance. An annual skiing holiday of 6 days on-piste is not really sufficient to gain and maintain expertise but when you’re based in Croydon and work full-time in central London it’s the best I can do. It’s taken 16 weeks over 17 years to get me to my level of proficiency, an advanced intermediate. The runs above Sauze were perfect for providing a reasonable challenge, consisting primarily of reds and blacks but long trails, which tend to be the easier blue and green categories, can still provide an enjoyable excursion. I see the thrill of successfully descending a precipitous slope as being comparable to the feeling that’s generated when you’ve mastered a particularly difficult riff or musical phrase, perhaps in an unusual time signature and, in a similar vein, skiing a scenic route through changing scenery is equivalent to an uplifting melody. In truth, I am inspired by mountain landscape and it’s the imagined worlds conjured by symphonic prog music and lyrics that I find so compelling about progressive rock, be it Yes from Fragile, Close to the Edge or Tales from Topographic Oceans or Höstsonaten with Winterthrough; if I can’t be outside in a mountain environment, there’s a suitable substitute indoors listening to prog.

A few years ago Daryl and I were based in Livigno for our week, a resort organised as a series of villages along a high valley, famous for its odd tax free status and home to Birrificio, the highest brewery in Europe where they brew a small rage of excellent beers under the name 1816 Livigno and with the symbol of an Eagle, not unlike the CPFC Eagle. Practically speaking, Livigno has an exceptional snow record with a season that extends beyond almost all other European resorts. Better still, in the lower reaches of the resort we discovered two record stores. There was a smattering of progressivo Italiano on offer but sadly, I already owned this material (Disco Music Livigno, Via Plan, 379, 23030 Livigno).

I’ve managed to get through quite a lot of clothing and equipment in 17 years. We all have our own skis and boots; the potential outlay for ski hire equipment makes it economic sense to buy your own but, more than this, the comfort of fitted boots gives you more confidence and the sport becomes increasingly effortless. There were major technological advances in music that allowed the development of progressive rock and like prog exponents and sonic explorers, ski technology has also progressed and now not only incorporates new materials and, within my time as a participant of the sport, the shape of the skis has also changed, creating the ‘carving turn’.

I used to go to play squash and go to the staff club gym at Guy’s in an attempt to physically prepare for skiing; until last year this had evolved into strictly more frequent games of squash, then they sold off the squash courts for a new development on Borough High Street. I’ve never used a dry ski slope (I remember the matting that would have formed this facility in Crystal Palace Park, which I might have used had it still been there) and getting to a snow dome always seemed too much of an unnecessary trek but, like performing exercises on a musical instrument, getting fit for skiing is important.

There are different varieties of skiing: downhill; slalom; cross country; ski cross; ski touring and then there’s even skiing’s rebellious sibling – snowboarding. If downhill equates to the jazz rock side of prog, a technically proficient, breathtaking sprint to the finishing line and slalom to the intricate twists and turns of Gentle Giant, perhaps cross country skiing is the sweeping panorama of symphonic prog and ski touring the ultimate expression of difficulty and perseverance: Zeuhl. And snowboarding? That’s got to be prog metal!



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