By ProgBlog, Sep 25 2017 09:51PM
The 25th Progressivamente Free Festival is being held in Rome this week, featuring performances by classic and more recent instances of progressivo Italiano. The gigs, which run from Wednesday 27th September to Sunday 1st October at the JailBreak Club start at 21.30 in the evening and showcase only two bands per night, apart from on Friday when there are three bands and the performances commence half an hour earlier. I first heard about the festival in early July, when the shows were advertised as being held at the Planet Live Club, and planned a week long Roman holiday...
I’ve been to Rome a couple of times before, in August 1980 by InterRail as a student and eleven years ago on a break between annual visits to Venice with the family. My memories of that first visit include my first ever espresso in a bar somewhere along the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II (Bar Tassoni?); being denied admission to St Peter’s because I was wearing shorts and having to run back to the pensione on the Piazza di San Pantaleo to put on a pair of jeans; the hypocrisy of nuns selling religious tat outside St Peter’s; the watermelon stalls at the Circus Maximus; the lack of care afforded to the ruins, with rogue vegetation everywhere; and the feeling that two days was insufficient to take everything in. The family visit in 2006 was a ten night stay in the heat of July, based at the Hotel Novecento in the Lateran area, very handy for the Colosseum and close to the Manzoni metro station. Susan and Daryl hadn’t been to the Eternal City before so we went over some familiar ground for me. This time we braved the queues and visit both the Sistine Chapel and the Pantheon and we also used one of our days to visit Pompeii, retracing another trip from 1980. Daryl and I even ventured out one evening to a outdoor screening of Wallace and Gromit and the curse of the Were Rabbit at the Vittorio Emmanuel International film festival which was, if possible, even more funny in Italian.
The Colosseum 1980 (top) and 2006 (bottom)
I really like the city; I know it’s dirty and graffiti-riddled and unbearably hot in summer but the history of the place trumps the traffic, the tourists and the smoking and though there’s a rush on the streets, the pace of life slows when you sit in a bar or a restaurant. This second visit coincided with the early stages of my (ongoing) passion for progressivo Italiano. 2005’s Venice trip was the first where I’d deliberately looked for classic Italian prog on CD to add to some original vinyl from the 70s - PFM’s The World Became the World (1974), Cook (1974) and Jet Lag (1977) - which yielded Caronte by The Trip (1971); Contrappunti by Le Orme (1974); Donna Plautilla by Banco del Mutuo Soccorso (1989); Concerto Grosso nos. 1 and 2 by New Trolls (compilation released 1989); and an early live album by PFM when they included cover versions of UK progressive rock tracks in their repertoire, The Beginning 1971-1972 Italian Tour (released in 1996).
In 2006 I only managed to buy CDs in one shop, the Feltrinelli store in the Galleria Alberto Sordi which also had a café where we grabbed a bite to eat, but we did visit a slightly smaller branch on Corso Vittorio Emanuele II where I bought Jonathan Coe’s progressive rock-related tale of adolescence The Rotters’ Club in the English Language section. My diary doesn’t say what music I invested in but I’m pretty sure that I picked up PFM’s second album Per un Amico (1972), the Italian version of Cook, called Live in the USA (1974) and a compilation of early Le Orme, Gioco di Bimba e Altri Successi (released 1998). I think this was the trip where I also bought Io Sono Nato Libero by Banco del Mutuo Soccorso (1973).
The evening performances mean that Susan and I can see more of Rome and environs. We didn’t manage to get to Ostia Antica on our last visit because the train we were due to catch was crowded, worse than a rush hour commute on the Southern network in the UK; a few years later I discovered from a visiting (Roman) surgeon that there was a store called Elastic Rock and when he took a weekend break at home, he brought me back Principe di un Giorno (1976) by Celeste and Zarathustra (1973) by Museo Rosenbach; I’ve subsequently discovered there’s another excellent-looking record store called Millerrecords which I hope to get to wander round.
On Wednesday we’re being treated to La Bocca della Verità, who began their career in Rome in 2001 performing cover versions of UK and Italian prog – their name, which means the Mouth of Truth, comes from a Roman tourist attraction, a marble drain cover which may date back to before the 4th Century BC, imprinted with the image of a man’s face and with openings for eyes, nostrils and mouth. It is mounted on the wall of the portico of the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin (in the Aventine district) and is reputed to be a medieval lie-detector, where the mouth closes on the hand of liars. The six-piece began to drop borrowed material from their repertoire in 2004 to concentrate on original material, releasing their first album Avenoth in 2016, a heavy symphonic prog suite lasting nearly 78 minutes. Later on Wednesday is another local band Ingranaggi della Valle who released their second album Warm Spaced Blue on Black Widow in October last year. I saw them in Genoa in 2014 performing material from their 2013 debut In Hoc Signo which appeared to be inspired by the Mahavishnu Orchestra as much as any 70’s prog. What I’ve heard of their latest music is, if anything, more complex and more jazzy. The jazz rock continues on Thursday with Accordo dei Contrari (from Bologna) and Slivovitz (from Naples.)
Tourist attraction La Bocca della Verità
Originating in Sicily but working from Rome, Flea on the Honey releasing a self-titled album in 1971, then became Flea for their second album Topi o Uomini (1972) which was more progressive than the first, then after a break during which time bass player Elio Volpini formed L’Uovo di Colombo, they re-formed as Etna for one eponymous album in 1975 where the style had shifted to a Mediterranean-influenced jazz-rock. They appear on Friday as Flea on the Etna. Consorzio Acqua Potabile also take to the stage on Friday. Hailing from near Novara in Piedmont, they are another group I saw perform in Genoa during the 2014 Riviera Prog Festival and I’ve subsequently collected some of their material: the four CD, fortieth anniversary set Il Teatro delle Ombre (2014) and Il Bianco Regno di Dooah (2003). Though they toured a rock opera called Gerbrand in the 70s they didn’t make any studio recordings until 1993 with the excellent 70s-inspired ...Nei Gorghi del Tempo (which appears as a 20th anniversary edition on Il Teatro delle Ombre. Their Genoa appearance was made more special by the collaboration with Jumbo’s Alvaro Fella; C.A.P and Fella released an album last year on Black Widow, Coraggio e Mistero; Jumbo will be performing after C.A.P.
Saturday evening begins with Jenny and Alan Sorrenti and Gianni Nocenzi for what has been billed as ‘Italia 70’. I suspect there will be other artists but whether they’ll be performing Saint Just songs, Alan Sorrenti’s solo material (Aria from 1972 is considered an RPI classic) or B.M.S is pure speculation. Rounding off Saturday night is Semiramis. I bought their one and only album Dedicato a Frazz (1973) in 2009, paying £20 for a second-hand CD, an exceptional album that I’d like to own on vinyl.
There’s a mixture of the recent and original progressivo Italiano on Sunday, commencing with La Coscienza di Zeno, an excellent band with two keyboard players formed in Genoa who I’ve seen a couple of times before, in Soignies and in their home city. They perform classic-sounding RPI and both Luca Scherani and Stefano Agnini appear in Fabio Zuffanti projects. The free festival is closed with a performance by Biglietto per l’Inferno whose self-titled album from 1974 is awarded 5 stars in every publication on progressivo Italiano. I do like the album but I don’t rate it as highly as the Italian journalists because it’s quite heavy and lacks subtlety; the keyboard work is excellent and the flute is very expressive, which is good, but I think it’s more rock with a progressive edge than true progressive. Still, I’m very much looking forward to see them.
This is the first chance I’ll have had to see all but three of the acts and I can’t help being amazed by the spirit of the musicians and the organisers who manage to stage these festivals, not just in Rome but all over Italy, with an amazing frequency. I would have liked to have gone to Veruno for the 2 days of Prog + 1 at the beginning of September but for the time being I’ll just get ready to enjoy 11 bands on my Roman Holiday.