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There’s now a new reason to make a pilgrimage to Canterbury; the city has three excellent independent record stores, two of them very new, which cover subtly different markets.

Some of the other touristy bits aren’t too bad either!

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!






By ProgBlog, May 14 2017 06:07PM

Gig review by Mike Chavez


Despite being aware of Steve Hackett since the early 80s it’s taken until now to finally get to see him, and it was hearing the thoroughly excellent Genesis Revisited II last year that swung it for me to get tickets this time. The tickets were bought a good six months ago, and despite getting in very early a huge block of seats near the front was immediately taken, leading me to think that the resellers and touts were seeing this as some kind of beano. So middle of row Z it was then, accompanied by my gig buddies Mike and Lois. Happily the Colston is quite forgiving if you don’t have the best seats, and the sound was excellent too.


The show was billed as Genesis Revisited with Classic Hackett, and there were heavy intimations beforehand about likely plundering of Genesis’ Wind & Wuthering album on its 40th anniversary. In a show of two halves we started with Classic Hackett, including three tracks from the very well received new album The Night Siren, plus half a dozen others including Serpentine Song and the set closer Shadow of the Hierophant.

Despite being not particularly au fait with the music being played I enjoyed it immensely as the material was good and the musicianship excellent. Music played by players at the top of their game is seldom going to be disappointing. The typical guitar, bass, keyboards, drums line up I was expecting was augmented by Rob Townsend on a variety of instruments including flute, percussion and sax. I know now that Rob is a regular on Hackett tours, and he really does add an extra dimension to the music, as well as bringing some interesting jazz and eastern influences. Regular Hackett performers Gary O’Toole (drums) and Roger King (keyboards) were joined by the mighty Nick Beggs on bass and a variety of guitars, presumably killing time between Steven Wilson tours and the myriad of other things he gets up to. Hackett himself was looking very good for his years, and was content to allow the others their chances to shine. Buttering up the crowd he told us how beautiful a place Bristol was…and that he wished he could afford to live here! Come on Steve, the times aren’t that tough mate, even you could probably get a three bed semi in Knowle West.


After the break we got the Genesis Revisited work, which did draw heavily from Wind & Wuthering as predicted. Vocalist Nad Sylvan joined the band for set two, resplendent in a garish long coat that would not have looked out of place on an 18th century fop. We got most of Wind & Wuthering, including One for The Vine, Eleventh Earl of Mar and Afterglow, and the excellent Inside and Out, which was left off the album and included on the Spot the Pigeon EP, a hit single back in 1977. Hackett swapped out a few Tony Banks keyboard lines for his own guitar lines here and there, but then it was his show after all. One of the highlights for me was drummer Gary O’Toole singing Blood on the Rooftops, which he made a great job of, in fact I much prefer his vocal to that of Phil Collins. I would have said it was unusual to hear a drummer do the vocals, but then you can’t really say that about a Genesis track…

The rest of the show was not too dissimilar to the Seconds Out live album, Hackett’s Genesis swansong where his guitar was allegedly mixed down after his announcement to quit: Firth of Fifth (but with the beautiful piano intro restored), Cinema Show, Dance on a Volcano and Musical Box thrilled the crowd, with Slogans (from Defector) and Los Endos as the encore to close a set lasting just shy of 2 ½ hours, and receiving a standing ovation from the audience.


The chroniclers often tell us there are two versions of Genesis, the Gabriel led prog legends and the Collins led pop band. That doesn’t nearly tell the whole story, and it certainly didn’t all change or turn to rats when Gabriel quit the band, in fact both A Trick of the Tail and Wind & Wuthering are great Genesis albums in my opinion. The turning point for me was Steve Hackett leaving, so perhaps the Hackett years and the Collins years is a more appropriate way to segment the band’s career. No offence Anthony Phillips!

I had pretty high expectations for this show, I wasn’t disappointed. I’m just wondering why I waited 35 years to go and see him live.


If you’re quick there are still four UK dates left, with the final one in London on Friday 19th


Full set list:


Set 1 (Classic Hackett):

1. Every Day

2. El Niño

3. The Steppes

4. In the Skeleton Gallery

5. Behind the Smoke

6. Serpentine Song

7. Rise Again

8. Shadow of the Hierophant


Set 2 (Genesis Revisited with Nad Sylvan):

9. Eleventh Earl of Mar

10. One for the Vine

11. Blood on the Rooftops

12. ...In That Quiet Earth

13. Afterglow

14. Dance on a Volcano

15. Inside and Out

16. Firth of Fifth

17. The Musical Box


Encore:

18. Slogans

19. Los Endos



By ProgBlog, Apr 30 2017 11:20PM

The Crystal Palace was originally built in Hyde Park for the first World Exposition in 1851, a structure designed to be temporary with the exhibition, themed around the industry of all nations, lasting from April to October that year. The success of the venture, attracting 6 million visitors (and subsequently spawning a litany of world fairs, the most recent of which was Expo 2015 in Milan) prompted architect Joseph Paxton to look for a permanent home for his Crystal Palace. He had tried to have the building remain in Hyde Park but, aware that there was considerable opposition from within parliament, he busied himself raising £0.5m to form a company to buy the building and a new site for its reconstruction. The materials that made up the structure were bought from building contractors Fox and Henderson (who had lowered their original Hyde Park bid in return for ownership of the materials when the structure was dismantled at the end of the Great Exhibition); the land chosen was an area of wooded parkland on Sydenham Hill and the Crystal Palace reopened in 1854.


Joseph Paxton
Joseph Paxton

The remains of the Crystal Palace, which burned down in 1936, are in the suburb of Upper Norwood, an area falling into four London Boroughs: Bromley; Croydon; Lambeth and Southwark. I moved to Upper Norwood from Balham while working at the Blood Transfusion Centre in Tooting. During 1985 I shared a basement flat in Colby Road, opposite Gipsy Hill railway station, with fellow Barrovian Eric Whitton; my friend Jim Knipe lived on the ground floor with his girlfriend Amanda. I’d shared a flat in Beechcroft Close, Streatham with Eric and Jim during my last year at university, so this was something of a reunion. From bass/guitar/reed organ/tin plate jam sessions in 1981, with the recruitment of Alistair Penny in 1984 we evolved into BCC2 and in 1985, augmented by vocalist Shirley Singh, became HTLVIII and played a fifteen minute set on each of three nights as part of a community revue. This fledgling outfit fell apart because Eric moved out to Clapham and my bass was stolen when the flat was burgled while I was on holiday in Tenerife.



HTLV III  in 1985
HTLV III in 1985

A further Crystal Palace - Barrow connection was future Hairy Biker Dave Myers, another Goldsmiths’ graduate who lived a short way up Gipsy Hill. The cost of renting Colby Road wasn’t too high in the overall scheme of things, but the facilities were challenging. The bedroom, at the back of the flat, was rarely blessed with sunlight and was consequently somewhat cold, though it was apparently ideally placed to receive a Sunday morning pirate radio show, Alice’s Restaurant, despite the transmitter being somewhere in ‘East London’. Alice’s Restaurant became London’s biggest rock station but at the time I discovered it, I was only interested in the two hours of progressive rock that I could pick up on my Technics SA-101 receiver on Sunday mornings, where I first heard Caravan’s Nine Feet Underground in full and promptly set off to buy the Caravan collection Canterbury Tales which included that particular masterpiece.

At the time, Upper Norwood was hardly the most salubrious of areas but it had all the right amenities. Gipsy Hill station was very convenient for trips into London and I could use it to get to work on the days I was too lazy to cycle (Gipsy Hill is long and steep!) and there were some good pubs selling good beer (the Two Towers at the bottom of the hill and the Railway Arms half way up were regular haunts); the library on Westow Hill was extremely useful; the Tesco supermarket where we’d donate food to the families of striking miners; some good restaurants (Joanna’s and The Penny Excursion, the latter frequently changing hands and cuisine after I left the area); and Crystal Palace Park, including the site of the former Crystal Palace with its poorly barricaded entrance to the undercroft of the former High Level Station, a hidden vaulted space of beautiful Victorian brickwork (Grade II listed) and, for fans of palaeontology, the dinosaurs on islands representing different geological eras on the lower reservoir, creating a snapshot of paleontological understanding in the mid 19th century.




Crystal Palace dinosaurs
Crystal Palace dinosaurs

My time at Colby Road drew to a close when the shower in the ground floor flat above leaked into the hall and my hot water pressure became so low it wasn’t practicable to run a bath. The landlord was an unpleasant individual who wasn’t interested in getting things fixed, so I eventually left in the middle of one night and stopped paying him any rent.

Crystal Palace Park was also home to the National Sports Centre and athletics track. A couple of my school friends had spent some time training there in the mid 70s and I became a member for the squash courts and still play there today, though I now better appreciate the brutalist architecture (Grade II* listed) and the concomitant egalitarian nature of the facility, bringing affordable leisure facilities to local residents; a new People’s Palace on the site of the old. The FA Cup used to be held on the football pitch which was where the athletics stadium now stands and Crystal Palace FC used to play there from when they were founded in 1905 until they were relocated due to WW I and moved to current ground Selhurst Park in 1924. I’ve been supporting them, through all their ups and downs, since 1995.

Crystal Palace Bowl was the venue for the Crystal Palace Garden Party between 1971 and 1980, originally a concrete semi-dome structure with a small lake in front, located in a natural amphitheatre at the northern end of the park. Pink Floyd played there in 1971, featuring a band-only version of Atom Heart Mother and famously killing off all the fish in the lake when they attempted to inflate a giant octopus, pumping smoke into the water. Yes performed there in 1972, which must have been one of the first gigs for Alan White, and Rick Wakeman performed Journey to the Centre of the Earth during the 1974 Garden Party, where he used inflatable dinosaurs during The Battle but more dramatically, was admitted to hospital the day after the gig having suffered three minor heart attacks. He had intended to perform there again in June 2012 headlining a one day rock festival, but there were structural concerns over the stage and the event was cancelled.



This neatly brings us to the present. Upper Norwood has undergone something of a renaissance since the opening of the East London Line of London Overground in 2010. This linked West Croydon and Crystal Palace in the south to Dalston Junction in the north, via Surrey Quays and Canada Water. The ease of the commute to the City meant that the area was a prime site for gentrification and property prices were relatively low in the down-at-heel suburb; the parallels with Shoreditch (the Overground stops at Shoreditch High Street) are quite remarkable and it’s evident that hipsters have marked their territory around the Crystal Palace Triangle and that some of the old businesses have adapted to meet their needs. There used to be a rambling flea market down from Westow Hill, where amongst other things I picked up a copy of the 1972 debut LP by Tempest, featuring the extraordinary talents of the recently departed Allan Holdsworth. On the site of this former bazaar is Crystal Palace Antiques, where my wife likes to pick out reasonably priced art-deco items and I like to ogle the modernist furniture, at unreasonable prices, on the lowest of the four floors. There had been a spate of pub closures in the area but there’s now an even better selection, covering a huge range of real and craft beers. There used to be an ‘open mic’ gig every week in the White Hart (on the corner of Westow Street and Church Road) to which a friend from squash, a Brazilian drummer, invited me and although I brought along a plectrum, I felt I was too rusty to participate and I knew very little of the music they played.

There are a multitude of cafés and bars where it’s easy to find a decent lunch and a good coffee but there are also a couple of excellent second-hand record stalls. One is in Hayes Lane Market, a well kept secret just off Westow Street. Hayes Lane is a narrow, mews-like street where the terraced houses are resplendent with blooms and the market is a genuine flea market where it’s easy to while away many hours; the other is in the less well developed Church Road in the basement of Bambinos. Bambinos is run by Andy Stem and has been around for over 20 years, perhaps most famous for its leather jackets (the photo of Kate Moss by Mario Testino for Vogue.) Best of all, downstairs from the eclectic mixture of items that spills out onto the street, is the vinyl basement, run by Mark Hill of the Crystal Palace-based electronica trio Metamono. My most recent visit yielded the first two Steve Hackett solo albums, Voyage of the Acolyte and Please Don’t Touch; Alan White’s solo debut Ramshackled; the first Sky album; Phaedra by Tangerine Dream and an early copy of Switched on Bach. Mark Hill commented on Phaedra, suggesting he had been interested in buying it himself, and the connection with the excellent sub-section for electronica became clear; the last time I was there, about a year ago, I bought a copy of Aqua by Edgar Froese from a consignment of vinyl that hadn’t made it downstairs to the basement

I retain an affection for Crystal Palace; the record shops, the sports centre, the remains of the former palace, the football team. A great deal has changed since I lived there but it’s a much better place to visit now, and much easier. The local history is fascinating but better still, there are some genuinely friendly people who feed into the vibe, whether they’ve recently arrived or have been around for some time. It’s an uplifting atmosphere, very prog. ...Must be the prevailing wind from the coast...












By ProgBlog, Mar 19 2017 10:50PM

Brighton is a progressive city, including the constituency of the only Green Party MP in the UK. Under normal circumstances, much less than an hour away from Croydon by train with a regular scheduled service without changes, it boasts good coffee shops, good pubs, countless record stores selling both new and second-hand CDs and vinyl, and some excellent musical instrument shops. The University of Sussex is located just outside Brighton so it’s fitting that there are also a number of venues for live music. The Brighton Centre entertains political parties, record fairs and all sorts of other things including scientific meetings (I was there for the joint British Society for Histocompatibility and Immunogenetics/European Federation for Immunogenetics congress in 1995) but, more pertinently, I went to see Yes performing Yes Symphonic at the Brighton Centre in 2001.



The Komedia is an all standing venue not unlike the Electric Ballroom in Camden or the old Astoria in Charing Cross Road, with a high ceiling giving the impression of a large space. My two visits there were both for Steve Hackett gigs, in 2010 and 2012, pre-dating the Genesis Revisited tours but both very enjoyable featuring a range of material from his repertoire.



Straying outside of the run-of-the-mill progressive rock fare, I’ve also been to see Pat Metheney and the Esbjorn Svensson Trio in Brighton, at the rather impressive Brighton Dome. This Grade I listed building has a history going back over 200 years during which time it’s been a stable block, a temporary hospital, a roller skating rink and, in the words of the Dome’s website but a description I’m not going to argue with, now the south coast's leading multi-arts venue.






The Dome was commissioned by the Prince of Wales (later King George IV) and built between 1803 and 1808. His taste for flamboyant fashions and outlandish architecture is well documented, as was his predilection for mistresses. He used to stay at a small lodging house on Old Steine but alterations and additions to these lodgings meant that the original stables needed to be replaced so the Prince commissioned architect William Porden to draw up plans for a vast new stable block and riding house. The new stables could be viewed as an Oriental version of the Pantheon in Rome, devoted to George's love of horsemanship; the five-year build incorporated 61 stalls, 38 for hunters and other saddle horses and 23 for coach horses, and cost the not inconsequential sum of £54,783, almost bankrupting the Prince in the process so that his father, the King, had to appeal to Parliament to clear the debt.

The exterior of the Dome was inspired by the great Jami Masjid (Friday Mosque) in Delhi, as there was a widespread interest in all things Indian at the time, whereas the interior was influenced by the design of the Paris Corn Exchange, whose segmented glass ceiling was copied in the original dome construction. The dimensions of the domed roof (24m in diameter, 20m high) made it one of the largest constructions of its type in the world and there were severe doubts about its stability once the scaffolding had been removed, though Porden himself had absolute faith in the engineering. The dimensions of the riding house (54m x 18m), with a 10m high unsupported roof were also ambitious, incurring significant delays searching for sufficiently large single spans of roof timber.

Compared to the new stables and riding house, the Regent’s Marine Pavilion made relatively poor accommodation, so he undertook the task of converting his modest dwelling into the much grander Royal Pavilion. An underground passage, still in existence, was built between the stables and the Royal Pavilion. It was said that the tunnel was built so that the Prince could move undetected between the Palace and the stables in order to meet his mistress Maria Fitzherbert but by the time of its completion, George had fallen out with Mrs Fitzherbert.

Queen Victoria, the Prince’s niece, disliked Brighton and the Royal Pavilion Estate so the town bought the stable building in 1850 for use as a cavalry barracks up until 1864. Its interior was remodelled by architect Philip Lockwood before reopening in 1867 as a concert and assembly hall, holding 2500 people. The riding house was also restored and opened as the new Corn Exchange in 1868; a market was held every Thursday until December 1914 when the building was repurposed as a military hospital. Between December 1914 and February 1916 over 4000 wounded Indian soldiers were nursed at the makeshift hospitals set up inside the buildings of the Royal Pavilion estate, which included three operating theatres, one installed inside Brighton Dome itself. The India Gate, on the south side of the Pavilion Gardens, added in 1921, was a gift from the people of India to commemorate their fallen soldiers.

The concert hall and Corn Exchange both underwent further alteration between 1934 and 1935. The Concert Hall was transformed into the venue that exists today by architect Robert Atkinson, including the period art deco styling.

A new period of renovation began in 1999 using a combination of Lottery funding, the support of Brighton & Hove City Council and a host of individual, corporate and trust and foundation supporters. Reopened in 2002, the Concert Hall now has a seating capacity of 1800, much improved sight lines, and upgraded acoustics. Looking down on the stalls from the circle reminds me of some of the seating at the Royal Albert Hall, where rows become oddly truncated due to the curvature of the auditorium; looking up at the ceiling also reveals some fine architectural detail and overall, I’d rate it as a fantastic venue.



I was there again last Wednesday (March 15th) to see Anderson Rabin Wakeman (ARW) performing an evening of Yes music and more, having arrived in Brighton by train with my brother Richard and successfully completed a rendezvous with my friend Jim Knipe. We ate at one of Brighton’s many gastropubs, The Dorset Bar in North Street (recommended), opposite the bright red and yellow Guitar, Amp and Keyboard Centre and a five minute stroll from the Dome. If this isn’t the first time you’ve read the blog, you’ll be aware that 80s Yes is not really my cup of tea and that 90125, Big Generator and Talk are only associated with progressive rock through their historical connections; so why did I go? The opportunity to hear Jon Anderson sing was a major factor and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed his last two mini-tours with Rick Wakeman; including Lee Pomeroy in the band was also a positive move (his rendition of The Fish was truly remarkable, earning him a huge round of applause) and though I’d never heard, or heard of Louis Molino III, he turned out to be an excellent drummer.


It was inevitable that the set would contain a hefty dose of 80s material but I felt that these pieces would be outweighed by tracks like And You And I, Awaken, Heart of the Sunrise and Perpetual Change; with four songs from 90125 (one of them, Cinema, being instrumental and another, Changes, being my favourite track from that album) and only one song from Big Generator (Rhythm of Love), plus the Yes-West Lift Me Up from Union, it really wasn’t too bad a trade-off. The audience response, somewhat surprisingly given that Owner of a Lonely Heart and 90125 gained a whole new audience for the band, was not as enthusiastic for the Rabin-period music. Was this the Brighton effect? I acknowledge that Trevor Rabin’s involvement with the group ensured their continued survival but, fine guitarist that he undoubtedly is, his writing style is not classic-Yes, which is why the Rabin-Squire-White group was originally called Cinema. The songs presented by that trio had far more mainstream construction and content, lacking spiritual depth and sonic diversity, and that’s what came across on Wednesday night. The early Yes material varies dramatically within each number, demonstrating the best use of long-form and it’s far more thoughtful, head-music, if you like, rather than acceding to the demands of a record company for songs that had a wider, baser, appeal. This tendency towards guitar-sound homogeneity was even noticeable in the old material but the musicianship and writing carried the day. Awaken was the highlight for me, rearranged with a really spaced-out middle section featuring some brilliant keyboard work. It was obvious that considerable effort had gone into all the arrangements though I wasn’t convinced by their reworking of Long Distance Runaround.


The show was very, very good and the Brighton Dome made it slightly more memorable than going to the Hammersmith Apollo. They have really gelled as a group; while Anderson, sporting what seemed like some sort of support on his left hand, worked through his announcements, the band provided a short synopsis of what they were about to play laced with quotations from other Yes material, including On the Silent Wings of Freedom and a theme from Tales and demonstrated an obvious pleasure for what they were doing. YES!










By ProgBlog, Jan 22 2017 11:19PM

Whereas 1976 ended on a relatively high note for progressive rock with what I now regard as the last decent studio offering from Genesis, Wind and Wuthering, it hadn’t really been such a classic year for the progressive rock genre though there were obviously important releases. Looking back through my collection it would appear that the product from mainland Europe shined pretty brightly. 2017 has started with the inauguration of President Trump in the US but 1977 started off where 1976 ended, with a trip to see Genesis at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall. It continued with the much-anticipated follow-up to Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd’s Animals. The entire album was premiered pre-official release, on John Peel’s radio show (January 20th, official release January 23rd.) That single exposure was enough for me to discern a qualitative difference between Animals and its predecessor; gone were the lavish keyboard washes and cutting synthesizer lines, replaced by a more traditional rock balance with organ and piano relegated to little more than rhythm work. I still went out and bought it, to discover that Rick Wright wasn’t included in any compositional credits and even Dave Gilmour only got his name on Dogs. It was fairly common knowledge that a decent proportion of the material which made up the LP had been presented to live audiences following the Dark Side tours, with You’ve Got to be Crazy forming the bones of Dogs and Sheep gestating as Raving and Drooling, the latter including far more synthesizer than on the finalised album version. Wish You Were Here is a good example of progressive rock; four years later The Wall is most definitely not prog. Sitting between the two, Animals doesn’t really conform to the requirements of the description either, though it does have its moments and does challenge the prevailing politics of the time, inverting the anti-Stalinist narrative of George Orwell’s Animal Farm and turning it into a rail against capitalism.


Animals - forty years old
Animals - forty years old

From the somewhat lacklustre and very disappointing Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die! of the previous year, Jethro Tull reinvented themselves in 1977 with the prog-folk Songs from the Wood. This was not only a coherent, redefining statement (that would last for a trio of albums), it also utilised the playing talents of long-term associate and strings arranger David (now Dee) Palmer on keyboards which had the effect of adding another layer of complexity to the music. I don’t think the music could be compared to folk because it really rocked; the title better reflected the subject matter itself rather than any treatment of it, espousing green issues and contentment through a more rural way of life dressed. Ian Anderson had always utilised the acoustic guitar in a singer-songwriter way but now he had a package that harked back to a bucolic idyll and even, in Hunting Girl, hinted at Lady Chatterley’s Lover. I really like Songs from the Wood, the upfront, punchy bass of John Glascock and in general the instrumentation and arrangements. I suppose if I were to lay any criticism at this record it would be directed at the sometimes twee lyrics but overall, for a song-based album, it compares very favourably with Tull’s prog-concept pieces like Thick as a Brick, A Passion Play and Minstrel in the Gallery.


Songs from the Wood
Songs from the Wood

It would be incorrect of me to dismiss Tull as a second-division act but the first of the major players to return after an extended break from the studio were Emerson, Lake and Palmer. The pretentiously-titled Works Volume 1 may have been a cock-a-snook to punk, the dominant genre of the time, indicating that they didn’t care what anyone else thought about their approach to music. Aesthetically, even the sleeve is deadly serious in monochrome with its small neat font and the concept, one side for each band member plus one side for the ensemble comes across as an indication of artistic control. I’ve always thought Works Volume 1 and the albums just before it invoked a superficial parallel with Yes activity: Yes released Close to the Edge, their defining LP in 1972, this was followed by a triple live set (Yessongs) which in turn was followed by the magnum opus double LP Tales from Topographic Oceans; ELP released Brain Salad Surgery in 1973, the pinnacle of their career up to that date, they then released the triple live album Welcome Back My Friends and their next studio outing was the grand double LP Works Volume 1. If the analogy is pushed further, the Yes hiatus was punctuated by solo albums; ELP’s absence from the studio ended with solo material presented within a group album (though Lake’s I Believe in Father Christmas and Emerson’s arrangement of the Meade Lux Lewis tune Honky Tonk Train Blues, released in 1975 and 1976 respectively were both charting singles, eventually ended up on the mixed bag Works Volume 2.) It’s easiest to analyse Works Volume 1 one side at a time. I find Emerson’s Piano Concerto no. 1 rather enjoyable, the piece cementing his reputation as a builder of bridges between the two worlds of classical and rock though which his influences shine. I’m not sure that it’s a great piece of composition but I like it. Lake’s side continues from where Still... You Turn Me On left off in 1973. I value Lake’s contribution to progressive rock as an integral part of the earliest incarnation of King Crimson and as bassist/vocalist for ELP. He may have considered himself a singer songwriter playing acoustic guitar who happened to play some bass but the ‘solo’ features on every ELP album bar the first are relatively poor affairs; nice voice, shame about the content. Having said that, I have a soft spot for C’est La Vie! Carl Palmer’s material works very well when the attention is on the percussion rather than his song writing; I could never work out why Joe Walsh should appear on an ELP album, which brings me to the group tracks. The Copland-penned Fanfare for the Common Man is safely back on ELP territory and the only gripe I have with it is the overrated sound of the Yamaha GX-1 when it would sound so much better using a Hammond. The Yamaha is more suited to the symphonic Pirates which, at a little over 13 minutes fits the prog mould far better, forming a mini-suite. Along with dinosaurs, you can’t go far wrong with pirates!


Works Volume 1
Works Volume 1

Yes also returned from the wilderness with Going for the One, an album which offered a nod to the punk ethos with the high-energy title track, albeit with a liberal dose of Anderson sensibility, with its trippy imagery (“so hard to find in my cosmic mind”) but the other four tracks are straight from the Yes universe. Parallels was left over from Squire’s Fish out of Water and is sonically closest to The Yes Album. With Wakeman back in the fold, the album is far lighter than Relayer and in Awaken, contains one of the best progressive rock songs, ever. There’s a nice balance in the compositions, with Wonderous Stories managing to compress a full prog epic into something less than four minutes to become a surprisingly successful single at a time when punk was riding high, and the understated, reflective Turn of the Century showing off Howe’s considerable talent on acoustic guitar. Yes music is always uplifting but this was somehow positive thinking presented in easy to digest chunks on a platter, beginning with the hope of Parallels, moving through unbounded joy (Going for the One) and reflection (Turn of the Century) to spiritual fulfilment (Awaken.) Wakeman’s return coincided with two solo releases: White Rock and Criminal Record, both very different from predecessors Journey and Myths and Legends, being much closer in style to Six Wives.


Going for the One
Going for the One

There were a number of other important releases through the year, many of which I also picked up at the time or within the next couple of years. Progressive rock fans readily took to Brand X whose 1976 debut Unorthodox Behaviour was followed up by Moroccan Roll. Their sound on the sophomore effort was fleshed out to a surprising extent with the inclusion of percussionist Maurice Pert, ensuring that any potential to stagnate as a straightforward fusion act was neatly avoided.

I’d already started to appreciate PFM and their 1977 release Jet Lag didn’t disappoint. I was catching up on jazz rock bands around this time and Jet Lag was the closest PFM would get to that sub-genre. I wasn’t too disappointed that the Sinfield lyrics had gone and was getting used to Bernado Lanzetti’s vocal style following his debut on Chocolate Kings. Bookended by the beautiful Peninsula and the anthemic Traveler the music and playing is outstanding throughout.

What did come as a shock was the change from Van der Graaf Generator to Van der Graaf. Losing both your organist and horn player might seem careless but Peter Hammill and Guy Evans reinvented the band with the return of Nic Potter on bass and the recruitment of violinist Graham Smith from String Driven Thing. The resulting The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome is no less complex but far more rough and ready than VdGG and more immediate, as though Hammill was once more channelling Rikki Nadir. I didn’t buy the album until a couple of years later but I encouraged my brother to go and see the band when they played Leeds University during what would become the tour that produced Vital. Tony also went to see Camel during their 1977 tour (and tracks played at Leeds would appear on A Live Record also released in 1977) but I had to make do with listening to a friend’s copy of Rain Dances. The arrival of Canterbury legend Richard Sinclair cemented the Moonmadness drift towards a more jazzy direction but the collection of shorter songs, though still achingly melodic, was a bit disappointing. I think that of all the albums from 1977 that I listened to at the time, this was the one which I recognised as signalling a shift in the behaviour of the record companies, requiring the band to put out Highways of the Sun as a single. Evidence of the affect of punk on prog bands is best illustrated by the difference between Playing the Fool and The Missing Piece, both 1977 releases by Gentle Giant. The former, a brilliant introduction to the band in the guise of career-spanning compositions performed live which I bought on cassette is pure prog; the latter, not added to my collection until many years later for good reason, was like nothing the band had released before and is very disappointing.


More from 1977
More from 1977

Other notable records from 1977 which I acquired later include Genesis alumni Anthony Phillip’s The Geese and the Ghost, Peter Gabriel I (I did buy the Solsbury Hill single in preparation for seeing his first solo tour) and Steve Hackett’s Please Don’t Touch; I also recently bought a second hand vinyl copy of Seconds Out. England were a band who were unfairly accused of sounding Genesis-light who released the highly regarded Garden Shed. I saw them play in Barrow but didn’t buy the album until years later, one of my first internet purchases. I’ve since invested in a 2LP version with bonus material. The first National Health album also deserves a mention as it is one of the few albums which eschewed record company directives and is brilliant, melodic and complex. Along with England, they stood out as examples of how prog could have developed. The Enid represented a bridge from the first prog era and, like Van der Graaf, were accepted by the punk movement. They followed up the excellent In the Region of the Summer Stars with the sumptuous Aerie Faerie Nonsense. The US equivalent of late golden-period prog, recently added to my collection, is the first Happy The Man album released in 1977 which is a genuine treat.


If 1977 had some highs and lows, it wasn’t obvious until much later on in the year that the genre was unsustainable, coming under pressure from an industry which was just waking up to realise its global punch, partly through political developments. It’s interesting that the year began with Roger Waters’ onslaught against this political climate but half way through we were treated to a vision of hope but things went downhill fairly swiftly from 1978; forty years on January began with President Trump and despite the amazing scenes of Women’s Marches from around the world in reaction to the US election, I’m not very hopeful.

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