ProgBlog

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The possibilities afforded to composers since the birth of electronic instruments together with a willingness to explore different fields ensured that formal music progressed. The appropriation of classical music forms by rock musicians from the late 60s onwards marked the birth of progressive rock.

David Bedford was equally at home in both camps, at the forefront of a movement ensuring that all forms of music could be appreciated by everyone and anyone

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, Feb 14 2016 08:04PM

It was Peter Gabriel’s 66th birthday yesterday and the twittersphere was replete with felicitations. Gabriel’s part in the pantheon of progressive rock is firmly cemented: lead vocalist with early Genesis; world music luminary; sonic innovator. I’d like to add that I believe his anti-apartheid stance and his concern for our treatment of the planet are also very prog; promoting environmental issues and equality are key progressive traits, born of late-60s idealism.


There are many more differences between the music on his first solo album Peter Gabriel (1977) and his collaborative previous release, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974) than there were between Trespass (1970) and The Lamb. Early Genesis followed a distinct trajectory from compositions that featured 12 string guitar and piano or organ in equal measure overlain by lyrics that were seeped in mythology and allegory, where Gabriel often comes across as vulnerable and tentative. On The Lamb, Gabriel oozes confidence, perhaps aided by the adoption of the Rael persona and the music is heavier, more muscular, involving more riffs than before even though it’s still very melodic. Banks’ use of synthesizer, absent on Foxtrot (1972) and debuting on Selling England by the Pound (1973) is predominantly used for angular runs (such as on In the Cage and Back in NYC.) On reflection, I suggest it’s primarily the synthesizer that’s responsible for the majority of motifs that I’ve detected forming a sonic bridge between Selling England and The Lamb.

The Lamb may be made up of short pieces but it does have an overriding linear narrative that puts it in the long-form category, Supper’s Ready was originally a series of musical ideas that were fitted together to make one piece, similar to Van der Graaf Generator’s A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers (from Pawn Hearts, 1971) where sections are discrete but seamlessly segue into each other; as a distinct modern musical trope this idea was adopted by The Beatles for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), an idea that was mimicked by any number of proto-progressive acts and one that could be used to define the genre in its infancy. I believe that the Moody Blues’ Days of Future Passed (1967), not fully formed prog by any means, is another good example of a well-defined full album-length concept comprised of disparate songs and this, rather than a nebulous concept like Dark Side of the Moon (1973) or the philosophical musings of Jon Anderson and Steve Howe on Tales from Topographic Oceans (1973), has more parallels with Rael’s journey of self-discovery.

The shorter songs on Peter Gabriel are not conceptually linked but all display thoughtfulness in their composition. This may have been Gabriel’s return to ‘the machinery’ after a hiatus but it was on his terms, informed in part by the years he’d spent in Genesis but reflecting other influences. I don’t think it conforms to the original definition of prog but it is undoubtedly progressive. It’s probably art-rock, with more immediacy and a more contemporary feel. It’s as though Rael showed Gabriel what he was able to become and I think the first solo effort has a New York vibe to it, even though it was recorded in Toronto and London! One similarity between The Lamb and Peter Gabriel is the humour in the rhyme, the use of couplets, half rhymes and rhymes within a single line (the rhyme is planned, dummies) evident, for instance on Moribund the Burgermeister “Bunderschaft, you going daft? Better seal off the castle grounds...” or Humdrum “I ride tandem with a random/Things don’t work out the way I planned them.” However, there’s a less obvious break with prog on Peter Gabriel that hits you the moment you take the album out from wherever you’ve stored it: the cover photo of Gabriel in the passenger seat of Storm Thorgerson’s Lancia Flavia.

It’s probably incidental but the album contains a couple of automobile references, in Excuse Me where Gabriel muses “who needs a Cadillac anyway” and a more technical, almost Ballardian reference to a “red hot magneto” on Modern Love. Despite Nick Mason’s association with motor racing and Rick Wakeman’s collection of cars in the mid 70s, cars don’t often make an appearance in prog rock songs. Is this surprising? Rock ‘n’ roll and the associated ‘live fast, die young’ ethos seem inextricably linked with motor cars and there have been hundreds of songs written about driving and automobiles. This is hardly astonishing as the development of the two aspects of (American) youth culture, music and driving, were contemporaneous; the end of post-war austerity and the invention of the American Dream issuing in a world of leisure and consumerism. Singing about driving could be rebellious but whatever the message, songs about cars pervade much of rock music from Chuck Berry’s No Particular Place to Go (1964) and The Beatles Drive My Car (1965) to Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run album (1975) and there’s a strong association, at least amongst British TV viewers, of Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain (1977) and F1 racing. The movie Grease with its cod 50s rock ‘n’ roll appeared in 1978 and has become the most popular musical film of all time. There even seems to be a morbid glamour that has attached itself to automobile accidents, brilliantly explored in JG Ballard’s collection of related stories The Atrocity Exhibition (1970) and full length novel Crash (1973), epitomised by the death of James Dean in his Porsche 550 Spyder in 1955, the crash that killed Diana, Princess of Wales in Paris in 1997 and even the assassination of JFK in his open topped limousine in 1963 (partly the subject of Gabriel’s Family Snapshot (on Peter Gabriel III, Melt, 1980.)

The lyrics of Adrian Belew on Beat (1982) and Three of a Perfect Pair (1984), the second and third releases by the 1981 – 1984 incarnation of King Crimson are something of an exception when it comes to prog and cars. Beat was inspired by Jack Kerouac so road trip references abound in Neal and Jack and Me: “I’m wheels, I am moving wheels/I am a 1952 Studebaker coupe... ...I am a 1952 Starlite coupe”. Crimson journeyed into experimental industrial music on the second side (aka the Right side) of Three of a Perfect Pair, starting with homage to the scrapped car, Dig Me which calls to mind Christine (1983) the Bill Phillips film adaptation of Stephen King’s horror novel and hints at Ballardian prose. I don’t suppose any of us should be shocked that tyre manufacturer Dunlop used a portion of 21st Century Schizoid Man for adverts in 1996...



A cosmic take on the idea of cruising along was released as a single and appeared on Rain Dances (1977) by Camel in the form of Highways of the Sun. It doesn’t matter if they’re in an old sedan that’s lost a wheel or a ship that’s got no sails, this is hardly the same vision as that visualised by heavy rockers Deep Purple, on Highway Star (from Machine Head, 1972) with its imagery of sexualised power. Hard rock seemed to go for this form of association, the video of ‘fast’ women, hot cars and hard guitars, apparently reinventing scenes of bikini-clad women draped over cars at a motor show for the MTV age... and critics called prog musicians dinosaurs! Even Roger Waters got in on the act with the cover artwork for The Pros and cons of Hitch Hiking (1984.)



One oddity is White Car from Drama (1980) by Yes. Lasting only 1’20” this song was allegedly brought to the band by newcomers Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes. It’s likely to be seen as throw-away because of its brevity but in that time it opens out to reveal a cinematic scope, with nice keyboard orchestration and poignant percussion. I don’t know what the lyrics allude to but I think of a classic Rolls Royce on a road atop of Yorkshire or perhaps Devonshire moors. It’s dramatic, and maybe that’s where the album title comes from; it’s certainly not car as analogy for sex object!

By ProgBlog, May 11 2015 05:35PM

I’ve just returned from a long bank holiday weekend in my native Cumbria, staying with my brother Tony near Ulverston, a short drive away from the Lake District National Park. The Lakes scenery is stunning, produced over millions of years by a range of natural processes and more lately tinkered with by man.

Part of the itinerary was to be a trip to RAF Spadeadam near Brampton in the north east of the county. The idea was to visit the former Blue Streak missile test site and, as we’d be travelling through the appropriate area, include a rendezvous with old friend Bill Burford, drummer for Water’s Edge who resides in Melmerby, near Penrith.

Blue Streak was intended to be the UK’s intermediate range ballistic missile but the programme was shelved in 1960 and the base was used for development of a Europe-based satellite launcher, itself abandoned in 1972. At least one of the Pages has a professional interest in cold war architecture; Daryl’s Historic Conservation master’s degree thesis was on the preservation and use of cold war bunkers - I simply wanted to take photos of the site for my next musical project, tentatively titled Cold War. Unfortunately, the organisers didn’t confirm our proposed visit and with insufficient time to plan any serious fell walking we just visited parts of the Lake District I’d not been to in the past, examples of human influence on the landscape: Allan Bank, above Grasmere, a former home of William Wordsworth and National Trust founder Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley; the Langdale Boulders at Copt Howe with their Neolithic markings, the most intricate and impressive examples of rock art in Cumbria; and Cathedral Quarry in Great Langdale, an enormous void where the roof is held up by a single pillar in a disused slate quarry.

Roger Dean has written about his trip to the Lakes where he describes seeing a mountain-top tarn that served as inspiration for the inside sleeve of Close to the Edge. It’s not difficult to imagine Dean walking from Honister via Haystacks, where his mountain tarn can be found, over to Langdale, the centre of the Lake District, and visiting the spectacular Cathedral Quarry where a huge hole has been excavated for the attractive green slate (more correctly Borrowdale Tuff, a volcanic ash around 450 million years old, metamorphosed by heat and pressure into a rock that forms one of the distinctive building materials of the region. I think that this edifice could have influenced the cover of Relayer or the cover of his book Views.


This landscape has inspired painters, novelists and Lakeland poets Wordsworth, Coleridge and De Quincy; landscape in general seems to have inspired nineteenth century Romantic composers too, who used long-form symphonic pieces to depict visual images of landmarks and landscapes such as concert overture The Hebrides (better known as Fingal’s Cave) and Scottish Symphony (Symphony No. 3 in A minor) by Felix Mendelssohn and, as Romantic music was one of the major influences on progressive rock, it seems rather odd that despite frequent allusion to geographical or topographical forms there are only a few examples of prog compositions about a named physical landscape.

Not that I’m a fan but Haken’s The Mountain seemed like a good place to start looking however It turns out that the title is merely metaphorical. The most obvious classic prog track inspired by an imaginary landscape is Firth of Fifth, the perennial Genesis favourite, which is fitting because of the Tony Banks piano work and the notion of prog as an updated form of Romantic music; even Steve Hackett’s soloing conforms to the idea of nineteenth-century symphonic poems, stretching the song with sublime guitar lines that appear to describe the contours of the river valley, rounded and flowing, not aggressive or jarring.

Another obvious reference to a geographical location, real this time, is Mike Oldfield’s Hergest Ridge. I’ve previously described how I think this is the best Oldfield album and how the compositional style has been influenced by Romantic composers; the execution aided by supplementary musicians playing instruments associated with classical orchestras. This links rather nicely to The Song of the White Horse by David Bedford, a piece originally commissioned for BBC TV’s Omnibus and aired in 1978. The idea of the programme was to show Bedford in the process of writing, rehearsing and recording the score as well as performing it and it showed him riding his motorcycle along the route of the Ridgeway to the White Horse at Uffington, his inspiration for the commission.

The White Horse dates from around the Bronze Age, created by carving trenches into the hillside which are filled with crushed chalk. Part of a wider ancient landscape which includes the Blowing Stone, a perforated sarsen stone used in Bedford’s composition, the horse can be seen from miles away, as though leaping across the head of a dramatic, dry valley. I find it interesting that the White Horse is mentioned in the medieval Welsh book, Llyfr Coch Hergest (The Red Book of Hergest): "Near to the town of Abinton there is a mountain with a figure of a stallion upon it and it is white. Nothing grows upon it.” Oldfield released Hergest Ridge in 1974 and David Bedford began his commission in 1977.

Though trained as a classical composer, Bedford’s other works have included odd things like 100 kazoos and his charts have used pictures, rather than staves and notes. His rock credentials come via his work with Kevin Ayers, which is how he was introduced to Oldfield. On White Horse he was helped by Soft Machine’s Mike Ratledge on a variety of keyboards, a small ensemble with brass and strings and the Queen’s College choir, a hand-picked female choir from Bedford’s place of work where helium was used to increase the pitch of Diana Coulson’s singing by around two octaves (speed of sound in air = 331 m/s; speed of sound in helium = 972 m/s). The roughly 25 minute composition incorporates GK Chesterton’s poem The Ballad of the White Horse which celebrates King Alfred's victory over the Danes at the Battle of Englefield in the 9th century. Overall I think it’s a very satisfying piece of music incorporating basic sequencing, novel chorale work, Romanticism and some disharmony. It surprised me to find out that college friend Charlie Donkin, who liked The Who, The Rolling Stones, Harry Chapin and Dire Straits, was also a fan of The Song of the White Horse, ending up with a copy of Star’s End or Instructions for Angels when we went to see if we could find a copy in one of London’s many record shops; Charlie also liked Bedside Manner are Extra.



By ProgBlog, Oct 5 2014 07:56PM

I don’t watch very much television. Broadcasting corporations don’t really cater for my tastes and commercial stations are nauseating because you get meaningless adverts every 15 minutes; the advertising industry is really over-regarded and badly regulated. I’ll watch the odd documentary, Have I Got News for You, Crystal Palace appearing on Match of the Day and Dr Who, though I’m still unsure about Peter Capaldi. I think his Doctor has potential and this potential is helped by some more sinister storylines but I think I may be getting a bit old to make time to watch the programme. I think Matt Smith initially carried the sonic screwdriver pretty well but towards the end of his tenure I was less convinced of his suitability for the role. The writing and Who mythology weaving is admirable and, as fantasy series go, it’s pleasant escapism and easily watchable and touches on that evasive quality of ‘Englishness’ but when I start actively thinking about the suitability of the actor in the lead role, then it’s probably time to move on.

My wife is responsible for informing me of programmes that I should watch, so I was a bit shocked when I got a text from my friend Mark Franchetti yesterday, hoping that I was watching the Genesis evening on BBC2. I’ve known Mark since university and though his musical taste is far, far removed from mine (rock ‘n’ roll) his wife Gina is into progressive rock and has accompanied me on many a mission to seek out and enjoy live prog. The Franchettis frequently remind me of impending musical documentaries but I’ve normally been handed the TV remote and left to get on with it. Yesterday was different but the by-line in the Radio Times may provide Susan with an excuse; the Saturday Choices article on Genesis: Together and Apart begins: “At the vanguard of prog, uncaring of cool, Genesis wrote radio unfriendly epics about lawnmowers and failed Scottish uprisings” but concludes “while the tediously de rigueur rock-doc dissing of the group’s early oeuvre – for many, a thing of rich musicality – is largely shunned.” She may have misread this as meaning the early material was overlooked in the documentary because, when I switched over to watch the programme, 20 minutes or so after it had started, they were just skipping through Selling England on to The Lamb.

This period coincides with the start of my personal appreciation of the band. School friends Alan Lee and Geoff Hinchley were more into Genesis and my first purchase, in 1976, was the token gesture Genesis Live as a cut out distributed by Buddah Records because it covered their early history. I don’t remember where I picked up this item. It seems unlikely that Barrow had any record stores dealing in cut-outs so my guess would be that I bought it in Leeds, possibly Virgin Records, when I went to visit brother Tony at uni. I subsequently went to see Genesis twice, in Liverpool on the Wind and Wuthering tour and at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1982, after winning tickets in a Capital Radio competition. Part of this prize was a signed copy of Three Sides Live, which had been released four months earlier and which I later sold to a friend, Mike Chavez, for £5.

From the moment I began watching the documentary, the narrative closely followed that set out in Mike Rutherford’s autobiography The Living Years and Rutherford seemed to have more to say than the other members of the band. Steve Hackett barely featured, only commenting once after Peter Gabriel had told us that he’d often been congratulated for A Trick of the Tale. There was no mention of Bill Bruford. Not surprisingly, when you look at the Genesis timeline, there was a great dealmore about the post-Hackett Genesis which was of much less interest to me as they slid from prog greats to exceptionally successful middle-of-the-road soft rock. The definitive turning point, in my opinion, is the inclusion of Afterglow as the last track on Wind and Wuthering. Rutherford describes this album as displaying the feminine side of Genesis (he also labels Tony Banks’ chords as feminine) and though musically Afterglow comes across as prog, lyrically it’s venturing into the mundane. There’s no doubt that this lyrical style became more prevalent over the later releases and the complex, multi-section compositions with fantastical or mythical concepts were dropped. Prog isn’t about bearing your soul after a divorce, however painful, that’s more the realm of a more accessible rock medium like the Blues. Rutherford’s belief that he should handle guitar duties was originally somewhat misplaced but he developed a rather mechanical style of picking chords that came to represent a lot of 80s guitar playing; such that it was almost impossible to discern the songs he was playing in Genesis from those he was playing in Mike + The Mechanics. This process was compounded by the reduction in distinct keyboard sounds utilised by both Tony Banks and the Mechanics’ Adrian Lee and the generic soft rock available on the fledgling MTV. Some of the Genesis videos were truly awful.

I managed to watch the missing part of the programme which did include a few more words from Steve Hackett on BBC’s iPlayer. This included thoughts from original guitarist Anthony Phillips and another Charterhouse alumnus, friend and former road manager Richard Macphail. There was some archival footage of the band playing at the Atomic Sunrise festival at London’s Roundhouse, the only video documentation of Genesis with Phillips and drummer John Mayhew.

Despite what appears to be some unresolved rivalry between Peter Gabriel and Tony Banks, it was good to hear Gabriel talking about the band. The film was supplemented by commentary from comedian Al Murray, New Statesman arts critic Kate Mossman, author, former actor and stand-up comedian Mark Billingham, music journalist Chris Roberts and radio DJ Angie Greaves. Mossman interviewed Peter Gabriel for the New Statesman in October last year and she added some useful insight and analysis; the others offered opinion, Murray quite happy with the later, more commercial material.

The idea of Genesis, together and apart, was quite good but still left me feeling slightly unsatisfied. Hackett’s solo work, currently touring Genesis Revisited, was totally overlooked. I rate Voyage of the Acolyte, which features both Rutherford and Collins and easily conforms to prog form circa 1975, as good as A Trick of the Tail and better than Wind and Wuthering and all that came after. He’s the only one of the band that seems to regard their early 70s material as music that continues to deserve an airing, something that would have been worthwhile for the documentary to highlight.


By ProgBlog, Jul 13 2014 01:00PM

I’ve been lucky enough to play around on a Mellotron but I didn’t have the foresight to buy the beast. I tend to regard the Tron (as aficionados apparently prefer to call it) as one of the two instruments that define prog. Though not strictly true, it did form an integral part of the sound of most symphonic prog bands that were around during the ‘golden era’, whether adding strings, flute or choir. The other instrument that has a very strong association with progressive rock is the mini-Moog.

As a youth I used to scour the music press and album sleeves for information about instruments; I understood that Chris Squire’s use of the Rickenbacker, for instance, was a key part of the sound of Yes but at the time it was something that not many rock bassists were using. My research into the mini-Moog and the Mellotron followed these lines. I remember a competition in (I think) the NME to ‘win a £400 Moog’, illustrated with a picture of Keith Emerson that clearly showed the instrument’s controls. The competition had a simple multiple choice question and the tie-breaker was a ‘describe the music of ELP in 20 words’. I submitted a pithy verse that didn’t win. The inside sleeve of Six Wives was another frequently referenced insight into keyboard instruments and the probable source of my earliest understanding of the Mellotron, with Wakeman’s two 400-Ds used for brass, strings and flute, and vocals, sound effects and vibes respectively. What I found incredibly neat was the way that a mini-Moog would sit on top of a Mellotron, as though the two instruments were made for each other. As multiple keyboard usage became the norm, this was a frequently observed set-up.

The versatility of the mini-Moog and, to a lesser extent, the VCS3 and the ARP Odyssey or ARP 2600, encouraged bands to embrace synthesizers. Whereas a Moog was a lead instrument, putting the keyboard player on the same footing as the guitarist and marking the beginning of the era of the keyboard wizard, the Mellotron was an instrument that allowed a band to enhance their overall musical presence; it was simply too clunky and mechanical to be used as an instrument for solos. This shift of emphasis from vocalist/guitarist dominance, evident in almost all straightforward rock bands, was one of the democratic facets of progressive rock; promoting a greater equality which in turn allowed more influences and subsequently, more musical possibilities.

The ARP synthesizers (after Alan Robert Pearlman) don’t seem to have been as extensively used as Moogs, though they did have notable proponents such as Tony Banks.

It’s not strictly true that the Mellotron was only used for symphonic or choral fills; after all, the nature of the beast was as a sampler, based on recordings of any manner of instrument or sound effect committed to tapes. It’s possible to discern Mellotron sounds from the real thing and I find that part of the attraction. The flute tone is one of the best known sounds and its haunting quality is what sets it apart from the woodwind; there’s an ethereal element to it that defines the mid-70s Tangerine Dream and this sound is also used to great effect by the 72-74 incarnation of King Crimson in their improvisational flights (on Providence, for example) and on Drum Folk by Greenslade. As much as I like Crimson’s doom-laden Mellotron chords I think I prefer it used for melody lines. Having sad that, the Cross-era Crimson were hardly a keyboard band and used their two Mellotrons quite differently from most bands because of the quantity of improvised material they played. Trio, from Starless and Bible Black, is an almost fragile piece, where Robert Fripp plays delicate Mellotron in response to David Cross’ plaintive violin. This track, an improvisation from the Amsterdam Concertgebouw gig of November 23rd 1973, stands out because Bill Bruford didn’t touch his drum kit and he’s credited, quite rightly in my opinion, as a composer; his decision not to add anything to the piece really enhances what must be the most sensitive track Crimson have ever recorded. Cross, in a chapter in Nick Awde’s excellent book Mellotron, describes how Crimson used to abuse their machines by jamming the selector between two settings and Trio may be an example of this, where the sound seems to hover between flute and strings.

It was Fripp who most fully documented the lack of reliability of the Mellotron during tours, especially to destinations with different mains voltages. Reliability issues, coupled with its intrinsic mass meant that many exponents ditched their Mellotrons when more portable and more reliable string synthesizers started to appear in the mid 70s. I think it’s interesting that the decline of the use of Mellotron coincides with the end of the first wave of progressive rock and, conversely, the rise and subsequent critical reacceptance of prog in the early 90s was spearheaded by bands that appreciated the analogue sounds of the bands from the 70s, such as Ånglagard and Finisterre. 1976 seems to have been a turning point; the sleeve notes of Wind and Wuthering reveal Tony Banks played both Mellotron and Roland string synthesizer, and I regard Wind and Wuthering as the last of the progressive Genesis albums.

I feel rather dismissive towards the string synth. The sound was thin and, compared to the Mellotron, lacked warmth and timbre but it also had an unforeseen economic effect. When Mellotronics went bankrupt in 1978, manufacturer Streetly Electronics were no longer allowed to use the trademark name Mellotron and had to rename the M400 model they were producing at the time the ‘Novatron’. Rick Wakeman invested heavily and unsuccessfully into a cassette-based version and his Birotron features on a handful of albums, most notably his 1977 release Criminal Record.

Mellotron restoration was featured at a King Crimson playback event in London in the late 90s and there are Mellotron conventions; I attended MelloFest 2 at the Luminaire in 2009, featuring (amongst others) Robert Webb from England and Martin Orford. The future is looking more rosy for the Mellotron. The resurgence of prog has dragged the instrument back into the sonic requirements of bands that want a fuller sound, which includes old exponents and a younger generation of musicians who appreciate the possibilities of one of the instruments that defined prog.



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