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Recently returned from the 2018 Porto Antico Prog Fest in Genoa, where ProgBlog met up with last year's star turn Melting Clock, and discussion turned to the artwork for their forthcoming album which is due to begin recording in the next couple of weeks...

By ProgBlog, Apr 30 2018 09:34PM

The gig marathon did pause, temporarily, for the annual week-long skiing holiday. This year’s resort was Sölden in Austria and, after the relative success of the self-organised trip to Chamonix in January, plus a wealth of experience planning prog-themed visits to Italy, flights, public transport transfers and accommodation were all booked individually and independently of tour operators. This meant that we could avoid the early Saturday morning chaos at Gatwick by choosing a Tuesday lunchtime flight, though a planned gig on the day of return, Tuesday 17th April, meant there was going to be something of a rush when we’d arrived back in the UK.

Despite some poor visibility when it snowed on the days we were on the mountains, we did ski every day and the conditions when the sun did come out were near perfect; carving down almost empty runs in fresh powder. I’d been to the resort before, in 2007 but the amount of investment that had been poured into the area made it almost unrecognisable. Not only could I not work out where the hotel I’d stayed at had been (if it still existed) but the Gaislachkogl lift, which I may have used once during my last stay, became the prime station for getting up anywhere in the ski area. Anyone familiar with the James Bond film SPECTRE would recognise the resort because the mountaintop clinic where Bond meets the female lead, Dr Swann (played by Léa Seydoux) is the ice Q restaurant on the summit of Gaislachkogl at 3048m, a beautifully designed building that fits perfectly within its high mountain environment and which serves really fine cuisine. We ate there, twice.


the ice Q restaurant, Gaislachkogl
the ice Q restaurant, Gaislachkogl

Our B&B may have been a little way from the centre of Sölden but it did have a bus stop right outside, where journeys during daylight hours were free with a lift pass and hourly buses wound down the valley to Ötztal station, so this is where the trek to the ESP 2.0 gig on 17th April at the Half Moon, Putney began. I’d ordered a copy of their forthcoming release 22 Layers of Sunlight from their Bandcamp page and fortunately for me Cheryl Stringall, the owner and managing director of their record label Sunn Creative, recognised my name from previous correspondence and asked if I’d like a pre-release copy. This meant I was able to hear the whole album a couple of times and parts of it a few more times to acquaint myself with the music before the show.


The calm is over: Pitze bus stop, Sölden...
The calm is over: Pitze bus stop, Sölden...

The Half Moon, Putney
The Half Moon, Putney

I am a big fan of the original Tony Lowe – Mark Brzezicki ESP collaboration and after the launch of the debut album Invisible Din (2016) I pronounced that I wanted to hear more from them. A year and a half later 22 Layers of Sunlight is the product of a more settled outfit, with Lowe and Brzezicki being joined by Peter Coyle (ex-Lotus Eaters) on vocals plus bassist Pete Clark and keyboard player Richard Smith; ESP Invisible Din was more of a collective which though showcasing the talents of a variety of guest musicians including David Cross and David Jackson (whose collaboration CD Another Day arrived on my doormat the same day as 22 Layers) and vocalist John Beagley, would have been a nightmare to organise as a touring entity.





Coyle brought the concept with him, an original, cautionary tale of global tech-monopolies and AI that has increasing relevance in modern society. It was good to hear the instrumental layers are all still there, with the opening track God of Denial and its subsection The Code shifting seamlessly from angular post-rock guitar riffs to a couple of bars of lead synthesizer that wouldn’t be out of place on a proggy Steven Wilson album and then to orchestrated soundscape, all neatly tied together by Coyle’s clever lyrics. Algorithm contains some post-Hackett Genesis-like drumming and a dual vocal passage that strongly reminds me of Sigur Rós, then the title track has a cinematic orchestrated movement that gives way to a quality prog workout before reprising the chorus and main melody, though overlain with some gorgeous guitar soloing. Ride through Reality allows the players to let rip, it’s an instrumental with a little vocalising, partly jazzy but equally reminiscent of Lamb Lies Down-era Genesis instrumental blows, brief but not short on quality. Smiling Forever is another post-rock composition, laden with Mellotron string patches before it also goes full-Floyd with beautiful, tasteful slowburn guitar and after a vocal reprise blends into the laid-back Don’t Let Go section of the longest track on the CD Butterfly Suite with flute Mellotron patches. Traveling Light is the excellent instrumental part of this track, harking back to the sounds and complex rhythms of Genesis circa 1973 with some great synthesizer and organ work and more tasteful guitar, which eventually resolves into a very Hackett-like, disturbing riff before Sensual Earth continues with similar sounding themes, alternating analogue synthesizer lines and expressive guitar.

Gunshot Lips is a more modern-sounding track, its urgency dissolving into trance grooves before the driving beat resurfaces, though it retains the multiple layers of the more cinematic and prog pieces. Introducing the song at the Half Moon, Coyle confessed he didn’t know why it was called ‘Gunshot Lips’. Final track Ballad of Broken Hearts is an orchestrated, melodic piece with a deceptively pop-y structure overlain with harmonic splashes of guitar and lead synth. It’s quite optimistic sounding until about three quarters of the way through to the end when it slows and becomes more proggy and reflective as Coyle sings ‘is this all I can hope for?

You can tell it’s an ESP album – there are certain similarities in quality of voice between Coyle and his Invisible Din predecessor Beagley – with the same degree of originality and a greater feeling of consistency on 22 Layers, though there are probably more excursions away from the undeniably symphonic prog feel of Invisible Din. It’s certainly a worthy sophomore effort, expertly crafted with excellent writing and musicianship, impeccable production and once again, beautiful presentation. I made it to the live performance with time to spare; the Half Moon is fairly convenient for me and it’s a great venue. The set consisted of material from both albums, expertly handled by the quintet and this was warmly appreciated by the crowd. I think of ESP Invisible Din as a Lowe/Brzezicki band but that evening Coyle played the part of front man and the 2.0 group appeared to be more democratically organised. It was a thoroughly enjoyable gig.


I may have made it from Sölden to the Half Moon but there wasn’t a great deal of time before it all started again, roughly 52 hours between getting back from Putney and setting off on the next leg of the gig marathon to Brescia, thematically connected to ESP through David Cross who has been touring as a guest musician with legendary progressivo Italiano band Le Orme. Previously acquainted with the small, beautiful city after staying there to see Banco del Mutuo Soccorso play in January, one of the first reminders of why I had come this time was plastered over a wall on our way to the hotel.



First stop of the afternoon was the Tostato coffee shop (although we’d already had coffee at Verona station) and then it was on to the record stores; Music Box and its sister store Brescia Dischi were closed but we wandered away from the centre to Kandinski, an excellent shop selling new and second-hand vinyl and CDs where I was allowed to browse through the selection ordered in for Record Store Day, being held the following day. I couldn’t really justify getting the special edition The Piper at the Gates of Dawn so I chose three albums from the Italian prog and International prog re-pressings racks: Il Tempio della Gioia by Quella Vecchia Locanda; ...per un Mondo di Cristallo by Raccomandata Ricevuta di Ritorno; and Visitation by Pekka Pohjola. It was nice to chat about music and about being in Brescia specifically for music, and about the meaning of Record Store Day. As I left I was presented with a CD released in 2016 on Kandinsky Records, Double Rod Pendulum by Ant Mill which I was warned wasn’t prog but on subsequent listening have discovered is highly original guitar-driven rock which at times crosses into psyche. It’s not really my thing being relatively heavy and more blues-rock based than anything else in my collection, but it’s still melodic, with vocals all in English. It was recorded live in the studio and you can detect a raw edge, but the production, typified by the snare drum sound on Tale #11 [Lullaby for E] is really good.



The evening’s entertainment was Le Orme and David Cross at Dis-Play, a temporary venue set up in the Brixia Forum the city’s exhibition space, a 10 minute taxi ride from our hotel. This was me ticking off another classic 70’s progressivo Italiano band, though the current line-up includes just one original member, drummer Michi Dei Rossi. Keyboard player Michele Bon has been with the band since Tony Pagliuca left in 1992, so the most recent recruit is bassist/guitarist/vocalist Alessio Trapella who joined in February 2017. I was totally blown away by the musicianship – the performance seemed to have been comprised almost entirely of early material that I’m familiar with and the band had found a superb replacement for Aldo Tagliapietra in Trapella (I’d seen Tagliapietra performing the whole of Felona e Sorona in Genoa in 2014 which was quite special). The inclusion of David Cross on the tour was perfect; Le Orme are no strangers to guest musicians - Peter Hammill wrote English lyrics for Felona and Sorona and David Jackson has performed with both Tony Pagliuca and Aldo Tagliapietra - and the violin seems like such a natural fit with the Venetian-formed band. Dei Rossi (with the help of Cristiano Roversi) released an album of Orme material arranged for orchestra ClassicOrme last year and in 1979 the classic line-up released Florian (after Caffè Florian in Piazza San Marco), an album recorded using only traditional (non-rock) instruments augmented with violin, an exercise in modern classical music with a progressive touch. Cross featured heavily during the gig and in return the ensemble played a version of Exiles, based more on Cross’ interpretation from his album of the same name than the original Larks’ Tongues version, but it was good to see the acknowledgement of the King Crimson influence on Italian prog. I thought there was an interesting comparison between the role of Dei Rossi, the drummer and only original member, with that of PFM’s Franz di Cioccio. Though Dei Rossi didn’t sing he spent quite a lot of the time between and sometimes during songs in front of his kit not only acting as spokesperson, but also directing the audience and the band. There was a humorous moment where he pointed out that he still had a lot of hair and the majority of the males in the audience had very little.



Apart from some technical problems with Michele Bon’s monitor and earpiece right at the beginning of the set, which required the removal of his jacket and held up the start of the show, it was a flawless performance by a group of exceptionally gifted musicians. Best of all, I managed to got to see the whole performance because I’d worked out how to order a taxi late in the evening, when the taxi hailing smartphone app no longer worked. My merchandise stand foray resulted in a limited edition copy of Elementi (2001) on vinyl but Chiemi Cross had moved off elsewhere for a moment so I couldn’t say hello and I’d just taken delivery of my Cross and Jackson CD at home.



The following day, Saturday, we headed off to nearby Cremona, a UNESCO World Heritage site listed in 2012 for the intangible heritage of violin making; to mark Record Store Day the main thoroughfare was lined with stalls selling vinyl and CDs. I got into conversation with a couple of stall holders and bought Florian for €15 and Per un Amico for €40, though I was being encouraged to buy an original Italian copy of Chocolate Kings complete with poster (my copy of Chocolate Kings is the Manticore release with the stars and stripes covered chocolate bar which on that particular stall had a higher mark up than the Italian version.)




We flew back to the UK on a late afternoon departure from Verona, and whereas I’d had time to get dinner before going to see ESP 2.0 when I came back from Austria, this time I headed straight from Verona (26oC) to the Union Chapel, Islington (14oC) for the first of two Tangerine Dream shows...












By ProgBlog, Nov 15 2015 11:55PM

My thoughts go out to the families of the victims of Friday’s terrorist attacks in France. Such a cowardly and brutal attack on innocent civilians is anathema to anyone of any religion and anyone who does not require a faith. Furthermore, though the atrocity was no doubt designed to instil hatred as well as fear, it should not be allowed to act as an excuse for reprisal against local minority communities or refugees fleeing for their lives from conflict zones around the world; ignorant headlines in The Mail on Sunday only fan the flames of hatred and make it harder than it already is to break the cycle. Neither should this crime be seen as a green light for mass surveillance that comes hand-in-hand with the patronising phrase “if you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve nothing to fear.”

I believe that the colonial past of a number of European nations lies at the core of the rise of Daesh; vested interests that sequestered the resources of the countries that made up their empire without ever making appropriate reparations who pleaded that their activities on foreign soil benefited everyone. These operations became global giants with more power than democratically elected governments, under the influence of US economic imperialism, itself driven by a paranoia that Soviet-aided countries, often in their own back-yard, were spreading a message that there was an alternative system. We now know that trickle down wealth generation does not work and the result of the pursuit of oil and minerals in Africa, the Middle East and Asia was the rise of dictatorships and an elite but leaving the vast majority of the ordinary population existing in abject poverty, starved of fresh water, adequate food and education. Injustice and inequality breed malcontent and extremism; ignorance allows extremism to spread.

We haven’t embarked upon a war on terror but have begun to see the logical conclusion of a history of opportunism without ever redressing the wrongs. Until we banish third world debt, provide fast, free communication throughout the entire world, encourage developing nations to utilise renewable energy and address basic health needs, inequality and, by extension, extremism will persist. Within the UK, government and business pay lip service to equality but there’s still an under-representation of women and BME individuals in parliament and board rooms. I accept that strides have been made but progress is being curtailed by the same old vested interests (arms manufacturers, petrochemical giants, big pharma, the banks) all pulling the strings of the puppets in Westminster, such that inequality is increasing in the UK with a threat to the NHS from US-healthcare insurance companies and the threatened removal of tax credits. In the US, Donald Trump epitomises the self-interest (and nastiness) of the super-rich blaming over-zealous gun control for the extent of the atrocity in France.

I visited the M.C. Escher exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery today, not only because his prints show incredible cartographical, architectural, mathematical and zoological detail but because his work was adopted by the hippie movement as an art of altered perception. Escher turned down a request by the Rolling Stones for a design for an album cover but I seem to recall seeing a number of Psychology books featuring Escher’s work. The adoption of the Escher-like logo by Van der Graaf Generator for their 1975-76 reunion albums Godbluff, Still Life and World Record was rather iconic, stylistically linking these sonically-related releases and it was also appropriate that the 2005 quartet should retain the same graphic. Escher was strongly influenced by the tile designs from the Alhambra in Granada and the architecture of the Mezquita in Córdoba and it’s widely recognised that between the 8th and 13th Centuries the Islamic empire contributed greatly to mathematics and astronomy and that learning was much prized. It’s therefore incredible that the fighters of Islamic State should totally demolish Palmyra, the UNESCO world heritage site in Syria and jihadist rebels from Mali should want to destroy the shrines of Sufi saints along with priceless medieval manuscripts in Timbuktu. In Mali, they also wanted to ban music, threatening to cut out the tongues of singers and cutting of the hands of instrumentalists. This behaviour is barbaric and runs counter to the idea of the area between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers being the cradle of civilisation.

My values, and one of the reasons I love progressive rock, are inclusiveness and the adoption of outside influences, learning from different sources and living harmoniously. This process has to be mutually beneficial, otherwise there’s an imbalance, an inequity. We shouldn’t adopt an illegal approach to countering jihadists but work out a way to ensure they are dealt with by the letter of international law; by ensuring that everyone, all over the world, has ready access to the basics required for life, adequate food, fresh water, shelter and education and with clean energy supplied by local, renewable sources we can empower humankind to make truly democratic decisions to shape their own, successful futures.

Liberté, égalité, fraternité.



By ProgBlog, Aug 16 2015 08:59PM

It may be the largest seaport in Italy, served by several cruise lines, but Genova is hardly geared up for tourism. I first visited the city in May 2014 for the Riviera Prog Festival but was intrigued by the UNESCO World Heritage designation for the largest medieval city centre in Europe including the Palazzi dei Rolli. This vertical city also has some unusual modes of transport. Your 100 minute ticket (€1.60) is good for the Metro, local train services, the bus and elevators and a funicular railway. The lifts are incredible – I couldn’t quite believe the map last year when I saw ‘ascensore’ marked and I somehow managed to walk right past one; last week, when I went for a return visit with my wife Susan, I made sure we used them. There’s even a Starship Enterprise-like lift that travels horizontally for some distance before ascending – possibly the only example of its kind in the world.

It seems appropriate that Genova should host an annual prog festival though it’s actually a music festival associated with a musical equipment fair held in the Fiera, the exhibition centre reclaimed from the sea in the 1960s.

Last year the excellent Black Widow Records (Via del Campo 6R) had decamped to the prog festival leaving the shop closed but on our first afternoon we somehow managed to make the pilgrimage to what I can only describe as one of the best record stores I’ve ever visited. Small in area but filled with vinyl and CDs, owner Massimo Gasperini is a fountain of knowledge and also friends with a number of musicians. He may not have been quite prepared for the Englishman who came into his shop and encouraged by his wife, began to select a rather large pile of CDs. Rather than having the CDs themselves accessible, Massimo has saved space by displaying four CD covers in plastic wallets the size of a vinyl album. It also meant that the storage racks could be uniform; a system I’d previously seen in Rossetti Records in Milan. On former trips I’d taken lists or one of my Progressive Italiano books but the gaps in my collection are becoming fewer and fewer and I now recognise what I want to acquire without too much trouble. The gaps that do exist are generally more recent album releases, bands that formed or reformed during the third wave of progressive rock and these 90s onwards groups aren’t all covered in my books. I have to rely on engaging the shopkeeper in conversation, mostly in English because my Italian is very basic, using a shared appreciation of the music itself. I was both surprised and impressed to see a copy of Marsbeli Kronikak by Hungarian symphonic prog band Solaris. Initially released in 1984, this is a highly regarded piece of work and somewhat difficult or expensive to come by in the UK. When I last checked my Amazon wish list it was selling for £43; I bought it there and then for €17. It really is a well-crafted melodic piece of work, spoiled only by some harmonica on the last of the two bonus tracks.

An old release from 1973 that I’d not previously come across in any of my travels was Melos by Cervello, the only record they produced before breaking up. I was aware that there was no keyboard player in the band but there’s plenty of flute and they utilise some interesting dynamics; the entire concept is based around Greek myths which is enhanced by a strong Mediterranean feel.

I saw Il Tempio delle Clessidre at the Riviera Prog Festival last year and was impressed enough to buy their first CD and a T shirt from their merchandise stand. I’d previously seen a review of their 2013 album Alienatura in Prog Magazine but I’d not actually seen it other than at the music festival. They’re a Genova band and their material is released on Black Widow Records so it wasn’t too much of a surprise to pick it up in the shop!

I’ve now seen La Coscienza di Zeno twice, on the second day of Prog Résiste last year in Soignies and again the following month, once more in Genova. I think I preferred the Genova set more, possibly because I’d heard the material which has some neat hooks but can also be quite rhythmically complex. A lack of ready cash and a shortage of luggage space meant I didn’t buy anything on either of these occasions but I couldn’t resist buying Sensitivita (2013) this time.

I’d resisted buying Latte e Miele records until I got a copy of Passio Secundum Mattheum from 1972 on a day trip to Padova from Venezia late last year. I‘d originally been put off by suggestions that the members of the group were inspired by religion but found the music and musicianship quite incredible, genuine classic Italian prog and anyway, rather religion than dodgy right-wing politics. I’ve been looking out for Marco Polo Sogni e Viaggi from 2009 but Black Widow had Passio Secundum Mattheum The Complete Work which is a 2014 remake of the original album, extended and rearranged and released on the Black Widow label – Latte e Miele being another Genovese group. It’s interesting to see the list of narrators who appear on the album, a list that includes other Genovese and some of the greats from the original RPI scene.

I’ve been a Goblin fan for some years and managed to find a copy of the eponymous Cherry Five album, which I like a great deal, in Pisa a couple of years ago. I was delighted that a reformed Cherry Five had just released Il Pozzo dei Giganti which is based on Dante’s Inferno, on the Black Widow label. It’s quite clear they’ve picked up from where they left off in the 70s; not only is it thematically Cherry Five material but the analogue keyboard sounds are very fitting.

Finally, Massimo produced a CD that wasn’t in the racks and asked if I was interested: Palepolitana by Osanna, the just-released reinterpretation of Palepoli from 1972 by the current line-up. I explained that I was a big fan of the original album but less impressed by their later material; Landscape of Life (1975) has two great tracks but the line-up was in transition for that album and the remaining material is really very throwaway. Massimo told me that the original Palepoli was supposed to have been a double album and the current group had not only recreated the material released in 1972 but included the songs that would have made up the other LP in the proposed double album, described as “an act of love for the city of Naples...” There are hints of the very early material, the Mediterranean feel mixed with psychedelia but I still prefer the three tracks Ora Caldo, Stanza Citta and Animale senza Respira which continue to reveal surprises.

That’s my advert for the Genoa tourist board. I've not mentioned one other of the Genova greats: La Maschera di Cera. I've got all their albums apart from Petali di Fuoco (2010) plus a considerable number of albums by Fabio Zuffanti. Coincidentally, Genova featured in the travel section of The Guardian this weekend http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2015/aug/14/italy-genoa-food-drink-chocolate-walking - it was as though I was still there...



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