ProgBlog

Welcome to the ProgBlog

 

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 29 2018 06:10PM

One of my Record Store Day 2018 purchases, that is one of the limited editions specially produced for the occasion rather than one of the albums I happened to buy as I wandered through the stalls set out in Cremona’s Corso Campi on the day itself, was a 40th anniversary edition of UK by UK. My original vinyl pressing of this album is in perfectly good condition and I think it’s a well produced record but I was seduced by the promise of the booklet and intrigued by the idea of an Eddie Jobson re-mastering; I’ve not listened to the original LP for some time so I can’t be certain but I think the individual instruments are more discernible on the new release – it has a nice clarity.



Eight years on from the birth of progressive rock in the form of In the Court of the Crimson King, the genre was getting a little tired and large numbers of the record-buying public were getting tired of prog. Not helped by self-imposed exile from the UK for tax reasons but surely driven by creative burn-out to a great extent, the hiatus between studio albums meant that the three really big players in the field slipped out of the music paper headlines and created a void to be exploited and filled by the standard-bearers for Punk, claiming that the excesses of prog indicated how out-of-touch these bands were.

It wasn’t enough to simply release a ‘best of’ (though Yesterdays, released in 1975 was really my introduction to the first two Yes albums and something I still like.) Following the completion of the British leg of the Relayer tour in May 1975, bar an appearance at the Reading Festival in August that year, there wasn’t another UK appearance by the band until October 1977, though all five members of the group issued a solo album. ELP might be perceived as being the worst offenders, not playing on UK soil for 18 years after their 1st May 1974 show in Liverpool and though they performed in Europe and the USA later in 1974, they were absent from the stage between 21st August 1974 and 24th May 1977 with only a Christmas single (I Believe in Father Christmas, Greg Lake, 1975) and a near-novelty single (Honky Tonk Train Blues, Keith Emerson, 1976) to satisfy their fans. Pink Floyd seemed to have managed fans’ expectations quite well, despite the length of time taken between The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here, then Wish You Were Here and Animals and the lack of live dates, especially in the UK. Between 14th December 1974 and the first Wall show in Los Angeles on February 7th 1980, they undertook a three month long North America tour and then played Knebworth in July 1975, toured Animals around Europe including the UK with dates in London and Stafford and North America between January and July 1977. Two of the members also produced solo albums, David Gilmour and Rick Wright’s Wet Dream.


For my part, I was less satisfied with ELP’s Works Volume 1 and Pink Floyd’s Animals than I had been with their preceding records; Yes’ Going for the One was a radical departure from Relayer but I thought it was still high quality, with Awaken high up in the list of all-time great prog tracks. In the case of the former and the latter, I wasn’t over-impressed with the keyboard tones from the Yamaha GX-1 and Polymoog respectively; Animals featured far less keyboards than Wish You Were Here so that I hesitate to call it progressive rock. By 1977, other acts like Camel, Caravan and Gentle Giant had stopped writing epics and both Caravan and Gentle Giant had begun to lose their appeal to core fans; Focus seemed to have disbanded, having released an uneven album of studio scraps the previous year; and Genesis may have released Seconds Out but this coincided with the departure of Steve Hackett. I thought that the future belonged to jazz rock and bought my first Isotope LP.


Looking back, 1978 started on an exceptionally good note with the release of Bill Bruford’s first LP as a band leader Feels Good to Me and the eponymous debut from National Health, both records being examples of jazz sensibilities mixed with prog leanings which resulted in complex, melodious albums. I think Feels Good to Me has a more experimental feel, thanks to Annette Peacock’s vocals and using flugelhorn in a (broadly) rock context; National Health is more intricate and, in the tradition of the band’s forerunner Hatfield and the North, didn’t take itself too seriously.


A good way to start 1978 - National Health
A good way to start 1978 - National Health

Then came UK.

Following the demise of the trio version of King Crimson in 1974 which took Robert Fripp away from music for a couple of years, Bill Bruford and John Wetton continued their musical education by rotating through a number of different bands. I thought Bruford’s involvement with Gong and National Health were interesting and it was definitely quite pleasing to find him sharing a drum stool with Phil Collins for Genesis’ Trick of the Tail tour, as he appeared to be helping out all the right bands. Wetton’s move to Roxy Music and then Uriah Heep impinged less on my consciousness; I was never really interested in post-Siren Roxy and thought Uriah Heep’s music unadventurous. However, his touring arrangement with Roxy started before King Crimson officially ceased to exist . It was meant to be a temporary measure before Crimson was due to recommence touring, and served to introduce him to Eddie Jobson. The proposed 1977 collaboration between Wetton, Bruford and Rick Wakeman could have been amazing but its failure to get off the ground ultimately resulted in the formation of what was hailed as a ‘supergroup’: UK. Their eponymous debut is a slick progressive rock album with jazz rock styling thanks to Bruford and Holdsworth but the modern sound, courtesy of Jobson, made it seem quite different from long-standing progressive acts and newer groups from that time, like symphonic prog band England; the three-part In the Dead of Night is an indisputable prog classic though it’s only now that I’ve got the 40th anniversary edition, complete with lyrics, that I can distinguish the words. The song writing was mature, involving all the group members, leading to a truly coherent effort where equal weight was afforded to each individual and it’s my belief that this equality, the fluid guitar lines from Holdsworth, the power and precision of the rhythm section along with Jobson’s virtuosity on keyboards and violin, adding a contemporary feel but with a past tied to the early progressive era, that made the record stand out as something with significance for the whole genre, like a new In the Court of the Crimson King.




Jethro Tull’s Heavy Horses was also released in April 1978 and I really like this second offering in the prog-folk trio of albums, with an enhanced palette thanks to the guest violin of Darryl Way, though there was a distinct sense of continuity from Songs from the Wood rather than being something that stood out as unique. My copy of the LP, bought in Barrow, was a swap for King Crimson’s Earthbound which I had just bought but thought was disappointing. Thanks to the staff in Blackshaw’s for sanctioning the exchange.

Steve Hackett released his second solo album Please Don’t Touch which was quite different to 1975’s Voyage of the Acolyte, an album I rate higher than any post-Gabriel Genesis. I found it a bit of a mixed bunch and it’s that lack of consistency that marks it down – it’s not really UK progressive rock. Meanwhile, Hackett’s erstwhile bandmates released the decidedly thin end of the wedge ...And then there were Three... I first got a copy of Please Don’t Touch on cassette in 1981 or 1982 so I could also compare it to the excellent Spectral Mornings (1979); And then there were Three was acquired by a friend shortly after its release and I gave it a couple of listens before giving it the thumbs down. The seeds sown by the second-rate Your Own Special Way in 1976 were bearing a bitter fruit – Genesis could no longer be classed as a progressive rock band. Hackett’s other former colleague Peter Gabriel released the second of his self-titled albums which I don’t think can be called prog, either, though that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. Rather, it was an example of what we might today call post-rock, very much a successor of the first Gabriel solo album. If prog was to wither away, this would provide a reasonable alternative; the highlight has to be Exposure.

Van der Graaf Generator shed an organist, a saxophonist and the ‘Generator’ for 1977’s The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome, becoming more urgent sounding and, despite the excellent lyrics, more basic; it could even have been classed as prog-punk for sheer attitude. Bolstered with an appearance from David Jackson and with Charles Dickie on cello and synth, the group bade farewell (until the 2005 reunion) with a live album Vital. My brother went to see them in Leeds during that tour but it wasn’t until the reformation that I could really appreciate the intensity of the group. When I first saw Hammill performing solo in 1984 it was full-on but in a band context, it was off the scale.

Camel managed to keep one foot firmly in the prog idiom with Echoes and The Sleeper from their ’78 album Breathless but however good the melodies on the other tracks and the bright production, the relative brevity of most tunes makes it seem almost pop-prog descending into funk on Summer Lightning and outright silliness on Down on the Farm. This was another album bought by a friend at the time of its release but I don’t remember listening to it very often; I think we anticipated Peter Bardens’ departure because there appeared to be a tension between chief song-writers Bardens and Latimer, fuelled by an interfering record label, as they moved away from the early, classic Camel sound.

The cracks had not yet appeared in Yes but the cover of Tormato was a hint that all was not well. I bought the album on the day of its release, shortly before heading off to university armed with what I would discover was the best hi-fi in my hall of residence. I also managed to get to see them for the first time that October, in the round at Wembley Arena on the Tormato tour. The album contains some great ideas but the heavy-handed production detracts from the quality of the writing and the lack of a over-arching concept makes it appear devoid of a distinct identity. Taken on its own it doesn’t indicate the end of the golden era of progressive rock but it did suggest that Yes needed to rethink their future plans. The end of progressive rock was most starkly illustrated by Emerson Lake and Palmer with Love Beach. If the image on Tormato was a poor excuse for an album sleeve, the band photo on Love Beach was the antithesis of prog and that, more than anything else, meant I avoided the album until last year, and I only bought it then because it was cheap and I was filling a gap in my record collection. Even taking the best moments of Memoirs of an Officer and a Gentleman into account, it’s a really poor affair, succinctly exposing the true meaning of ‘contractual obligation’.


1978 ended with another National Health album, with a subtly different line-up to the debut but equally as good and, if anything, even more adventurous: Of Queues and Cures. National Health may get lumped in with the rest of prog but though the music conformed to many of the prog traits, the ease with which a substantial number of the musicians fitted into the British jazz and avant-garde scenes made them stand apart. Prog had withered without anyone to grasp the possibilities revealed by UK, whose 1979 follow-up Danger Money was a bit schizophrenic; reduced to a trio the material was a mixture of first-class retro-prog and verse-chorus-verse-chorus FM-friendly tunes played by progressive rock musicians.


The golden era of progressive rock was over.









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!






fb The blogs twitter logo HRH Prog 4 Line Up (F+B) Keith Emerson at the Barbican My Own Time