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Still reflecting on the latest venture to the Italian Riviera, ProgBlog looks at the legacy of the port city of Savona: Delirium and Il Cerchio d'Oro who released the rather good Il Fuoco Sotto la Cenere in the autumn

By ProgBlog, Dec 5 2017 09:22PM

The Italian Riviera, stretching from the border with France to the west, down to through the Cinque Terre to La Spezia is a beautiful and often dramatic coast packed full of interesting places with well-preserved medieval quarters and fascinating histories. Genova is the regional capital and is close to the geographic centre; it’s also at the heart of the progressivo Italiano movement having been responsible for a good number of the original 70s acts and also, since the early 90s, producing a quite amazing crop of the current (and future) standard bearers.


Genova - San Lorenzo
Genova - San Lorenzo

Savona, west of Genova, was responsible for Delirium, one of the first Italian acts to adopt progressive traits. Originally a beat group called Sagittari, they changed their name when Ivano Fossati replaced the original vocalist in 1970 and released their favourably-regarded debut, Dolce Acqua (Sweet Water) in 1971. This turned out to be their only album with Fossati, though the televised appearance at the Sanremo pop festival (100km west of Savona along the coast) in February 1972 was responsible for the huge success of their single Jesahel where it finished sixth, which many regard as being the best-known pop song in Italy; I think it’s quite interesting that there’s a picturesque Ligurian town called Dolceacqua with an old, elegant single arch bridge and a 12th Century castle roughly 25km inland from Sanremo. Fossati was subsequently replaced with Briton Martin Grice on sax and flute and, after a disappointment with the jazz influenced prog of their second album, Lo Scemo E Il Villaggio (1972), they produced their symphonic prog masterpiece Delirium III - Viaggio Negli Arcipelaghi del Tempo in 1974 but split up following personnel changes in 1975.


Savona
Savona

I own a budget price ‘2LP in 1CD’ release of Dolce Acqua (with Jesahel as a bonus track) plus Delirium III - Viaggio Negli Arcipelaghi del Tempo, bought from Piccadilly Sound in Livorno on a day trip out from Pisa in August 2014, and managed to get to see the reformed Delirium (Martin Grice, Fabio Chigini on bass, Alessandro Corvaglia on vocals, Michele Cusato on guitar, Alfredo Vandresi on drums and original member Ettore Vigo on keyboards); the very enjoyable set contained a number of songs from the prog-folk Dolce Acqua but there was also good slices of 2015’s L’Era della Menzogna and 2009 comeback release Il Nome del Vento.


Delirium 2LP in 1CD
Delirium 2LP in 1CD

On my second trip to Savona I wandered into the Jocks Team record store (it was closed for lunch on my first visit) I picked up a Yes T-shirt depicting the cover of Fragile and the CD Il Viaggio di Colombo (2008) by Il Cerchio d’Oro who also hail from the city; this was me fulfilling my desire to acquire music from the home city of a group. Though they’d been around in the 70s, Il Cerchio d’Oro never managed to release an album of original material until reforming in the 00s, although they did produce some non-prog singles in the late 70s which emerged on a Mellow Records compilation in 1999 and La Quadratura del Cerchio, an album of rehearsal tracks from the mid 70s, including cover versions of songs by The Trip, Le Orme and New Trolls was released by Psych-Out Records in 2006.

Christopher Columbus lived in both Genova and Savona and provided the inspiration for Il Viaggio di Colombo, a well-presented CD and the first collaboration between the band and Black Widow Records. The sound is crisp and clear with Giuseppe Terribile‘s Rickenbacker bass high in the mix, providing the driving force for some 70’s sounding progressivo Italiano. It’s almost as though the 33 years between the snippets from La Quadratura del Cerchio and Il Viaggio di Colombo never existed. The use of sound effects such as the creaking of the wooden ship show a welcome attention to detail, though the concept, the writing and the playing are all first-class. There’s a bit of a Floyd feel to the production but the music is very much Italian prog; at times I’m reminded of Alphataurus.


Il Viaggio di Colombo
Il Viaggio di Colombo

I completed my Il Cerchio d’Oro collection in the Black Widow Shop, with 2013’s Dedalo e Icaro on vinyl and the most recent release Il Fuoco sotto la Cenere on CD. The former is stylistically similar to Colombo, a concept album in classic Italian prog style, nicely presented in its gatefold sleeve and I haven’t yet made up my mind which is better, Colombo or Dedalo e Icaro.


Il Cerchio d’Oro had played just before Delirium at the Porto Antico Prog Fest and I suspect that they were premiering parts of Il Fuoco sotto la Cenere which hadn’t been released at that time. For this version of the band, the original members Gino (drums) and Giuseppe Terribile (bass) and Franco Piccolini (keyboards) were joined by Massimo Spica (guitar), Piuccio Pradal (acoustic guitar, vocals) and Franco’s son Simone Piccolini (keyboards), plus special appearances from vocalist Pino Ballarini (ex-Il Rovescio della Medaglia) and drummer Paolo Siani (ex-Nuovo Idea), two guest musicians warmly appreciated by the crowd. I recall thinking that the compositions were well structured but there wasn’t the degree of complexity I was expecting though when I got my hands on the new release I thought it was equally as good as Colombo and Dedalo e Icaro, if not better. I was once again reminded of Alphataurus despite detecting a subtle shift towards a more conventional rock format, and where the concept is presented as a series of snapshots, rather than the linear narrative of the two preceding albums. In a move reminiscent of their 70’s performances, the final track on the album Fuoco sulla collina (Fire on the mountain) is a cover version of an Ivan Graziani song, which fits the overall concept, the idea that we live in a world where feelings smoulder under the ashes and from time-to-time, fire erupts, often violently.


Il Cerchio d'Oro - Porto Antico Prog Fest 2017
Il Cerchio d'Oro - Porto Antico Prog Fest 2017

Title track Il Fuoco sotto la cenere (Fire under the ashes) is a really good piece of prog which commences with a melodic figure and goes through multiple changes (including a section with a heavy, distorted guitar riff and some excellent organ which reminds me of Biglietto per l’Inferno.) It’s about the state of mind of a person who becomes unable to deal with everyday problems and suppress the rage which has been building up as their inner strength gets worn away, the fire that bursts from the smouldering ashes.

Thomas uses the Great Fire of London as an analogy for our ability to turn a bad situation into an opportunity; fire destroys but it clears the path for new opportunities and life can emerge phoenix-like from the ashes. The organ and guitar work really well together and the vocal melody is nicely underlined with synthesizer. The solo vocals aren’t particularly strong but there are some memorable melodies on the longest track of the album.

Per sempre qui (Forever here) relates the story of a character who spent much of his life away from his homeland in exchange for prosperity but in the end, the desire to return to his origins, the ‘fire under the ashes’ prevails over the materialistic urges. This is a relatively short number, sung with great emotion by special guest Pino Ballarini on the recommendation of Black Widow Records and who, it transpires was perfectly placed to narrate the song because the sentiment coincides with his personal story.

I due poli (The two poles) is about the conflict between two mental states, including the suppression either one of the aspects. There are obviously different degrees of this bipolar phenomenon which affect individuals to different extents. At its most extreme, there is perpetual conflict between the two sides with one dominant and one suppressed (under the ashes), instantaneously switched and transformed into ‘fire’ when the conflict switches. It begins with some almost Hackett-like acoustic guitar which resolves to melodic piano and Mellotron cello before commencing a short riff and getting a bit Floyd-y. It’s in this track where I find the greatest similarity to Alphataurus, in the vocals where they work as a chorus (and this is where the vocals are at their strongest.) There’s nice expressive guitar and some great organ work and even a trippy synth solo.

Il Fuoco nel bicchiere (Fire in the glass) is a story of alcohol addiction, where the protagonist never totally overcomes the need for drink though he’s fully aware of the consequences of his failure to do so. The melancholy which besets the character is reflected in the slow melody; the song was written by keyboard player Simone Piccolini who has been described by his father as possessing the appropriate DNA for penning Il Cerchio d’Oro songs. This is dominated by moderately heavy guitar riffs but has some nice piano and an interesting section which includes a theremin sound.

Il Rock e l’inferno (Rock and hell) plays on the idea that rock music is frequently though inappropriately associated with the devil, when it’s actually a means of communication, just transmitting a mood. It’s altogether heavier and the beat more simple than most of their other material, with the band stamping their melodies over distorted guitar riffs and classic Hammond sounding organ and wordless vocals which recall some classic early 70’s RPI moments.


Some critics have pointed out the weakness of some of the vocals and there are times where I’d agree, though I think the music more than makes up for these moments. The band acknowledged the difficulty producing a suitable follow-up to the critically acclaimed Dedalo e Icaro and the time spent attaining their trademark ‘vintage’ sound without compromising cleanliness and quality was obviously worthwhile; it’s a very good album. Though I’m not a great fan of the artwork on the cover, I do understand the links between the painting and the songs and I’m impressed that artist Pino Paolino, a former vocalist with the band, has used images set partly in a 17th century fortress located in Capo Vado, not far from Savona. By strange chance the area was devastated by one of the fires which raged in the hills along the Riviera last summer, clearing the way for new possibilities.


Il Fuoco sotto la Cenere by Il Cerchio d’Oro is on Black Widow Records BWRCD 204 (2017)


By ProgBlog, Nov 21 2017 04:02PM

Last week was the latest ProgBlog adventure in Genova (and a couple of cities along the Italian Riviera.) Not only did I get to see four amazing bands on two separate nights, I also managed to add to my vinyl and CD collections with visits to Genova’s Black Widow Records and Jocks Team in Savona, at the La Claque night of prog, plus a couple of 180g vinyl re-releases bought from newsstands, part of a series of Prog Rock Italiano in association with publisher De Agostini.


Jocks Team, Savona
Jocks Team, Savona

The Progressive Night was held at the La Claque club and organised by Black Widow. Ancient Veil opened proceedings with an acoustic set from a pared-down line-up of Alessandro Serri on guitar, Edmondo Romano on woodwind and Fabio Serri on piano, plus contributions from special guest Marco Gnecco. The sound may have been pared down since I last saw them as a full electric band in May, but their compositions are well-suited to an unplugged format and apart from a couple of moments where Alessandro had to fight a little to find the right key to sing, on tracks where the vocals commenced the song without an instrumental introduction, it was a fine performance of some beautiful, folk-inspired music. I’m still getting into their latest release I Am Changing from earlier this year, so my favourite track was one of those I’m much more familiar with, the Eris Pluvia album title track Rings of Earthly Light.


Ticket for A Progressive Night, La Claque
Ticket for A Progressive Night, La Claque

Ancient Veil, unplugged 11-11-17
Ancient Veil, unplugged 11-11-17

I’d had a chat with Melting Clock keyboard player Sandro Amadei in the Black Widow shop (where else?) when I popped in to say hello and buy a few albums after arriving in the city on the Friday, and when I arrived at La Claque for the gig I spoke to most of the band and was pleased to see that they’d got lots of support from family and friends in a packed club. I was even given a small memento: a Melting Clock plectrum which had featured in a promotional poster for the evening. I was told that this was only their second ever gig as an ensemble, the first being the Porto Antico Prog Fest in the summer, and they suggested that although the atmosphere in La Claque was incredible, the sound check had uncovered a problem with feedback when vocalist Emanuela Vedana sang at full volume. This was in contrast to Porto Antico, a large, semi-open space where whatever first-gig nerves they may have had, they could really let rip. They need not have worried; the audience was won over with the first song, L'Occhio dello Sciacallo (The Jackal’s Eye) which followed a short instrumental introduction Quello che rimane (What Remains) and the club’s acoustics didn’t cause any problems. My personal favourite is Antares, a mini-masterpiece of carefully crafted modern symphonic progressive rock. Their self-penned compositions hint at 70’s Renaissance, albeit with a distinct Mediterranean flavour; the twin guitars of Simone Caffè and Stefano Amadei add extra depth while the rhythm section of Alessandro Bosca (sporting a new 6-string bass and matching tie!) and Francesco Fiorito contribute complex but well-thought out lines to pin down the music.


Their influences might surprise a few people, considering the songs they’ve covered. At Porto Antico they performed a sublime rendition of Firth of Fifth, at La Claque they played an incredibly accurate version of Soon, the hauntingly beautiful coda to Gates of Delirium from Relayer by Yes, producing one of those spine-tingling moments which made the hairs on my arms stand up, and ended their set with a crowd-pleasing performance of Time from Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon. It turns out that Stefano and Francesco are into metal and Sandro likes Scandinavian jazz, though Simone is a David Gilmour fan. The mixture has somehow produced excellent results; their entire set was brilliant and heralds a very bright future.


Phoenix Again was the headline act of the evening. I met most of the band at the merchandise stand where I bought their three studio albums on CD; ThreeFour (2011), Look Out (2014) and Unexplored, released this year on the Black Widow Records label, and was very kindly presented with a T-shirt. From Brescia and originally called Phoenix when they formed in 1981 by Lorandi brothers Claudio (lead guitar, voices), Antonio (bass), Sergio (guitars) along with Silvano Silva (drums, percussion), they added keyboard player Emilio Rossi to expand their symphonic sound in 1986 but disbanded in 1998 without ever having produced an album. Following the death of Claudio in 2007 they revisited their music and, with the help of a number of guest musicians, released ThreeFour in 2011 under the moniker of Phoenix Again.

The current incarnation, first appearing on Look Out, is made up from original Phoenix members Antonio Lorandi, Sergio Lorandi (now taking on lead guitar and vocal duties) and Silvano Silva, plus two more of the Lorandi family, Marco (guitar) and Giorgio (percussion), and Andrea Piccinelli on keyboards. On record, their sound ranges from symphonic progressive to jazz rock, funk and experimental however, their live sound tends more towards the jazzy and has a much more urgent, hard edge which makes it come across as complex and intricate. I think I recognised the epic tune Adso da Melk from Look Out which includes a multitude of styles but has a section which reminds me of Camel’s Lunar Sea. The high energy set concluded with some banter between the audience and Marco Lorandi, who appeared to have been asked to pick out a particular tune or riff and this in turn gave way to a solo spot from Sergio who, as the crowd was dispersing, played beautiful renditions of first Steve Howe’s Mood for a Day (from Fragile) and then Steve Hackett’s Horizons from Foxtrot.


I stayed behind after the performances to speak to a number of the artists, congratulating Melting Clock on a magnificent show and getting introduced to local promoter Marina Montobbio who, it turns out, had been at the 2014 Prog Résiste festival in Soignies because of her work for The Watch who had headlined on the last evening. Resplendent in a pair of Gibson plectrum earrings, I’d seen her at Porto Antico taking photos of the different groups and also chatting to musicians, so I suspected she had some official role. Smart and knowledgeable, if I ever think about getting involved in promotion in the music business, she’d be top of the list of people to contact. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening thanks to the musicians and the organisers and I can’t believe anyone could have left the venue feeling disappointed.



PFM ticket
PFM ticket

I’ve waited a long time to see PFM play live and stayed on in Genova for their appearance at the city’s premier venue, the Teatro Carlo Felice. With a boarded-over orchestra pit the septet seemed quite far away, even from row 12 in the stalls, but I soon found out that sole surviving original member and de facto front man Franz Di Cioccio was able to take full advantage of the empty space. I’d burned the Italian version of the CD of their new release Emotional Tattoos, which came with my English-version double vinyl, and listened to this the night before on my mp3 player in preparation for the concert; they began with Il Regno from that album, which I think is one of the best tracks. They then performed a string of early classics: La Luna Nuova (from L’Isola di Niente, the original version of Four Holes in the Ground for anyone without the Italian releases); a surprising English language inclusion, Photos of Ghosts; Il Banchetto which appears on the second album Per un Amico and also on the first of their Manticore LPs Photos of Ghosts; Dove... Quando... part 1 and part 2, from 1972’s Storia di un Minuto; and La Carrozza di Hans and Impressioni di Settembre (which would become the title track from The World Became the World) also from the debut record. If the performance had stopped at this point I’d have been completely satisfied because the songs and the playing had already exceeded my expectations; this is what I’d waited for. However, the show continued with two more of the best songs from Emotional Tattoos, La Danza degli Specchi and Freedom Square, before the band took a 10 minute break. They recommenced with the Celtic-influenced Quartiere Generale but then moved into territory I was unfamiliar with, Maestro della Voce from the 1980 album Suonare Suonare, one of the only PFM releases I don’t possess and which featured violinist and current member Lucio Fabbri for the first time. There is a version on PFM: In Classic but it's not a track I listen to. This was one of two tracks from the entire evening which I found unsatisfactory but that’s because Suonare Suonare is considered to be PFM’s equivalent of ...And Then There Were Three, the first post-Gabriel, post-Hackett Genesis album, the mark of decline from full-on progressive rock. Normal service was resumed following an introductory explanation to the next piece from Patrick Djivas, who pointed out the importance of classical composers to the PFM sound and they played Romeo e Giulietta: Danza dei Cavalieri which had been covered on their 2013 PFM: In Classic album. The classical theme continued with Mr. Nine Till Five appended with Five Till Nine including their version of Rossini’s William Tell Overture. They left the stage only to return in less than a minute, before the audience request for an encore had even started in earnest, recommencing with their version of the Fabrizio De André song Il Pescatore. This had particular relevance for Genova, because De André, regarded as Italy’s best ever singer-songwriter for his mix of Ligurian folk influences with social commentary, came from the city. De André shunned public performance until 1975 but his 1979 tour featured PFM as backing band and allowed them to choose the set list and make the instrumental arrangements. The crowd had been calling out suggestions for what to play and it came as no surprise that part of the encore was the old favourite È Festa (Celebration on Photos of Ghosts) which included an amusing drum duet between Di Cioccio and Roberto Gualdi and some audience participation, encouraged by the PFM front man who was bounding around the entire front stage area (splitting the hall into three sections to chant Se-le-Brescion, as this version of the song is known.) They left the stage to tumultuous applause and even though the house lights came on, the crowd applauded and called for more music and eventually, the band conceded and returned to play what I believe was the theme from the 1966 comedy film L’Armata Brancaleone, the energetic folk-inflected Branca Branca Branca Leon Leon Leon written by Carlo Rustichelli. This was lost on me at the time, though my fellow concert-goers absolutely loved it; it’s been in the PFM repertoire for some time and I found it interesting to note that Carlo Rustichelli’s son Paolo was also a composer, releasing the prog Italiano Opera Prima in 1973.


The vocals were primarily handled by Di Cioccio but some of the singing was by Alberto Bravin, who also added keyboards. The main keyboard player, accurately interpreting the early material, was Alessandro Scaglione and filling the shoes of Franco Mussida, who left the band in 2015, was Marco Sfogli. The line-up proved very adept and though there was no flautist, these lines were provided by keyboards; it might also have been good to hear something from Chocolate Kings or Jet Lag, the latter album being a vehicle to showcase Djivas’ excellent bass technique but when you think that they played for over two and a half hours, promoting their latest release but also entertaining us with all the old classics, it was impossible to walk away without thinking that sticking around in Genova for three extra nights had been a good cause for celebration.












By ProgBlog, Nov 5 2017 05:15PM

I’m off to Genova again next week, on a trip originally scheduled to see a progressive night organised by local label and record shop Black Widow at La Claque. This features Brescia’s Phoenix Again who will be highlighting their third album, Unexpected, released in May this year; local band Melting Clock who impressed me when I saw them at the Porto Antico Prog Fest in July and hope to produce their debut next year; and an acoustic set from the widely-respected Genovese group Ancient Veil who remarkably, considering their origin dates back to 1985 when Alessandro Serri and Edmondo Romano founded Eris Pluvia, playing progressive rock created from a blend of folk and Canterbury influences and released a single album Rings of Earthly Light in 1991. The band ceased to exist in 1992 but Serri and Romano, assisted by Fabio Serri, created the Ancient Veil project and put out a self-titled album, stylistically similar to Rings of Earthly Light, in 1995. The group lay dormant until early this year when they returned with a new album I Am Changing and, on May 12th 2017 performed live for the very first time – at Genova’s La Claque. I’ve now extended my annual leave and will be spending three more nights in the city; after three failed attempts to get to see PFM I’ve now got a ticket for their performance at the Teatro Carlo Felice, Genova’s 2000 seat neo-rationalist opera house on November 17th.


Architectural detail, Teatro Carlo Felice
Architectural detail, Teatro Carlo Felice

When I first started going to Italy with the intention of seeing a live band, I felt I had to buy a ticket beforehand. Navigating ticketing websites, even when there’s no version in English (unlike the sites for buying records), is generally straightforward but I’ve learned that reserving a ticket for the sort of band I like to see is neither strictly necessary nor necessarily advantageous, especially when your spoken Italian is as bad as mine and you have to rehearse what you say when you go to pick up the ticket. That’s the easy bit. It’s when staff respond, quite appropriately in their own language, that I have to resort to ‘parli inglese?’ It’s much less embarrassing when you stroll up to the ticket office and say ‘un biglietto per favore.’ Apart from a couple of nights at the recent Progressivamente 2017 festival in Rome which were crowded but entry was free, I’ve never had any worries about not getting in; on the last occasion which I reserved a ticket before travelling, the Event ’16 performance at the Teatro Altrove in Genova last October, a beautiful old theatre which could have seated somewhere between 100 and 200, the audience size was only just into double digits. However, I thought it was probably best to book for the PFM gig and I was right; there were only a few seats remaining with two weeks to go.



Not willing to miss out yet again after procrastinating in Venice in 1980, receiving a email telling me the Manticore birthday show was cancelled in 2011 and heading off to Peru during their UK tour last year, I was happy to pay €51 for a seat in the front stalls which, with the booking fee, worked out at £51 thanks to some safe hands on the economy and David Cameron’s attempt to avoid a major shift to the right as his UKIP-lite MPs threatened to split the Conservative party over Britain’s place in Europe...


The cancellation announcement  for PFM, 2011
The cancellation announcement for PFM, 2011

It’s not inappropriate to equate the Teatro Carlo Felice with the Barbican Hall or the Royal Festival Hall or the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester based on both function and their architectural interest. Though I can’t comment on the Bridgewater Hall, tickets for gigs at both the Barbican and the RFH are mostly very reasonably priced, with Camel at the Barbican in 2013 costing £25 for a balcony seat compared to the price of £37.50 for a first circle seat to see Genesis tribute band Musical Box at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire six months earlier; my Dweezil Zappa ticket for the performance at the Festival Hall last month, admittedly for a seat at the very back of the stalls, only cost £24.50.



Tickets for Genesis tribute band Musical Box
Tickets for Genesis tribute band Musical Box

My first London concert was Yes at the Wembley Arena in October 1978 when the (matinee) ticket cost me £4; a year later my ticket for jazz great Dave Brubeck playing at the Royal Festival Hall was also £4. Taking inflation into account, the £4 Yes ticket should have cost £14.95 in 2004, which was the last time I saw Yes at Wembley; it set me back £35. Southbank prices stuck a bit closer to the official inflation level and my £4 Dave Brubeck ticket would have cost a little over £19 today, though Dave Brubeck played in a quartet and Dweezil Zappa’s band was not only larger but was augmented by the Norwegian Wind Ensemble.


Yes ticket prices 1978 - 2016
Yes ticket prices 1978 - 2016

The presence of accompanying musicians obviously has an impact on ticket prices and the one Barbican concert where I was genuinely surprised at the charge for Keith Emerson in July 2015: £65 for what sadly turned out to be his final live appearance performing the Three Fates Project with the BBC Concert Orchestra. Both the Barbican Centre and the Southbank Centre receive grants from Arts Council England (though the arts has been an easy target for the government during their mad austerity drive and their share of the money has been slashed) and their importance as centres of culture attracts other funding streams, so I suspect that some of this money is used to subsidise ticket prices. The Van der Graaf Generator Royal Festival Hall reformation concert ticket from 2005 actually seems rather expensive at £30 though I’d describe this as one of the best gigs, if not the best, I’ve ever attended; the next two VdGG shows I went to see after David Jackson left and they were reduced to a trio, in 2007 and 2013, both at the Barbican, each cost £25 despite the six year interregnum.


The cost of going to see VdGG, 2005 - 2013
The cost of going to see VdGG, 2005 - 2013

It’s fortunate that I’m only interested in niche music, though the Steven Wilson tour following the dates in spring 2018 might present problems with ticket availability following the general success of To the Bone. Fans of acts like Adele and Beyonce will be aware of the difficulty getting hold of tickets at the marked price, but when tickets for Kate Bush’s 22-night run at the Hammersmith Apollo sold out in 15 minutes and a standing ticket for one of Radiohead’s three Roundhouse shows was allegedly on sale for £1200 through the secondary ticketing service Viagogo, perhaps the trouble-free days of access to prog shows will soon be over, too.

The problem appears to be with under-regulation of secondary ticketing sites (thanks, free-marketeers!) and according to a recent report in The Guardian, it’s putting the UK’s £4.5bn music industry, which supports around 142,000 jobs, under threat because fans’ cash is being diverted from their favourite acts into the pockets of touts who use methods of doubtful legality to acquire large numbers of tickets which can then be sold on to Viagogo, GetMeIn! and StubHub at mark-ups which on average nets them around 25% profit. A survey of gig-attendees found that two-thirds of respondents who had paid more than face value for a ticket on a resale site said they would attend fewer concerts in future, while half would spend less on recorded music.


It’s hardly a body blow to touting but my one experience of dealing with a character buying and selling tickets in the pedestrian subway leading out to (what was then) the Hammersmith Odeon did result in a financial loss for the tout. I’d won two tickets to see Genesis in September 1982 but couldn’t persuade anyone to accompany me. I sold the spare ticket, at the back of the stalls and with a face value of £7.50 for £10 and was entirely satisfied that no one claimed the seat.


Though there seem to be fewer examples of physical touting outside concerts (and sporting occasions) there is a massive secondary ticketing industry, said to be worth around £1bn, fuelled by the internet and based on the simple fact that demand for live music and sports events outstrips supply; this is where substantial sums of money are made by armchair touts who target the most popular events. I can’t imagine ever paying twice the face value of a ticket but that’s because I tend to stick to esoteric gigs and pay €15 to see three bands somewhere out in the suburbs of Milano, or perhaps splash out on a two-day festival ticket on the Italian Riviera... €35.










By ProgBlog, Oct 29 2017 11:16PM

Something strange is going on in my local area. I’ve been around at home most evenings for the past two weeks and the fireworks associated with Diwali or the approaching Guy Fawkes Night have not featured at all. I wouldn’t discourage anyone from my neighbourhood, the Peoples’ Socialist Republic of Addiscombe, from celebrating the victory of knowledge over ignorance but I wonder if burning money on brief flashes of coloured light and a banging noise has been abandoned this year, along with a misplaced acceptance of austerity as the Bank of England strongly hints of a rise in the interest rate.


A witch hunt is never a good idea
A witch hunt is never a good idea

Maybe I’m just going around with my eyes closed but it seems there’s also less visible evidence of US-style Halloween advertising. I’d like to think that this is a rejection of commercialisation and whereas encouraging the purchase of pumpkins is quite acceptable, it would be best if they were consumed as a seasonal fruit rather than discarding perfectly edible portions and turning them into Jack-o’-lanterns. Our local Co-op doesn’t appear to be stocking them this year but whether that’s because the harvest has been affected by adverse weather conditions in Suffolk or the store has finally employed someone who understands that there’s an unacceptable level of food wastage at the beginning of November (from either an economic or moral point of view), I’ll never know. The store is selling a limited range of Halloween-themed confectionary but even this involves some self-assembly, with scary monster forming components included with a packet of gingerbread biscuits. Perhaps because it’s expected or easy, my Saturday edition of The Guardian included a couple of Halloween items, the most interesting of which was in the Review section where a handful of writers were invited to put a spin on the traditional ghost story with tales set in English Heritage properties and Mark Haddon set his in the York cold war bunker; cold war bunkers were the theme of my son’s MSc thesis for his Historic Conservation course and as a youth I used to illicitly visit the civil defence bunker at Abbot’s Wood in Barrow-in-Furness.


Civil Defence bunker, Abbot's Wood Hill
Civil Defence bunker, Abbot's Wood Hill

Thinking back to my youth, Halloween wasn’t really an important fixture on the calendar and when you were old enough to look as though you were old enough to buy fireworks you could visit the local newsagent for an array of items which, if used incorrectly, could (and did) result in life-changing injuries; our fireworks were utilised on Halloween for some ridiculous purposes which we deluded ourselves into thinking were scientific investigation, like attaching bangers to rocks and dropping them in drains to produce a plume of water. Bonfire night used to be more of a social fixture, though after university (my hall of residence used to put on a party and firework display with professional pyrotechnics and I was responsible for the advertising posters which hung from the balcony of the refectory at Goldsmiths’) it became clear that subscribing to these things was not only uninteresting but an unnecessary expense.


Bonfire Night, Loring Hall 1978
Bonfire Night, Loring Hall 1978

Halloween customs have been influenced by Celtic folklore and beliefs and some are likely to have pagan roots, linked to the Roman feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, or Parentalia, the festival of the dead. Its origins are most typically associated with the Celtic festivals of Samhain (Old Irish for ‘summer's end’), Calan Gaeaf (‘first day of winter’) in Wales, Kalan Gwav in Cornwall and Kalan Goañv in Brittany, celebrated on 31st October and 1st November to mark the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the darker half of the year. It was believed that the boundary between the world of the living and the spirits overlapped at this time, allowing the Aos Sí (spirits or fairies) to enter our world. Respected and feared, the Aos Sí were appeased with offerings of food and drink or part of the crop at Samhain to ensure that the people and their livestock survived the winter. The souls of the dead were also said to revisit their homes seeking hospitality, a belief of ancient origins common to many cultures; throughout Ireland and Britain, the household festivities included rituals and fortune-telling games incorporating seasonal fare, apple bobbing and roasting nuts. Bonfires were also part of the rituals where flames, smoke and ashes were deemed to have cleansing or protective powers.


In a tradition that goes back at least to the 16th century, the festivities of the Celtic communities of the British Isles included mumming and guising, dressing up as the Aos Sí, going from house-to-house in costume, reciting verses or songs in exchange for food. Also believed to be a protection from the souls of the dead, it’s likely that this behaviour is responsible for dressing up and trick-or-treating, the term ‘trick or treat’ first emerging in 1927. Throughout the centuries the power of the Church has enabled it to subvert and appropriate festivals from other, older customs and though we might sneer at a culture which believes that there are times during the year when the boundary between the spirit world and our world is less fixed, is it much different from the belief that there’s a powerful spiritual bond between those in heaven (the Church Triumphant) and the living (the Church militant)? The difference is that the Church has used faith and superstition to impose a doctrine designed to preserve its own power.


Halloween fits into this narrative as an illustration of the monsters subsequently subdued by an adherence to the liturgy of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day; a story designed to frighten us should we stray from the path of righteousness. In his Guardian piece, Haddon suggests that much of literary fiction, not only ghost stories, explores a deep anxiety about how we come to terms with our own mortality. So do we like to be scared, and does this translate into other art forms? I used to watch Hammer horror films after returning from an evening in the pub when I was a student (The Devil Rides Out from 1968 was a favourite) but that was because they were ridiculous; Hollywood horror was very big in the early 80s but it became derivative and it wasn’t until The Blair Witch Project (1999) where fear of the unknown was used to generate heightened tension, reinvented the horror genre.

A recent Twitter thread and an older Progressive Archives forum topic concerned ‘frightening’ music and though we might class King Crimson’s The Devil’s Triangle or some early Van der Graaf Generator (White Hammer, Man-Erg, Lemmings) as disturbing, I think the crux of both discussion points was horror. The rise of the Fundamentalist Right in the USA makes heavy metal the genre easiest to associate with horror, because of their insistence that pro-Satanic subliminal messages were revealed when Slayer and Judas Priest records were played backwards. Backmasking, as it is known, was popularised by The Beatles on Revolver and even Pink Floyd didn’t escape accusations of inappropriately brainwashing youths through the technique. More likely, the satanic imagery used by Slayer was simply adopted for commercial reasons, and the Iron Maiden mascot Eddie, depicted as controlling the devil like a marionette on the cover of The Number of the Beast may have caused outrage amongst the Moral Majority but the resultant public burning of Iron Maiden’s back catalogue generated huge publicity.


The first prog-horror link I came across was the use of the Tubular Bells overture in The Exorcist (1974) which I watched at a screening in Leeds long before I was 18, visiting my brother who was studying medicine at the University. What I missed out on for many years, not actively researching Italian prog until 2005, were the cult classic gialli films of Dario Argento, with Profundo Rosso (1975) considered to be the best giallo film ever made. I’ve now seen Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin twice, the first time at the beginning of 2014 where they performed tracks from all their classic soundtracks: Profundo Rosso; Suspiria; Roller; Zombi; Il Fantastico Viaggio Del Bagarozzo Mark; Tenebrae; and Non Ho Sonno. A year later I saw them perform the Profundo Rosso soundtrack live to a screening of the film at the Barbican and though the film itself may be critically acclaimed, it’s too psychedelic to be frightening, however good the music. It was hard to work out whether the audience at either of these performances was predominantly there for the cinematic or the prog- association. I was there for the latter but I think I may have been in a minority.



With roots in folklore, ghost stories and the supernatural should suit progressive rock but I can’t think of too many examples where this has been the case. Psychedelic prog-folk band Comus (named after Milton’s pagan sorcerer-king) channel a pagan vibe on First Utterance (1971) with material covering rape, murder, mental illness and sacrifice, and the music itself which varies from conveying primal malevolence to quiet, pastoral beauty, recalls the spirit of a independent horror film. I suspect that the best ghost-story album is Steven Wilson’s The Raven that Refused to Sing and Other Stories from 2013. You’d think the excellent Gustav Mahler-inspired Halloween by Pulsar (1977) should feature but the title was used because the band liked the beauty of the word and the way it evoked childhood, magic, fairy-tales and the imaginary, themes which are suggested in the music and lyrics.


Halloween by Pulsar
Halloween by Pulsar

According to a 2006 survey, the British hate Halloween and over half of British homeowners turn off their lights and pretend not to be home. 2017 looks like being a great deal worse for advocates of this celebration sponsored by confectioners and I know I won’t be answering the door to anyone on Tuesday evening. However, much more memorable than Halloween or the gunpowder plot is that Saturday 28th October is the anniversary of me seeing Yes for the first time, having been in London for less than a month....









By ProgBlog, Aug 20 2017 11:24AM

I’ve recently introduced a ‘playlist’ feature to the ProgBlog homepage and rather than a straightforward list I’ve produced a GIF, made up from photos taken of the albums as I’ve been playing them. I used to tweet pictures of whatever I was ‘now playing’, influenced by the posts of some of those that I follow, including 140 characters (or less) describing what I think about the music on that record; for a couple of months in 2015 I did post a list of my weekly indulgences, because I’d seen playlists on websites including Steven Wilson’s official site where there’s also an archive of what he’s been listening to, referred to as ‘Headphone Dust’ http://stevenwilsonhq.com/sw/playlist-archive/ . My GIF is intended as a way of presenting my listening habits in a manner more interesting than a simple list and still illustrating the width of the progressive rock genre.


ProgBlog playlists from 2015
ProgBlog playlists from 2015

I’m vaguely wary of the idea of a playlist because I see it as a device to prop-up the music business, linked to streaming services. The release of the mp3 codec by the Fraunhofer Institute in 1993 was to facilitate rapid transmission and immediate access of audio files between different points on the planet and, inadvertently or otherwise, it proved very easy to copy and share. From the ‘home taping is killing music’ panic which began in 1981, when the industry really wasn’t that large (but which was about to gear up and become truly global) and the uproar over the introduction of Napster in 1999, music corporations have consistently stifled creativity and creamed off massive profits from their artists. At the beginning of this decade, recession, falling CD sales and piracy all seemed to spell doom and gloom for the record labels but last year saw a reversal of fortune, driven by streaming services exemplified by Spotify, Deezer, Apple and Amazon. It’s been reported that around 30% of Warner’s £2.66bn revenue for 2016 came from streaming. I’ve just finished reading Robert Barry’s excellent The Music of the Future (Repeater Books, 2017) who points out that the idea of a ‘celestial jukebox’ (in essence, a remote server sending music to everyone with a suitable hand-held device for accessing the service) first aired by Stanford law professor Paul Goldstein in his 1994 article Copyright’s Highway, allowed the ‘record oligopoly’ to convert from supplying goods to on-line services and creating a landlord – renter relationship. The one-off Napster payment has given way to subscription which, it has been predicted, could double or triple the size of the music industry; the tech firms also seem to be doing fairly well from this model - there are 90 million people signed up to streaming services worldwide.


The Music of the Future by Robert Barry
The Music of the Future by Robert Barry

A couple of fairly recent articles in The Guardian, one in July and one earlier this week, highlight some worrying issues with streaming. Industry insiders such as Paul Smernicki, former head of digital at Universal Records, speak in terms of business models and commodity rather than music as an art form, proposing that the numbers of people streaming indicates that music has never been more popular, where the value of reliability, convenience and accessibility to an enormous catalogue of songs for a small cost now make illegal downloading almost redundant, encouraging people to invest in the service. He doesn’t go on to say that while a paid-for download or a physical copy of some music only generates revenue once, streaming rewards the music company over and over again and it’s only a tiny amount, between $0.006 and $0.0084 which goes to the artist for each play of a song; it’s being sold to us as ‘choice’ and in our inimitable consumerist manner we believe the glossy images and accept what the industry says. Unfortunately, a shift to streaming has the effect of discouraging experimental music while enriching already big stars, with the pursuit of Adele by Sony creating a parallel with the other-world Premier League transfer market. Both the majors and indie labels are incorporating streaming playlists as the thrust of their marketing strategy, tying in music to consumption and lifestyle habits.


It’s a successful strategy. There’s a huge market for streaming playlists because the public is increasingly engaging with the service to find their music, so that the streaming companies themselves have invested in the creation of their own playlists which theoretically, might help less well-known artists if part of their remit is identify new music to champion. This part of the tech company – music business relationship appears roughly symbiotic, where the business now uses streaming pluggers pushing for songs, and the range of artists on offer can define the streaming service and help it to attract more subscribers. In reality, the record labels are favouring music that is known to provide the greatest revenue and the tech companies are getting the greater benefit. Barry explains that Spotify (for example) is doing what tech companies do, gathering data, in much the same way as Facebook and Google and Amazon do. The playlists are created with the help of sophisticated collaborative filtering systems where your preferences are matched with the preferences of everyone else on a database and you're constantly badgered into 'liking' and responding to posts, so you get specific recommendations. This doesn’t work very well for me because I hold a deep disdain for advertising and anyway, a very large proportion of people who like the same music as me also like Rush...


While the latest Guardian article suggested that the album could be under threat from streamed playlists, as artists are tempted to ignore the format and concentrate on rolling playlists instead, the Alexis Petridis piece from July concerned reports of ‘fake’ artists used to pad out popular playlists, paying producers a flat fee to create tracks within specific musical guidelines, mostly unchallenging instrumental music for relaxation, avoiding royalty payments. Spotify denied the charge, which would have far-reaching implications for genuine artists, but the stories continued, citing theories relating to quality control, and a tussle for power between service and industry.


I don’t use a streaming service and have no desire to do so but the music business couldn’t care less as the development of voice-activated speakers means we can ask Apple, Google and Amazon avatars to choose some music for a specific mood at a specific time. The playlists I put together in 2015 differ slightly from those now appearing as video on my Twitter and Facebook pages and on the ProgBlog website; in 2015 I was commuting from East Croydon to London Bridge, a nominal journey of 17 minutes, during which I would read my Guardian and, like many other commuters/consumers, listen to my portable mp3 player to shut out incessant high frequency beats, predominantly hi-hat, emanating from the earbud headphones of my fellow travellers. For the past four years or so, the railway lines south of the capital have been increasingly congested as major redevelopment has been carried out at London Bridge, making it impossible to predict the duration of any single journey (industrial action by two rail unions didn’t help but they get my sympathy as they stood up to management pressure to relax safety regulations, opposing the introduction of driver-only trains) and therefore making playlist selection difficult; an unwritten rule was that you couldn’t leave the train mid-track.


The recent playlists have been compiled from listening to albums, mostly LPs but some CDs and, on one occasion a download of demo tracks by new Italian prog band Melting Clock. The commonality between the two sets of playlists is that I listen to the album in full, in running order. That’s obviously essential for something like The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway where there’s a linear narrative but it’s not strictly necessary for every single concept album. It might be irritating to mix the tracks around on Dark Side of the Moon because the album is designed with specific segues but would the world end if we played the different sides of Tales from Topographic Oceans out of order? It would certainly wind me up! I’m not a fan of the shuffle function on music players and as much as I admire Sid Smith’s eclectic podcast Postcards from the Yellow Room http://sidsmith.blogspot.co.uk which has genuine breadth, it’s essentially a sampler for the now generation, whereas I prefer to make time to submerge myself in the entire album.


playtime
playtime

It’s quite clear why the record oligopoly likes streaming and I find it hard to envisage what future developments might come along, if there’s ever to be another threat to the industry. I don’t believe that there’s any immediate risk to the album from streaming as long as genres like prog retain a degree of popularity, simply because the grand themes of progressive rock were developed across the LP format, continued during the CD era and as yet there’s no sign of that historic link being broken. The current fad for all things vinyl may not last but while it does, there’s no better feeling than holding the edges of a new release on heavyweight vinyl between your palms, placing it carefully on the turntable and getting ready to devote your time, in 20 minute chunks, to uninterrupted listening.







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