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Following a short skiing trip ProgBlog reflects on music about winter and snow, and reconsider reggae...

By ProgBlog, Jan 8 2018 03:43PM

Not content with the excellent music I received at Christmas, Gentle Giant’s Three Piece Suite, David Gilmour Live at Pompeii and Änglagård’s Prog på Svenska - Live in Japan, I reviewed my wish list and found that Folklore by Big Big Train was unavailable on vinyl... I’ve come a bit late to the Big Big Train party, only possessing the material released on the cover mount CDs of Prog magazine and until recently, when my listening habits relaxed a little, not being sufficiently moved enough to buy any of their albums. The first track I heard was probably Winchester from St. Giles' Hill, a YouTube clip which one reviewer described as ‘the best song Peter Gabriel never sung.’ It’s a very pleasant piece of music but as it doesn’t pick up the pace until about 5 minutes in, I’m ashamed to say I didn’t pursue the output of the band until sorting out my music library last year and finding Last Train, Kingmaker and Judas Unrepentant, all of which I very much like, on Prognosis 5, Prognosis 18 and P5 Into the Lens respectively, prompting me to add Folklore to my wish list. With that album out of stock, I decided to order Grimspound (on vinyl) instead, even before Burning Shed had reopened after Christmas, just in case that too became unavailable as an LP. Depending on how much I like Grimspound, I might have to buy a download of Folklore until the vinyl edition gets re-released.


Christmas present - Three Piece Suite by Gentle Giant
Christmas present - Three Piece Suite by Gentle Giant

I’ve also visited the BTF website, after seeing the vinyl version of Dedicato a Frazz by Semiramis advertised in the sidebar of my weekly email from the Italian prog distributors and mail order firm. I’ve been after the LP since before seeing the band perform at last year’s Progressivamente festival in Rome because it’s a great piece of music, little known or appreciated outside of Italy until the renaissance of prog; the CD was one of my most expensive second-hand purchases on that particular format but I’ve always thought it was well worth it, like some obscure treasure.

It seemed pointless to splash out on postage for one album so I added DNA by Jumbo to my shopping cart. I currently own this as a download, having never seen the release in a physical format, despite always scouring the Js in the CD and record bins in every record shop I go to in Italy. The first of their two classic RPI albums, DNA represents fairly basic progressivo Italiano but it’s still quite enjoyable. There’s not a great deal of variation in the keyboard with only organ and piano but, in common with quite a lot of early Italian progressive rock, there’s a hefty dose of flute which sounds as though it’s been inspired by Ian Anderson and early King Crimson. DNA was Jumbo’s first foray into a progressive sound but there’s still a weighty reminder of their roots, including harmonica, a blues instrument which I don’t believe has any place in prog! However, the influence of early UK prog is evident throughout and Ed Ora Corri (And now you have to run), the second part of the 3-part composition that makes up side one of the original LP (Suite per il Sig K., a track that reflects a Kafka-like existence) is quite spacey and seems to have been at least partially inspired by Pink Floyd. I’ve owned their 1973 release Vietato al minora di 18 anni? (Prohibited to minors under 18?) for a year now, a limited edition from BTF on red vinyl and apart from seeing vocalist-guitarist-songwriter Alvaro Fella performing with Consorzio Acqua Potable (CAP) at the Riviera Prog festival in Genova in 2014, where at the time he was confined to a wheelchair, I have also seen Fella play with CAP, and Jumbo, at Progressivamente in Rome last September. On record, Fella’s vocals might seem something of an acquired taste – he has a distinctive theatrical style that has hints of Alex Harvey or Roger Chapman from Family, but his singing comes across as perfectly suited to the music when you witness him play live.


The first gig of the year was a fairly low-key affair at The Dublin Castle in Camden. I was accompanied by Jim Knipe who only got to see a fraction of the main attraction, Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate, but had to sit through an excruciating performance by Unit 48 who were like Haircut 100 fronted by David Brent, one nondescript singer/guitarist, and a rather intriguing opening act False Plastic, a trio of bass, drums and guitar who played short, spiky numbers apart from their final song, where they let rip with some psychedelic punk.


The line-up at The Dublin Castle 4/1/18
The line-up at The Dublin Castle 4/1/18

I’d been invited to listen to the new release Broken but Still Standing by Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate at the end of last year and found it a pretty good mixture of prog and post-rock. The soundscapes are quite Floydian (especially post-Waters Floyd) and the themes are pretty deep; if that isn’t enough to intrigue you, the flute is absolutely gorgeous and these passages are the most prog. Their album When the Kill Code Fails from 2016 comes with a recommendation from Steve Hackett.

I was included in a tweet sometime during the day of the gig that flautist Kathryn Thomas wouldn’t be appearing and that the band, which can involve as many as five people or as few as just one, would be appearing as a duo, Malcolm Galloway on guitar and vocals, and Mark Gatland on bass, keyboard and effects; I wasn’t put off by the pared-down outfit because I knew that some of the material could be recreated using patches and triggers and though we weren’t going to get the high quality prog of the first fifteen minutes of Broken but Still Standing, there were plenty of other parts of the latest album which were very enjoyable.


Broken but Still Standing by Hats Off Gentlemen It's Adequate
Broken but Still Standing by Hats Off Gentlemen It's Adequate

Indeed, the set was a mixture of the shorter material from Kill Code and Broken and it was thoroughly enjoyable. The programmed drumming, something I’m a bit wary of, sounded like an authentic kit and the washes and bits of electronica were quite like on the albums. There was one moment, possibly at the end of My Clockwork Heart where Galloway pressed the wrong foot pedal and guitar continued playing, even though it was the end of the song. Galloway’s vocal style is quite languid, a bit like Pete Shelley, but it does suit the music; this is in comparison to Gatland who was a ball of energy, leaping around the small stage sometimes two footed, bringing his knees up to his chest. It wasn’t only good to listen to, it was genuinely entertaining and when I spoke to them afterwards it was quite clear that they’re both really nice guys. I bought the two recent CDs and took advantage of the special merchandise stand offer – buy two get the third (Invisible) free. The duo made an appearance at HRH Prog last year as stand-ins for Touchstone and by all accounts, went down very well. It’s hardly surprising. Their originality, enthusiasm and great songs mark them out to be a group to watch. I can’t wait to see them as a five-piece.


Hats Off Gentlemen It's Adequate set list 4/1/18
Hats Off Gentlemen It's Adequate set list 4/1/18

Still driven to own more music, I visited Croydon’s 101 records for their half-price New Year sale, where the offers were only available to those who’ve signed up to Duncan Barnes’ email list. The condition of the album is rated as A (Very Good Condition) to C and though I’ve had numerous chances to pick up the original Journey to the Centre of the Earth for £1 from flea markets, I’ve always resisted because the sleeve and/or the LP has been badly marked. I’m please I waited. With a sale price of £2 and rated as in VGC, I bought Journey (a record I’ve never owned before) and a replacement The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, something I bought in 1975 and sold in ’77 or ’78, also for £2. I then splashed out and added Ekseption's Greatest Hits for £3!


Sale bargains from Croydon's 101 Records
Sale bargains from Croydon's 101 Records

I’m not sure I’ll ever stop wanting more music...








By ProgBlog, Feb 1 2015 11:42PM

The lack of availability of Jumbo (progressivo Italiano) albums forced me to buy a download of DNA, the first of their two classic albums. I’d seen vocalist-guitarist-songwriter Alvaro Fella performing with Consorzio Acqua Potabile at the Riviera Prog festival in Genova last year and despite my decision to miss the CAP set when I went off in search of food, the loose organisation meant that I actually caught a fair amount of their performance. Fella, now confined to a wheelchair, had been signing copies of Jumbo CDs all day and when I went to see if I could buy one, either DNA or Vietato al minora di 18 anni? (Prohibited to minors under 18?) from one of the many diverse CD and record stalls, there were none available. Recent trips to Tuscany and the Veneto also failed to turn up copies.

DNA represents fairly basic RPI but it’s still quite enjoyable. There’s not a great deal of variation in the keyboard with only organ and piano but, like quite a lot of progressivo Italiano, there’s a hefty dose of Ian Anderson inspired flute plus some melodic early-Crimson like flute. Fella’s vocals might be something of an acquired taste – he has a distinctive theatrical style that has hints of Alex Harvey or Roger Chapman from Family. DNA was Jumbo’s first foray into a progressive sound but there’s still a weighty reminder of their past influences, including far too much harmonica for my liking. However, Ed Ora Corri (And now you have to run) which is the second part of the 3-part composition that makes up side one of the original vinyl LP (Suite per il Sig K., a track that reflects a Kafka-like existence) is quite spacey and seems to have been at least partially inspired by Pink Floyd.

Considering the widespread employment of the instrument in Italian prog, flute isn’t really very prevalent in classic UK prog. Tull, perhaps because of their longevity are one of the bands that immediately spring to mind when you think of prog and flute though Ian Anderson’s instrumental contributions are almost exclusively flute and acoustic guitar; his guitar parts not really providing much other than rhythm or chords for backing other instruments, including his flute. Most other prog flute is provided by band members who have a different, primary role: Thijs van Leer plays keyboards; Andy Latimer plays guitar; Peter Gabriel is a vocalist.

I’ve seen Focus a few times in recent years and once in the 70s on the Mother Focus tour. Though van Leer is probably most easily recognised for his yodelling on Hocus Pocus, it’s his organ and flute work that helps to define the Focus sound (Jan Akkerman’s guitar is obviously key but that has been accurately replicated by Niels van der Steenhoven and, more recently, by Menno Gootjes.) Van Leer plays both instruments at the same time! The Camel track Supertwister from 1974’s Mirage is allegedly named after Dutch band Supersister. I can believe this tale because the two groups toured together and the Camel song does sound rather like a Supersister composition, where flute was provided by Sacha van Geest. Latimer plays a fair amount of flute on early Camel albums (from Mirage to Rain Dances) but the incorporation of ex-Crimson and current Crimson woodwind-player Mel Collins into the band, certainly for live performances, reduced Latimer’s flute playing role and when Collins ceased working with the band, which turned more commercial around the 80s, the flute all but disappeared. Peter Gabriel’s flute is predominantly used in pastoral-sounding passages; it’s delicate and sometimes seems to border on the faltering but comes to the fore in Firth of Fifth. It’s odd to think that the instrument works perfectly well on the grittier, urban-like Lamb Lies Down and solo album Peter Gabriel 1.

Ray Thomas of the Moody Blues was one of the only examples of a dedicated flautist within a band (who also undertook some lead vocal duties) and there were groups, like King Crimson, where multi-instrumentalists played saxophone, flute and keyboards. Dick Heckstall-Smith of Colosseum was a sax player who dabbled in a bit of flute but the best example of a classic British prog band where sax and flute alternate as lead instruments is Van der Graaf Generator. David Jackson stands apart in this respect; he’s a soloist on both instruments, heavily informed by Roland Kirk. The Jackson sax is undeniably an integral part of the VdGG sound, partly through his innovative use of effects, but his flute is also sublime, floating in the calm before the inevitable full-on VdGG maelstrom.

Jimmy Hastings deserves a special mention. He was the go-to flautist for a wide variety of Canterbury bands, most notably Caravan (where brother Pye plays guitar) but he also contributed to material as diverse as Bryan Ferry’s solo work and Chris Squire’s Fish out of Water. It’s the Canterbury connections that run the deepest, adding to the jazz feel of the genre and making important contributions to Hatfield and the North and National Health albums. Canterbury alumni Gong have also utilised sax/flute, originally played by Didier Malherbe and more recently by Theo Travis. Travis has recorded with Robert Fripp and is currently part of Steven Wilson’s (solo material) band.

The idea of the ‘guest’ flautist in a band spreads to Steve Hackett who has utilised the talents of both his brother John and, more recently, Rob Townsend. Flute is required for covering some of the early Genesis material but Hackett’s solo work, from Voyage of the Acolyte (1975) to Momentum (1988) with the exceptions of Highly Strung (1983) and Till We Have Faces (1984) all feature flute.

The overblowing that characterises a great deal of Jethro Tull flute was adopted by many nascent RPI bands who were shifting from Beat music to a blues-inflected progressive rock and this contrasts with the more melodic approach exemplified by the Ian McDonald-era King Crimson that influenced PFM. Flute is integral to the symphonic prog sound and for those bands without a flautist, there was always the flute setting on a Mellotron – a great sound but quite distinct from the woodwind instrument itself! It may be that the musical heritage of Italy means that a flautist is likely to be involved in a progressivo Italiano act; there certainly seem to be more groups with flute than without, unlike the 70s scene in the UK. I’m personally in favour of a broad sonic palette and I believe that flute provides an appropriate melodic medium. I intend to learn to play the instrument in my impending retirement.



By ProgBlog, Jan 11 2015 08:19PM

I’ve just done something that on the face of it may seem to be hypocritical: I’ve filled out the Prog magazine readers’ poll for 2014. My stance on lists is that they’re lazy and how could anything as diverse as progressive rock produce a result that is in any way representative of anything. I occasionally fill out staff surveys at work because the NHS employs bullies and overpaid and under-qualified managers to run a service that really should be run by clinically qualified staff (the clue is in the ‘health’ bit); just because you may have broken your leg as a teenager and subsequently went on to manage a supermarket or a home improvement centre, or sold stocks and shares for rich idiots, it does not mean that you’re fit to run a hospital. I could have predicted what has just happened to Hinchingbrooke Hospital. I use the staff survey process to remind these people that cutting the salaries of nurses by £1700 per year during times of austerity, when housing prices and rent are spiralling out of control and rail fares shoot upwards with annual inflation-busting rises even though the service itself gets worse, is not only nasty but will lead to recruitment and retention problems, staff shortages, a demoralised workforce, a stressed-out workforce and clinical errors. This inevitably falls on deaf ears and the perpetrators of this mismanagement get rewarded in the New Year’s Honours list. Honestly. But I’m saving up each “I told you so” in the hope that it will give me cold satisfaction during my retirement.

As a youth I liked to look at the readers’ polls in (primarily) Melody Maker and (to a lesser extent) in the NME and Sounds. I’m not sure if this was an exercise in wanting to belong to the prog tribe or if it was simply checking to see if the bands I liked had received the recognition that I believed they had earned. It’s quite incredible that from 1973 to 1977, Yes were either top British band or International band or both in the Melody Maker poll and during those five years their lowest position was second. The news of their success was generally acknowledged with a large ‘thank you’ advertisement directed at their fans, accompanied by some Roger Dean artwork; I did particularly look out for members of Yes when I pored over the results though I was interested in prog acts in general. I feel that the recognition of prog bands and their members during this period, a time before the dreadful concept of celebrity, was testament to their musical ability and creative vision. It’s undeniable that the most successful of the 70s progressive rock bands shifted millions of albums and despite their penchant for a more cerebral approach to music-making, fans were evidently happy to indulge in odd time signatures, dissonance, lofty concepts and whatever else could be thrown at them in the name of high art. Whatever the reason for scrutinising the published results, the success of your favourite bands gave you bragging rights in the school playground, an important rite as punk and new wave made inroads on the musical map.

On reflection, I’m not sure why there were ‘British’ and ‘International’ sections and even more perplexed by the votes for miscellaneous instrument. The category seems quite sensible, asking the readership to vote for musicians playing instruments other than bass, drums, guitar and keyboards yet some of the responses were somewhat baffling. Reasonable votes were cast for Ian Anderson who usually ranked highly with ‘flute’ but why would Brian Eno be included in the list because he played a VCS3? I’d always classed the EMS VCS3 along with keyboards, based on my impression of the Synthi A, the VCS3 in a briefcase as used by Pink Floyd (featured in the Abbey Road studios footage of Dark Side sessions on Live at Pompeii.) If the VCS3 is classed as a miscellaneous instrument, then why not include exponents of the Mellotron or a double neck 6-string and 12-string guitar? Another common response was for Mike Oldfield who made appearances during this time for ‘everything’. However, a check of the instrumentation on Tubular Bells reveals just one instrument, the flageolet, which falls outside the remit of the other classes, being a woodwind instrument that was said to have been invented by Frenchman Sieur Juvigny in 1581.

The Prog magazine poll has been going since 2009 and adheres to a similar format to the old Melody Maker example, though there’s been a gradual evolution to the current format: Best album; best band; best male / female vocalist; best guitarist / bassist / drummer / keyboard player; and best unsigned / new act is equivalent to Melody Maker’s ‘brightest hope’. Prog also includes categories for best and worst event, best multimedia best reissue and icon. The reader’s poll allows personal choice, unlike the nominations for the annual Prog Awards where we are only able to vote for a shortlist of Prog magazine-approved candidates, and if you fail to vote for someone in one of the categories your votes don’t count. Perhaps the Prog team need a lesson in democracy!

Anyway, my votes were cast as follows, based on albums released in 2014 and acts that I saw perform live throughout the year, with the exception of Prog Woman of the Year:

Best band: Änglagård

Best album: La Quarta Vittima by Fabio Zuffanti

Best female vocalist: Sonja Kristina

Best male vocalist: Stefano 'Lupo' Galifi

Best guitarist: Steve Howe

Best bassist: Fabio Zuffanti

Best keyboard player: Agostino Macor

Best drummer: Chris Cutler

Best reissue: King Crimson, Starless and Bible Black

Best multimedia: Pink Floyd, The Endless River

Best event: Prog Resiste, Soignies

Worst event: Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Royal Albert Hall

Best venue: Victor Jara Cultural Centre, Soignies

Tip for 2014: Fabio Zuffanti and the Z Band

Prog woman of the year: Kate Bush

Prog man of the year: Fabio Zuffanti


Prog magazine has also hosted other readers' polls, an early edition featured a ‘best albums’ poll which was repeated last year, the fifth anniversary of the magazine’s inception. Close to the Edge was second in 2009, pipped to the top position by Selling England by the Pound, but was promoted to the number one slot in 2014. I should think so! It was quite interesting to see how many albums I owned that made the top 100 (54) and relate this to the editorial remit of the publication. I did have 13 of the top 15 albums, not being at all interested in the two Rush albums that scraped in.

I also subscribed to a best Genesis track plebiscite, the results of which appeared in Prog 13 (January 2011) in the hope that my reasons for selecting my top three would get published because I spent some time thinking about it. My choices made the top three and in the correct order (3, Watcher of the Skies; 2, Firth of Fifth; 1, Supper’s Ready) but they didn’t quote me.

Even though I think publishing lists is lazy journalism, I’ll continue to submit my opinions in the hope that the editorial board takes notice of both my suggestions and my reasons. I'm not so stupid that I think they ever will.



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