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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, 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, Jun 21 2015 09:35PM

The recent Page family Milan trip involved a trip to Expo 2015 and the tickets, bought on-line with a 48 hour travel pass, included free admission to the Arts and Foods exhibition at the Triennale di Milano. This display of more than 2000 pieces of work featured a wide array of visual idioms, from models, through objects to entire room settings that revolved around the world of food, nutrition, and the way people eat together. The idea was to examine the relationship between art and the many rituals associated with eating, with special reference to how the aesthetic and functional aspects of what we eat have impacted creative expression. Though much of this was in the form of installations and painting, amongst the artefacts and Andy Warhols was a display of album sleeves, each one depicting a food theme.

The closest this piece came to including a cover from a prog artist or band were Frank Zappa’s Overnite Sensation which shows some crumbs in McDonalds packaging, a half-eaten donut and a piece of rotten fruit bearing the legend ‘Roadies Delite’; the Zappa-Captain Beefheart collaboration Bongo Fury; and an Island Records budget-priced compilation album from 1969 called Nice Enough to Eat which includes 21st Century Schizoid Man by King Crimson and We Used to Know from Stand Up by Jethro Tull. I came across this album in a Brighton flea market last week so I had a chance to get a close look at the material that was included but apart from the Crimson and Tull, the remainder wasn’t all that inspiring. Also present on the same market stall was another prog album with a food-themed cover, not present in the Milano Triennale exhibition but a record I used to have in my collection, Exotic Birds and Fruit by Procol Harum.

One obvious prog-food related band is Egg. Not only is the first album called Egg (1970) but the cover photograph by David Wedgbury shows an egg-cracking machine beautifully constructed by Peter Chapman that could have come from my old school physics laboratories. The Civil Surface (1974) also features an egg on its cover, this time strongly reminding me of the British Egg Marketing Board’s TV advertising theme, Go to Work on an Egg which began in 1957 and was certainly still running in some form when I was young. It may be that this association is entirely fabricated, possibly due to the presence of an iconic British Lion mark on the Egg that graces The Civil Surface. This was the first Egg album I possessed, a Caroline Records release that sold for around £1.50. I wasn’t too aware of the Canterbury connection at the time and subsequently sold it to my friend Bill Burford before buying it again, this time on CD, from Cover Music in Berlin in 2005. Now that I have all the Egg releases I think that it’s their best record despite Dave Stewart’s warning about the drums being too high in the mix; the recording seems much cleaner than Egg and The Polite Force (1971) and the interpretation of the compositions more mature. Some commentators have questioned the presence of the two wind quartet pieces, suggesting that they are just filler but though these aren’t being played by Egg the band, I think their inclusion is legitimate because they seem to fit with the mood of the album. Calling a record Hamburger Concerto (1974) is obviously suggestive of food and the neon-style writing used for the title fits in with the image of a US burger joint but the side long title track, based on a piece by Hamburg-born Johannes Brahms, Variations on a Theme by Haydn, is evidently a Focus pun. The track was conceived as a sequel to Eruption from Moving Waves (1971) and evidently had nothing to do with hamburgers, beginning life as Vesuvius, a portion of which appears on the odds and ends Focus album Ship of Memories (1976) as Out of Vesuvius; the six subsections Starter, Rare, Medium I, Medium II, Well Done and One for the Road make up the three movements of a concerto if you take the first four parts as the first movement comprising exposition, double exposition, development and recapitulation. Though I’m very fond of Moving Waves I prefer Hamburger because of the greater range of instrumentation and sounds, even though Jan Akkerman’s guitar is much less to the fore on the later album’s concept piece.

Gong’s Camembert Electrique (1971) could have been included in the Milan exhibition though there are only written references to cheese on the cover: the album title; ‘Cheez Pleez’ and ‘Strong and streamin mate!’ thought and speech bubbles respectively; plus the small ‘Cheese Rock’ and much larger ‘Fabriqué en Normandie’ tags. I probably bought this album when I was too young to appreciate it, but at £0.49 it was pretty irresistible. You have to remember that I took my prog very seriously and I liked my prog to be serious; the anarchic humour and Dadaist leanings were fine as long as they didn’t pretend to be progressive rock and this was more psychedelia or space rock than prog, with my favourite track being Fohat Digs Holes in Space. The title and cover of England’s Garden Shed (1977) is a play on Robertson’s Golden Shred marmalade but the relative subtlety of the reference and the relative unknown status of the album meant that it would never have got a look-in at Milan. This is a late golden-era classic, easily accessible to Genesis devotees but incorporating influences from other classic prog bands without coming across as an imitation. I updated my 20th Anniversary edition with the 2005 Special Edition Booklet and CD from the England merchandise stand at last year’s Resonance Festival.

The nature of much progressive rock music, with grand themes and concepts and cover images to match, is almost the opposite to the prosaic topic of food though the Milan exhibition showed that the notion of ‘eat to live’ has been overtaken by the concept of ‘live to eat’, certainly in Western cultures; perhaps Pink Floyd should have included a track about (the popular but erroneous meaning of) Epicureanism on Dark Side of the Moon. I can’t think of any prog rock song that highlights famine in the same way that Yes penned a song relating to a global concern when they requested Don’t Kill the Whale and perhaps it’s only Genesis who highlight the arrival of rampant consumerism which they compare with an England of folk lore and conservatism (with a small ‘c’) notably its association with food, in Dancing with the Moonlit Knight and Aisle of Plenty from Selling England by the Pound (1973).



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