ProgBlog

By ProgBlog, Sep 30 2020 10:01PM

A list of recent past, present and future happenings in the prog world


13 – September 2020


The last ProgBlog Diary was back in June, when there was some hope of countries around the world opening up again to international travel and allowing live music. Unfortunately the opening of schools and universities in the UK has coincided with a new surge in cases and much of the live entertainment industry remains closed, with no sign of being able to restart and no real signs of support for those employed in the sector from the government. The two rays of hope are that some international travel is possible, and musicians have found ways to continue to write, record and produce music


Recent additions include the delayed new ‘70s keyboard prog’ album from Rick Wakeman pre-ordered from Music Glue which turned out to be well worth the wait, and the delayed reissue of Finnish bassist/multi-instrumentalist Pekka Pohjola’s second solo album ordered through Burning Shed, but they were predominantly sourced from a trip to the local second-hand store Wanted Records in Beckenham, some birthday gifts, and two trips to Genoa:

The Red Planet (vinyl) – Rick Wakeman; Water Bearer (V) – Sally Oldfield; Verità Nacoste (V) - Le Orme; Intorno alla mia Cattiva Educazione (V) – Alusa Fallax; ΠOΑ (V) – Blocco Mentale; Campo di Marte (V) – Campo di Marte; Warmed Space Blue (V) – Ingranaggi della Valle; Preludio, Tema Variazioni e Canzona Colonna Sonora del film Milano Calibro 9 (V) – Osanna; Istinto (CD) – Jus Primae Noctis; Metamorphosis (download) – Zopp; Birdy OST (V) – Peter Gabriel; Direct to Disc (V) – FM; L (V) – Steve Hillage; Phenomena (CD) – ESP Project; A Day at the Beach (V) – Airbag; GoGo Penguin (CD) – GoGo Penguin; A Genesis in My Bed (book) – Steve Hackett; Tracks and Traces reissue (CD) – Harmonia & Eno '76; Harakka Bialoipokku (V) – Pekka Pohjola; Akasha (V) – Akasha; Fiori di Metallo (V) - I Califfi; Hypnagogia (V) Khadavra; Destinazioni (V, test pressing) – Melting Clock; Clowns (V) – Nuova Idea; Autumn Shades (CD) – Giorgio Fico Piazza; Castles, Wings, Stories and Dreams (V) – Paolo Siani; A Piedi Nudi sull’ Arcobaleno (CD) – Sintonia Distorta; Alienatura (V) – Il Tempio delle Clessidre; L’Uovo di Colombo (V) – L’Uovo di Colombo; S.E.I. (V) – La Maschera di Cera; Selling England by the Pound & Spectral Mornings Live at Hammersmith (V) – Steve Hackett



Reviews II



ProgBlog reviews have now spilled over on to a new page, Reviews 2, which can be accessed from the Reviews tab. In addition to new reviews, there are edited blog posts that now appear as standalone items, some of which may also have been posted on the Progarchives.com site under my agnenrecords profile, and the scope has been widened to include book reviews and edited versions of other reviews written for sites such as Amazon, also under the agnenrecords name.



The recent past


Gig review - 2020 Porto Antico Prog Fest, Piazza delle Feste, Genova 11/7/20




Though the UK has not yet opened up the music festival sector, and may not be able to with the current rise in Covid-19 infections, outdoor gigs have recommenced in Italy. Fortunately, the ‘air corridor’ between Britain and Italy opened up just in time for the 2020 Porto Antico progfest, and ProgBlog was able to catch a flight from London Stansted to Genoa and stay in the well-prepared NH Genova Centro hotel. The concert, a full evening of progressivo italiano, featured the legendary Balletto di Bronzo supported by local Genovese bands Il Segno del Comando and Jus Primae Noctis.

If the measures in place to minimise the spread of Covid-19 were impressive, temperature checks, social distancing enabled by reducing the venue’s capacity by 50%, compulsory face masks, and multiple hand gel stations, then the music was even more impressive. Though I’m not at all sure about naming a band after the supposed legal right of a medieval lord to have sex with subordinate women on their wedding night, Jus Primae Noctis played sophisticated layered symphonic prog, taken from their just-released CD Istinto. Unfortunately, for the last couple of years of the progfest the sound has been suboptimal for the support acts, and some of the complexity of the music was lost, but they’re certainly a band to listen out for.




There are links between Jus Primae Noctis and second act on the bill Il Segno del Commando, but given the tight-knit nature of Genoa’s prog community that’s not really much of a surprise. Diego Banchero, founder of Il Segno del Comando, played bass on much of Istinto, and Beppi Menozzi, the driving force behind Jus Primae Noctis, has played keyboards for Il Segno del Comando since their 2018 album L’Incanto dello Zero. The set was something of a ‘best of’, and was well played and really enjoyable. I recognised some of the songs having seen them at the beginning of February supporting Banco del Mutuo Soccorso and having bought a couple of their albums. Banchero uses a number of guest musicians on his albums so it wasn’t too much of a surprise to be introduced to guest vocalist Sophya Baccini, but I’d not heard of Silvia Agnoloni, their other guest vocalist. Il Segno del Comando play well constructed music which falls somewhere between dark prog and symphonic prog and is really enjoyable.



Balletto di Bronzo were incredible. Keyboard player Gianni Leone had reformed the band as a trio with Riccardo Spilli on drums and Ivano Salvatori on bass and they performed some pieces from their forthcoming album along with a run-though of the entire 1972 classic Ys. Leone is a born showman whose playing style and singing are highly theatrical – his voice is still as good as it was when Ys was released – and the music itself, both the old and the new, was full of bombast, one of the reasons Ys was so highly praised and the reason I’ll buy the new album when it comes out.



Thanks and congratulations for putting together an amazing evening go to Massimo Gasperini and Pino Pintabona.


Gig review – Melting Clock, Abracadabra Festival, Villa Serra, Comago (GE) 13/9/20



This Black Widow Records rock festival, linked with an occult/magic/new age fair (giving it the name ‘Abracadabra’) and held in the English garden grounds of Villa Serra on the northern outskirts of Genoa, marked 30 years of Black Widow – an indisputable success story launching the careers of some of the best-known names in the current crop of Italian prog bands and curating or re-launching some of the names from the original RPI scene. The link with the fair is totally in keeping with the dark prog connections of Black Widow, named after the early heavy-prog UK band which caused something of an outrage with ‘satanic’ lyrics on their debut album Sacrifice from 1970.

I went along on a prog date with my wife, only my second prog date in over 32 years, primarily to see Melting Clock, who were third on the bill. We could hear the strains of heavy rock covers from Small Band as we approached the villa, and sat with a packed lunch next to the lake while The Ikan Method plied their just released Blue Sun, which I thought sounded like early IQ and worth further investigation.

Melting Clock’s hour-long set missed out some of the songs from last year’s debut Destinazioni, with the band opting to open with their 16-minute long King Crimson medley Alla Corte del Re Cremisi which makes up side 4 of the vinyl edition of the album; I don’t imagine there are many better calling cards than a faithful reproduction of classic Crimson (the Italians have an affinity for early prog – the festival headline act Empty Spaces was a Pink Floyd tribute band.)


Caleidoscopio represents the essence of Melting Clock in eight and a half minutes, delightfully constructed from layers of guitars and keyboard phrases with Emanuela Vedana’s pitch-perfect vocal melody floating above, and the remainder of the set, culminating in the epic title track from the album, was an exercise in melodic, symphonic progressivo italiano capped by a dynamic piece of music where individual influences combined to create a highly imaginative modern prog masterpiece filled with twists and turns – heavy, melodic, tricky, angular, aggressive and stately.

The performance was excellent, even impressing my wife who thought Antares was their best song, but it wasn’t entirely perfect. I’d been warned beforehand that there was no sound check, though they had faith in the mixing engineer supervising the sound and they’d brought along their friend Andrea Torretta, the studio MAIA sound engineer who, it turns out, was required to help out with running repairs on keyboard player Sandro Amadei’s patch selector foot pedal, and the overall sound was in fact reasonably balanced; from where we were sitting Alessandro Bosca’s bass was rather high in the mix and the two guitars of Simone Caffè and Stefano Amadei were a little under-mixed. Sandro also had problems with his earpiece monitor but, on the far left of the stage he wasn’t in direct sunlight like the rest of the band. Simone described himself as ‘Melting Simone’ when I spoke to him after their performance and Stefano complained of his arm sticking to his hot guitar. It was around 34oC. There was an obvious monitor difficulty right at the start of their set when drummer Francesco Fiorito couldn’t hear himself and the opening number was stopped after a few bars before the problem was resolved and the medley restarted, and there was an unnoticeable glitch during Destinazioni when Francesco played a drum break earlier than he should have because of his monitor problems. The rest of the band didn’t miss a beat and I’m sure no one in the crowd noticed. Sandro later confided that any mistake-induced panic of their early gigs had effectively been eradicated but, errors or not, it was another exceptionally enjoyable concert in a really lovely setting.


I’d already had an extensive conversation with Massimo and Pino from Black Widow when I popped into the shop to but an album or 10 on the day we arrived in Genoa, but the festival provided the opportunity to speak to a number of other Italian friends: all the members of Melting Clock, obviously; Mauro Serpe (Panther & C.); impresario Marina Montobbio; and Diego Banchero (Il Segno del Comando.) I hope that next time we meet up there’ll be no more concerns about Covid-19.


Coming up


Lifesigns new album to be ready by the end of the year











By ProgBlog, May 29 2016 09:00PM

In the mid-70s I was aware that progressive rock could be found elsewhere in the world other than the UK. I was very much into Focus and Trace (Netherlands); PFM (Italy); Gong (France); and even had an inkling that Wigwam were predominantly Finnish. I’d also come across the work of Swedish multi-instrumentalist Bo Hansson.

Hansson had a track on Charisma Keyboards, the Charisma sampler from 1974 that also included America by The Nice, The Fountain of Salmacis by Genesis and White Hammer by Van der Graaf Generator; Hansson’s Flight to the Ford was the shortest track on the album by some margin but the brevity of the piece didn’t deter Guy Wimble, a friend from across the road, buying Music Inspired by Lord of the Rings Hansson’s most successful assault on the UK album charts, from which the track was taken. The LP had been very successful in Sweden when it was originally released on Silence Records in 1970, partly because of the adoption of The Lord of the Rings by the counter-culture but equally because the music fitted the nascent progressive rock movement. The acquisition of Hansson by Charisma exposed Hansson to a far wider market and though his subsequent albums Magician’s Hat (Silence, 1972, Charisma 1973), Attic Thoughts (1975) and Music Inspired by Watership Down (1977) were not as successful it’s unlikely that many of us would have heard of him had it not been for Tony Stratton-Smith.


Bo Hansson's Music Inspired by Lord of the Rings
Bo Hansson's Music Inspired by Lord of the Rings

The music itself is pleasant and melodic but you could never call it over-adventurous; listening to it recently I found I liked it more than I remember doing so. There’s a space rock vibe pervading the compositions (the original Silence release cover art was quite psychedelic) and Hansson layers the instruments in a way that I think may have influenced Mike Oldfield’s modus operandi; he adds some nice distorted jazzy guitar that strays into Santana territory and, though he may have jammed with Jimi Hendrix, his playing is clearly more informed by jazz than the blues. Flight to the Ford is one of two up-tempo tracks (the other is The Horns of Rohan/The Battle of the Pelennor Fields where the cymbal work suggests clashing swords) but there’s only a relatively narrow dynamic range on the entire album; the swelling organ work conjures images of rolling countryside and though not truly pastoral, it certainly comes across as very reflective. Perhaps I was swayed more by the literary influences and references than the music itself, as Hansson employs titles from books I was reading as a teenager: The Lord of the Rings (obviously); Elidor by Alan Garner and Watership Down by Richard Adams. I suppose that it’s hardly surprising that the Swedes should have taken to modern myths from contemporary authors given their own story-telling legacy and Tolkien’s desire to create a myth to match the Norse sagas.

I travelled around Sweden as part of an InterRail adventure in 1983, making a brief stop in Gothenburg to wait for a train to Oslo,spent two hours in Boden before moving on to Finland, two full days in Stockholm, about half an hour waiting for a hydrofoil in Malmo plus hours of travel on the Swedish rail network, many kilometres of which were spent inside the arctic circle where, even in August, the landscape was stark; the trees denuded as though by acid rainfall, which was just reaching our collective environmental consciousness at the time. I really enjoyed Stockholm and wished I could have spent more time there, staying overnight on a full-rigged three mast iron sailing ship built in Whitehaven, Cumbria in 1888 (SS Dunboyne) which had become permanently moored off Skeppsholmen and converted to a Youth Hostel, the af Chapman. Travelling with college friend Nick Hodgetts, now a renowned bryophytologist, we island-hopped and explored some of the less popular areas of the city, the narrow streets behind the main thoroughfares. I don’t buy ‘tourist’ things but rather I bought a Franz Kafka T-shirt from the Akademibokhandeln bookshop, 1983 being Kafka’s centenary. The legend, in Swedish, read “Kafka hade inte heller så roligt” something along the lines of “Kafka was not so funny”.


The author in 1984 sporting the Kafka T-shirt
The author in 1984 sporting the Kafka T-shirt

The third wave of progressive rock didn’t arise in the UK but in Sweden and the USA. Around the time that King Crimson resurfaced with the double trio conformation in 1994 I started to subscribe to Elephant Talk, the King Crimson internet resource run by Toby Howard and this is when I realised that there was some form of prog revival, frequently sounding like metal with some prog flourishes but also material that was reported to sound like Red-era Crimson; heavy prog but not prog metal. It probably didn’t sink in that there was a strong Swedish connection to the prog revival until I bought my first Jerry Lucky book and with two highly regarded bands mentioned very early on in the listings, Anekdoten and Änglagård, I added Änglagård’s Hybris (1992) to my wish list (copies were selling for in excess of £50 when they were available, which was infrequent) and invested in my first ever download, Anekdoten’s Vemod (1993) because I’d read a description that suggested the music sounded like King Crimson would have done if they hadn’t disbanded in 1974, a remarkably accurate assessment. Vemod is heavy, Mellotron-drenched and although it’s predominantly instrumental, the lyrics are intelligent and call to mind Richard Palmer-James, rather than Peter Sinfield. The melancholy feel of the music is enhanced by the addition of cello; at times the guitar is like the angular playing of Steve Howe on Fragile and the bass style owes a heavy debt to John Wetton. I finally got my hands on a copy of Hybris from a stall at the Prog Résiste festival in 2014, a brilliant, less heavy affair than Vemod or the Anekdoten follow-up Nucleus (1995) but still deeply rooted in the 70s progressive rock sensibility. The darkness and sadness in this trio of albums may be in part due to the Scandinavian physical geography and latitude (nicely parodied by Steven Wilson in live performances of The Raven That Refused to Sing by asking Guthrie Govan to play guitar in the style of a number of stereotypical Swedish situations) but it’s to the benefit of every prog fan that they have such an attitude. I was fortunate to get to see Änglagård play their first UK gig at the Resonance Festival in 2014 and despite a lengthy delay due to the obstinacy of a Mellotron, it was a fantastic routine.



One name that links Änglagård and Anekdoten is Markus Resch who serviced and repaired their Mellotrons and who now owns the rights to the Mellotron name. I think I’m correct in believing that I first came across his name at the Night Watch playback in 1997 where there were two Mellotrons on display.

Another leading light of the third wave is Flower Kings, led by guitarist Roine Stolt who had joined Swedish symphonic prog band Kaipa aged 17 in the mid 70s. I managed to catch them headlining at Prog Résiste but was a little disappointed because they didn’t match expectations. I subsequently read that their later material deliberately moved away from classic analogue keyboard sounds and this fits with my memory of their set, which didn’t come anywhere close to recreating 70s prog but sounded more mainstream and, if you’ll excuse the pun, more transatlantic.



Flower Kings at Soignies 26th April 2014
Flower Kings at Soignies 26th April 2014

Sometime before I managed to acquire any of the 90s Swedish prog I’d been given Seven Days of Falling (2003) by E.S.T, the Esbjorn Svensson Trio as a present and later bought their final album Leucocyte (2008), released posthumously three months after the death of pianist Svensson. This jazz trio deliberately blurred genres and if such a thing existed, they’d be labelled as prog-jazz, incorporating electronics and noise into their recordings. It was after an E.S.T gig in Brighton in 2005 that I was caught accidentally speeding (34 mph in a 30 mph zone) searching for directions how to get out of the city centre and return to Croydon. It was still a good concert.

If you thought that the only musical export from Sweden was the over-produced Abba singing meaningless nonsense, you need to reappraise. Not only was Bo Hansson riding the first wave of progressive rock, it was the Swedes who resurrected the genre, not just as prog but as genuine progressive rock in the 90s. Bring on the Bo Hansson T-shirts!





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