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At the start of a four-day immersion in gigs and record buying, ProgBlog attended the album launch of Gryphon's first studio release for 41 years, ReInvention.

More akin to the eponymous first album from 1973 than the more proggy later material, it's a worthy addition to the Gryphon canon

By ProgBlog, Jul 24 2016 05:20PM

Last week was the hottest of the year so far and it started very badly. Sometime during the middle part of Monday a sinkhole appeared underneath the railway tracks at Forest Hill, rendering this route and my back-up route, the London Bridge to East Croydon line, unavailable for my journey home.


The staff at Whitechapel Station could have been a bit more helpful, by telling the commuters that the service between New Cross Gate and both Crystal Palace and West Croydon was suspended, for instance; instead, they suggested that passengers should “board this train for West Croydon and Crystal Palace” even though the service was going to Clapham Junction. I asked a woman who had just been making arrangements for someone else to pick up children if there was a problem and she told me about the subsidence. I guessed that London Bridge services might also be affected, though I had no idea how badly until I eventually got home and, having already missed two opportunities to go to Clapham Junction, decided to adopt Plan C.


Unable to concentrate on the Mellotron-drenched Epsilon in Malaysian Pale (Edgar Froese, 1975) because of the requirement to listen to station announcements, I made my way on a relatively empty train to New Cross, but decanted onto a thronging platform to wait for one of the three South Eastern train services per hour to Hayes; the first of which was cancelled because of ‘signal problems’ at London Cannon Street. Since I began commuting by train through South London 38 years ago, there has been woefully inadequate investment in the railways, which despite privatisation continues to suck in taxpayer money through government subsidies to the tune of £3.8bn in 2015. The private train operators then pay out millions of pounds to shareholders while the travelling public have to put up with a fractured and fragmented service dogged by delays, infrastructure failings, cancellations and increasing ticket prices. Needless to say, the state of overcrowding on the train that eventually appeared, late, carrying twice as many commuters as normal, made the scheduled 20 minute journey to Elmers End in 30oC heat deeply unpleasant; it was further delayed by signalling problems at Lewisham and I had to repeat the journey, when it was even hotter, the next day. There’s a simple solution: Renationalise the railways; use public money (or through a re-jigged Green Investment Bank that doesn’t rely on commercial rates) to invest in staff, infrastructure and rolling stock that is fit for purpose; support British engineering. Failure to do so will result in an economy which, like the trains on Monday and Tuesday, is going nowhere.

It was a hot summer forty years ago, too. I had finished my ‘O’ Levels and took part in what can only be described as an epic mountaineering holiday with brother Tony and friends Steve Dickinson, John Ullock and Guy Wimble, camping on mountainsides between Bridge of Orchy and Fort William, bagging Munros. The planning for this event rivalled a Chris Bonnington Everest expedition though our chosen food supplies, Ryvita crackers and Vesta freeze dried meals had to be supplemented by free mountain fare, blueberries, which were accompanied by an attempt to concoct cream from dried milk powder, margarine and water from mountain streams, and a stop for takeaway haggis and chips in Kinlochleven. I was somewhat leaner and fitter at the end of the trip...

1976 was also rock’s ‘Year Zero’, the foundation of Punk in the UK which I first noticed when I started in the Sixth Form in the autumn. School friends were now showing interest in bands spearheading the scene around CBGB in New York and whereas school mates’ bands had only a few months before been plying covers of Focus, Jethro Tull, Wishbone Ash and even Fruupp, a trip to the RAF Club would result in having to listen to attempts at Ramones songs and scrawled in my ‘rough book’, the school exercise book used for making notes, was a picture of a penis with the words ‘Sex Pistols’ along its length; thanks, John Bull. The Sex Pistols had begun to gig in late 1975 (as support to Bazooka Joe at St Martin’s College) but only played cover songs. Even this early on the Pistols’ influence was spreading and by early 1976, a core group of fans that included Siouxsie Sioux, Steven Severin and Billy Idol had coalesced into the so-called Bromley Contingent, brought together by an accident of south London geography, music and fashion, the latter supplied by the Malcolm McLaren – Vivienne Westwood shop SEX. I may not have heard much punk when it first appeared but it was the fashion, specifically the appropriation of Nazi symbolism which really inflamed my dislike of the genre, rather than a musical form that was the antithesis of prog: short; simple; simplistic.

So what was prog doing at the time? The premier league of prog bands were on hiatus, effectively exiled by what their accountants would have told them was a punitive tax regime. Yes and ELP were huge acts, though even less commercially successful bands like Gentle Giant set up recording sessions outside of the UK to minimise how much of their cash went to the exchequer. The highest rate of income tax throughout the 50s and 60s was 90% but this was reduced by the Conservative administration to 75% in 1971. When the Labour government took over in 1974, the top rate of income tax was increased to 83% but the surcharge on investment tax took the top rate on investment income up to 98% and these rates applied to incomes over £20000 per year, affecting 750000 people, including some major prog bands. The absence from home turf for prolonged periods (there was an allowance for so many days residence without triggering the tax) deprived the music journals of prog-related copy and coverage of new bands, who wished to be seen to eschew the perceived overblown and self-indulgent nature of progressive rock, was fed by a new generation of journalists armed with sociology degrees who regarded prog as elitist. The Stranglers were already gigging in spring 1976 and The Damned were formed sometime around the middle of the year, famous for being the first UK punk band to release a single. Captain Sensible, born Raymond Burns, lived in Edith Road SE25, the location of my first flat as an owner-occupier. There’s a rumour that if it wasn’t the same property, it was next door to the Burns’ home.


It’s often been commented on that many original punks were into prog. The Damned had evolved from jazz improvisation; Johnny Rotten is often cited for his appreciation of Van der Graaf Generator after being invited to play his own records on a Tommy Vance show on Capital Radio in July 1977; He played some Can, The Blimp by Captain Beefheart, Fleance from the Polanski film soundtrack The Tragedy of Macbeth by Third Ear Band and The Institute of Mental Health (Burning) plus Nobody’s Business from Peter Hammill’s 1975 solo album Nadir’s Big Chance. Rotten also accused David Bowie (he played Bowie’s Rebel Rebel) of copying Hammill’s moves!

Punk didn’t really last very long and, apart from the legacy of bands like The Clash, the punk ethos became swiftly diluted, revealing itself to be nothing but an expression of fashion in the broadest sense. The snarling bands like the Sex Pistols, put together to generate outrage, burned with a very brief flame. Bromley Contingent leader Siouxse quickly branched into proto-Goth; Billy Idol dabbled in proto-Goth, too, and appeared to be obsessed with his own image. Were The Stranglers really punk in the first place? I’m disappointed to have missed them when they played Maxim’s in Barrow in March 1977 but I have a confession: I’ve seen The Undertones twice. Once at a free concert in Brussels in August 1980 and in 1983, supporting Peter Gabriel at Selhurst Park. Manchester-based Buzzcocks were always just a clever pop band and are now reaping in cash from What do I Get? being used in an advert for McDonalds. This is hardly punk-principle. It appears that every musician has to continue to make a living somehow...






By ProgBlog, Jul 26 2015 10:57PM

There were a number of factors that combined to allow the development of progressive rock, not least of all sociological factors. Psychedelia emerged as the music of the counterculture and this, in turn, allowed the evolution of prog which, at its inception, retained some of the anti-mainstream ideals. The concept of ‘free love’ was closely associated with the hippie movement, being a rejection of established sexual mores. Greater sexual freedom (leading to the term ‘swinging sixties’) was catalysed by the availability of the contraceptive pill, described as one of the most significant medical advance of the 20th century because of the major role it has played in the women's liberation movement and emancipation, for the first time allowing women to plan and control their own reproductive capacity. The pill, a combination of hormones oestrogen and progestin which were synthetically produced to mimic the body's natural hormones, works by suppressing ovulation. It was developed by biologist Dr Gregory Pincus in the US during the 1950s and was approved for release in 1960, having been tested on Puerto Rican and Haitian women. Take-up was rapid: within two years of its launch it was being used by 1.2 million American women and the current number of users is of the order of 11 million. It was made available in the UK on the NHS in 1961 for married women only, a state that lasted until 1967, the height of the psychedelic movement; between 1962 and 1969 the number of users rose from approximately 50,000 to one million and it is now taken by 3.5 million women in Britain between the ages of 16 and 49. Worldwide, around 100 million women take the pill. While there are concerns over the safety of the pill in certain groups of women (heavy smokers over the age of 35, the obese, those with a risk of thrombosis, those with heart disease, those with a history of certain disease such as breast cancer) the pill has been shown to protect against cancer of the ovaries and the womb lining, and protect against pelvic inflammatory disease, a major cause of infertility in women. Sadly, even today there’s still a reactionary bloc that is unable to accept women’s sexual rights, including patriarchal organisations such as the Catholic Church and some of the more right-wing media empires. Self-styled moral crusader Mary Whitehouse, famous in the progressive rock world for incurring the ire of Roger Waters (Pigs [Three Different Ones] from Animals, 1977) formed the (short-lived) Christian grassroots movement Nationwide Festival of Light along with, amongst others, journalist and author Malcolm Muggeridge in response to concerns over the development of the permissive society in the UK during the late 60s; Muggeridge frequently denounced this new sexual freedom on radio and television and particularly railed against "pills and pot", birth control and cannabis. Within the counterculture he became something of a figure of ridicule, such that early bootlegged versions of Pink Floyd’s The Great Gig in the Sky (to appear on Dark Side of the Moon, 1973) included snippets of his speeches, titled The Collected Ramblings of Malcolm Muggeridge.

It’s rather disappointing that the first wave of prog didn’t produce many bands with female musicians, building on the legacy of US psychedelic bands Jefferson Airship, later Jefferson Spaceship (Grace Slick) and Big Brother and the Holding Company (Janis Joplin), both of these groups having formed in San Francisco, the epicentre of the counterculture. The rock music business was another male-dominated industry and counter-intuitively it wasn’t until the rise of punk that women got to feature in more bands, though there have always been other genres that did have female stars. For prog, which tended to address issues other than ‘boy-meets-girl’, in the UK only Sonja Kristina and Annie Haslam, with Curved Air and Renaissance respectively, got to front groups; I’m not going to include Kate Bush, a solo artist whose oeuvre includes some prog-inflected material, other than to mention her strike for equality by demonstrating that she was in complete creative control of her work; Jerney Kaagman was singer for successful Netherlands prog band Earth and Fire.

Normally the preserve of glam metal acts, there a small number of examples of prog which I think come close to hinting at the exploitation of women, the clearest of which is probably King Crimson’s Ladies of the Road (from Islands, 1971.) It has been suggested that the lyrics to the song were an accurate representation of the early period of Boz Burrell's life as a young man on tour where groupies were readily available for casual sex, a phenomenon that burgeoned during the heyday of the counterculture. Caravan’s nudge-nudge-wink-wink schoolboy humour runs throughout much of their early work but in my opinion it’s not necessarily exploitative; Richard Sinclair comes across as quite sympathetic to the lead character on the title track from Waterloo Lily (1972.)

My acquisition of An Electric Storm (1969) by White Noise from a record and CD fair in Brighton a couple of weeks ago is the third example in my collection of a record featuring simulated sex noises. I accept it’s pushing the definition of prog to include this album but it’s an important release in terms of sonic possibilities; a very early example of tape effects and electronica. More au fait with Vorhaus’ White Noise II (1975) on which he used a synthesizer with a ribbon controller (I dubbed it an electric drainpipe) the original White Noise featured BBC Radiophonic Workshop employees Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson. The track My Game of Love was written with synthesized noises of an orgy but, according to the liner notes for the CD release, Vorhaus must have been dissatisfied with the results and mixed his electronic creation with a recording of a real orgy.

The first example that I heard of sex noises on a prog album was, appropriately enough, ∞ (Infinity) from 666 (1972) by Aphrodite’s Child – Aphrodite being the Greek goddess of love, beauty and procreation. The record company, Mercury, objected to the double-album length and the musical experimentation, as well as the track ∞, because of the simulated female orgasm lasting over 5 minutes provided by Greek actress Irene Papas, who repeats the words "I was, I am, I am to come" over a sparse percussion track. This track in particular makes Je t’aime... moi non plus by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin sound rather tame.

The second is a CD I came across in Metropolis Music in Melbourne when I was in Australia in 2005 – Masq (1971) by Catharsis. There was no Australian prog available and I felt I had to buy something from the store because the staff were incredibly helpful. I chose Masq because it was described as ‘the first album from a great French underground group, lots of weirdness with some folky touches, unique!’ It comes across as something like a psychedelic folk band though it does feature some dreamy organ and some free-form sections that could have been inspired by early Pink Floyd. The final two minutes of the second track, 4 art 6 features simulated sex sounds, the female parts provided by singer Charlotte.

These three examples are from early in the prog canon and, to a greater extent, reflect the period in which they were written, a time of sexual freedom and exploration. They come across as consensual and sharing, fitting in with the original philosophy of progressive rock as an inclusive, outward looking and anti-authoritarian movement. It’s strange that this non-threatening music was performed almost exclusively by males to an audience of almost exclusively males but happily, the third wave of prog features a number of excellent women musicians and the presence of females in the audiences is becoming more noticeable. Long live equality!



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