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Five days of progressive rock, dedicated to musicians and friends who have died since the last event, divided between historic and new bands, symphonic prog and jazz rock, the avant-garde and a tribute to an important story. Along with the desire to share music together, the event is only held thanks to the effort of all those who work for free: artists, organisers, hosts and helpers. The Progressivamente Festival is a display of dedication, comradeship and great music

By ProgBlog, Aug 28 2017 09:13PM

The sharp-eyed amongst you may have noticed that on Wednesday last week (August 23rd), Gentle Giant were inducted into Portsmouth Guildhall’s ‘Wall of Fame’. The Guildhall, originally the Town Hall, was renamed after Portsmouth gained city status in 1926. The neoclassical building was severely damaged during the Second World War but restored, with much of the original detail missing, and reopened in 1959 with standing space for an audience of 2500 in the largest performance space. The Wall of Fame is a recent feature, introduced in 2014 to honour (mainly) local artists who have achieved great success. Gentle Giant join artists like Mark King of Level 42 (originally from the Isle of Wight); local boy Mick Jones, who formed Foreigner with Ian McDonald; another local boy Spike Edney, probably most famous for his live work with Queen; and Steve Hackett, voted on by fans in recognition of his amazing musical career who was inducted in May this year.


The Shulman family originally hailed from Glasgow but set up home in Portsmouth in 1948 after the father of the yet-to-be Gentle Giants had been posted there during the war. The three Shulman brothers Phil, Derek and Ray first formed Simon Dupree and the Big Sound along with Eric Hine (keyboards), Pete O’Flaherty (bass) and Tony Ransley (drums) in 1966 and had a hit in 1967 with Kites, originally a ballad written by Lee Pockriss and Hal Hackady which the band were quite unhappy with, insisting it wasn’t in their chosen musical idiom. They eventually recorded a version at the insistence of their manager John King, in psychedelic style featuring a variety of odd studio instruments in Abbey Road, including Mellotron and a wind machine; they even got an actress friend to recite some Chinese during a spoken interlude and, to their surprise, the single did very well, ultimately peaking at no. 8 in the charts. Simon Dupree and the Big Sound had no further success but evolved into Gentle Giant in 1970 when the Shulmans recruited Kerry Minnear (keyboards), Gary Green (guitar) and Martin Smith (drums.)

The first Gentle Giant album I heard was In a Glass House (1973) and the first I bought, in an effort to hear as much of their material as possible, was Playing the Fool – The Official Live (1977) on cassette. It was obvious from a very early stage that GG were highly accomplished musicians playing incredibly complex material and it wasn’t until I heard Free Hand (1975), premiered on Alan Freeman’s Saturday radio show, that I realised they could also really rock without compromising their identity. At that stage, GG being a band that I looked out for, I had no idea of their relative lack of commercial success. What I heard of The Missing Piece (1977) indicated a major change, and not a good one. The Sight & Sound in Concert performance, filmed at London’s Golders Green Hippodrome on January 5th 1978 and shown on BBC TV a couple of weeks later was a must watch occasion, but Two Weeks in Spain and Betcha Thought we Couldn’t Do It were major disappointments. I started to build up a full collection of GG in the 80s and in the mid 90s, when progressive rock was slightly less vilified than it had been for almost 20 years and when the nascent internet was mostly accessed for academic purposes, I signed up to a couple of web-based forums: Elephant Talk for all things Crimson and On Reflection, the internet discussion list for GG fans; it was a revelation to read fans’ thoughts and anecdotes. There’s no doubt that the band deserve their place in the Portsmouth Guildhall Wall of Fame.


Gentle Giant inducted in The Wall of Fame
Gentle Giant inducted in The Wall of Fame

photo from http://www.dailyecho.co.uk/leisure/news/15494134.Gentle_Giant_inducted_into_Wall_of_Fame/#gallery0


London obviously exerts a pull on musicians and in the late 60s and early 70s the sheer mass of opportunity, the music papers, the range of clubs, the presence of record labels, recording studios and publishing firms was enough to make most artists gravitate towards the capital. Perhaps more important than any of those things was the presence of sufficient numbers of punters willing to listen to something which offered more than ephemeral pop; Pink Floyd may have had roots in Cambridge but it was London which formed the base for their success. In the very early days, their reception outside of the capital was frequently hostile and it’s 'Pink Floyd London' stamped on their banks of WEM speakers, clearly visible during the Echoes part 1 footage from Live at Pompeii, not 'Pink Floyd Cambridge'. Similarly, Floyd contemporaries Soft Machine may have formed in Canterbury and been responsible for an entire prog sub-genre, but they also migrated 100km along the route of Watling Street in search of fame and fortune. That doesn’t mean that the south coast of England was unimportant for progressive rock; an hour’s drive west of Portsmouth is Bournemouth, half an hour’s drive inland from Bournemouth is Wimborne and 10km due west of Bournemouth is Poole. This relatively small area is where Michael and Peter Giles, Robert Fripp, Greg Lake, Gordon Haskell, John Wetton, Richard Palmer-James and Andy Summers all began playing.


Pink Floyd of London - Live at Pompeii
Pink Floyd of London - Live at Pompeii

Over the last few weeks I’ve been to a number of towns on the south coast, lured by a combination of a bracing sea breeze and the prospect of browsing through second-hand records in both favourite and new haunts. One of the reasons for progressive rock musicians having a connection to the south coast can be detected in the architecture of the seaside towns which is another reason for getting on a train south from East Croydon station; the inter-war suggestion that swimming provided universal health benefits resulted in something of a seaside boom, coinciding with a penchant for streamlined art deco apartment blocks, hotels and public buildings, and the upturn in visitor numbers meant that there had to be provision of suitable entertainment; dance halls and dance bands. Likewise, when armed forces were barracked in the dockyards at Portsmouth or at one of the RAF radar stations, they needed an outlet for R&R. Both Robert Fripp in Bournemouth and Keith Emerson in Worthing played in hotel- and dance bands where the predominant genre was jazz; the young Emerson even played piano for a local dance class, covering a variety of styles and playing a range of tempos, all excellent experience for the future combination of rock, jazz and classical music exemplified by prog.


Seaside art deco: De la Warr Pavilion, Bexhill
Seaside art deco: De la Warr Pavilion, Bexhill

Our trip to Worthing wasn’t entirely successful. This was the most westerly of the towns visited recently and was intended to be a reconnaissance mission. I’d identified a couple of independent record stores, along with an HMV in the Montague shopping centre but the condition of the interesting records in the flea market on Montague Parade wasn’t brilliant and after thinking about replacing my sold off copy of Barclay James Harvest Live (1974) for £4, I decided against it. Next stop was Music Mania in West Buildings but this was closed until the end of August for holidays. I did manage to find a copy of Electronic Realizations for Rock Orchestra (1975) by Synergy, aka Larry Fast, for £2.99 in Oxfam. It was very breezy on the beach but at least the architecture was good: the brutalist Grafton car park, given a colourful makeover by street artist Ricky Also, and the 1930s art deco flats of Stoke Abbott Court, even though their restoration wasn’t in keeping with their original, aerodynamic form.


Grafton car park, Worthing
Grafton car park, Worthing

Brighton is just brilliant. On our most recent trip I picked up an original copy of Tubular Bells for £5.50, David Bedford’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1975), Pink Floyd's Obscured by Clouds (1972) and the rather obscure US electronic album Zygoat (1974) by Burt Alcantara under the name of Zygoat. These were all from Snoopers Paradise in North Laine; I then popped into Across the Tracks and bought a new copy of Stranded (1970) by Edwards Hands.


A short way east along the A27 is Lewes, and though it’s not costal, the river Ouse is tidal. Octave Music has now closed down but Union Music Store and Si’s Sounds are both worth looking around. Si’s was closed on the day of our visit and I was tempted by some unsold record store day bargains in Union, but not tempted enough. Lewes has a number of antique shops and I managed to locate David Sylvian’s double LP Gone to Earth (1986) which to some degree presages the Sylvian-Fripp collaboration in 1993, plus Phallus Dei (1969) by Amon Düül II, Moraz-Bruford Flags (1985), Barclay James Harvest Time Honoured Ghosts (1975), and the surprisingly good Point of Know Return (1977) by Kansas. The architecture in Lewes is very interesting and one of the most recent additions, a concrete and glass 5 bedroom house clad in Cor-Ten steel set on the banks of the Ouse on the site of an old workshop, is really special.


Union Music Store, Lewes
Union Music Store, Lewes

Most recent on the list of coastal visits was Hastings. Again, I’d identified suitable record shops to visit but the duration of the train journey, a little over 100 minutes each way, restricted our time for wandering around. It’s been some considerable time since I was last there and in the intervening years the town has been used as an overspill for London boroughs facing a housing crisis, shifting the pressure from the capital to local services in East Sussex. However, that’s not what we witnessed. The relative ease of the commute to central London and the laid-back vibe appears to have encouraged a degree of regeneration. The beach was empty and very clean; the pier has been redeveloped and shortlisted for the 2017 Sterling prize; George Street is like a short stretch of Brighton’s Laines with some unique gift shops, independent coffee bars, antique shops and best of all, Atlas Sound Records, which hadn’t been on my list. The cash-only shop acted as an outlet for at least three sellers who travelled the world to find suitable vinyl. I came away with Rakes Progress by Scafell Pike (1974) – folk rather than prog, but for £5 its Lake District name and the fact I’d only ever seen it twice before, once around the time of its release in Kelly’s Records, Barrow, and much more recently in a market stall in Vicenza, Italy, meant I had to buy it. I also picked up Midnight Mushrumps (1974) by Gryphon and Mass in F Minor (1968) by The Electric Prunes, a piece of gothic psychedelia that I’d only got in mp3 format, converted from a home taping of my brother’s copy of the LP back in the late 70s. I was encouraged to return because I was told that the stock had a good turnover.

Bob’s Records was on my list, in the basement of an antique shop in High Street; disorganised but reasonably well-priced and mostly in very good condition, there were bits of memorabilia for display like the framed cover of In the Land of Grey and Pink for £7 and three laminated back-stage passes for Pink Floyd concerts presented in a frame at £40. I bought a copy of the last Colosseum II album War Dance (1977). In another of Hastings’ antique shops I saw a framed Pink Floyd at Hastings Pier poster on sale for £20 and as far as I can make out, they only ever played in Hastings on one occasion, Saturday 20th January 1968, just before Dave Gilmour was invited to join the band, and I’m not sure if the article was genuine.


Atlas Sound Records, Hastings
Atlas Sound Records, Hastings

I think the atmosphere of some of the towns on the south coast is accurately captured by the melancholy of Exiles (from Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, 1973); those responsible for the track’s writing credits, Cross, Fripp and Palmer-James all had a history linking them to the south coast, as did vocalist/bassist Wetton (Cross was from the Plymouth area.) The contrast of a parochial existence with the glamour, real or superficial, found in cities around the world resonates today: Worthing town centre has certainly seen better days and the empty public spaces in Eastbourne are equally sad; Bexhill would be nowhere without the De La Warr pavilion and the towns seem to cling on to the remnants of a faded glory. Fortunately there are places like Brighton and Lewes, and now Hastings, where there’s a positive vibe... ...and good record shops.







By ProgBlog, Apr 20 2014 09:04PM

Lewes is a really pleasant place, nestled in the Sussex Downs and only 50 minutes from Croydon. The name Lewes has two possible derivations: either from a Celtic word meaning ‘slopes’; or from the Saxon word hlaew, which means an artificial mound. The local architecture features a fair amount of flint which fits in with the town’s air of gentility; there is an abundance of second-hand book stores including the warren-like and rickety Fifteenth Century Bookshop and a range of antique shops and flea markets, all of which are worth exploring.

There’s even a connection between Lewes and Crystal Palace. Gideon Algernon Mantell, surgeon and geologist, was born in Lewes in 1790. He discovered the bones of what he would later call an Iguanodon, famously misidentifying the thumb spike and assigning it to the nose of his animal skeleton, so that it appeared like a rhinoceros. A model of Mantell’s Iguanodon was erected in Crystal Palace Park and, as a publicity event, the Crystal Palace Company organised a dinner inside the Iguanodon on 31 December 1853, some months before the Park opened. Special guests included the scientists William Buckland, Georges Cuvier, Richard Owen and Mantell.

There’s a small museum on the High Street that holds some interesting local archaeological artifacts – there’s an Iron Age fort on Cliffe Hill that looms over Lewes and Lewes was important in Roman and Saxon times. Barbican museum is nestled under the part-ruined Norman castle and there’s another museum, also run by Sussex Past (the Sussex Archaeological Society), in Anne of Cleves House. It’s unlikely that Anne ever used the house – she was granted a total of nine Sussex manors as part of her nullity settlement in 1541. The building retains some original timber mullions, crown-post and queen-post roofs and the stairs are incredibly worn and uneven. There are temporary exhibits in the East Room, a potted history of Lewes in the Lewes Room and the Wealden Iron Gallery in the medieval barrel-vaulted cellar. Just to the south of Anne of Cleves House are the remains of the Priory of St Pancras.

Thomas Paine arrived in Lewes as an exciseman in 1768 and lodged at Bull House. Politics was a favourite discussion point in the town around this time, with topics ranging from the French Revolution, reform of Parliament, the Corn Laws, Catholic emancipation to American independence but radicalism seems to be embedded in the DNA of the town; during the Civil War Lewes had sided with the Parliamentarians. Lewes Puritans became Nonconformists and some became Quaker pacifists; George Fox was attracted to the town and preached at a meeting of The Seekers in Southover (Lewes.) The town returned Whig MPs until 1874 and the current MP is Liberal Democrat Norman Baker, first elected in 1997 when he overturned a 12000 Conservative majority. Though he doesn’t necessarily follow official coalition policy, he may find himself unseated in 2015 in a backlash against the Lib Dems for reneging on their pre-2010 election promises.

Paine came from a Quaker family and his ideas, set out in Rights of Man, form a coherent and compelling manifesto for social change and his writings (he was a great pamphleteer) were signed off with a rapier wit. Rights of Man was written in response to radical Parliamentarian Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France; Burke agreed with the revolution in the new colony but not the French Revolution. Paine saw that Burke was siding with the established ruling class and, with his understanding of the need for social justice, challenged Burke’s assertions, ridiculing the pomposity of the extant political class. Some people still regard Paine with suspicion and hostility. He had fought against Britain in the American war of Independence and advocated France going to war with Britain after the French Revolution but he is well regarded in Lewes, such that the local independent brewery, Harvey’s, produces the seasonal Tom Paine ale (in cask and bottle) in July and owns a pub called Rights of Man in the High Street. The range of Harveys ales is exceptional and I’m fortunate to have one of their pubs, the entertainment-less Royal Oak close to my place of work in SE1.

The pubs, historical sites, museums, bookshops and antique shops aren’t the only places to visit in Lewes. In 2013, The Guardian ran an article on the 10 best independent record stores in Britain and at the top of the list was Union Music Store, 1 Lansdown Place, Lewes, a haunt of Mumford and Sons. There’s also Octave Recorded Music Specialist and Si’s Sounds (formerly Rik’s Disks.) All three stores are worth visiting. Union sells instruments, effects pedals and clothes in addition to CDs and despite its self-styled image as a home of Americana, folk and country with no mention of prog, I rather liked it, finding it a very friendly store. The shop assistant put on S. Carey’s Range of Light, a multi-layered piece of chamber soft-rock that I thought was very fitting in that environment. Though I didn’t buy any music, I came away with a heavy gauge plectrum!

Since I’ve been coming to Lewes, the shop at 4a Station Road has changed hands a few times. My latest visit was to Si’s Sounds, where I picked up a 40th Anniversary CD and DVD of Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick; a copy of Ian Anderson’s TAAB2 (CD and DVD) and a double CD of Soft Machine’s Six and Seven. Si is incredibly knowledgeable and though I was disappointed when I last visited the shop as Rik’s Disks, I shall certainly make a point of going in again.

Octave has a wide range of music. On previous visits I’ve bought 30th Anniversary King Crimson CDs in cardboard sleeves and a mini-box set of Vangelis’ three best known albums, Heaven and Hell, Albedo 0.39 and Spiral. I used to think the prices were very competitive but a new version of the anniversary TAAB from Octave would have cost me £10 more than the very good condition second-hand copy I bought from Si. Still, a town the size of Lewes with three independent record stores is quite remarkable. On top of these three are the CDs and vinyl that can be found in the flea markets and antique stores – last year I procured a pristine copy of Anthony Phillip’s album The Geese and the Ghost and in the same shop on my last visit, I nearly splashed out on Tangerine Dream’s Stratosfear. This appeared to be in immaculate condition but it wasn’t really on my wish list because this is a move towards a more conventional melodic album than the two rather experimental immediate forerunners, Phaedra and Rubycon, and a new CD wouldn’t have cost very much more.


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