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There’s now a new reason to make a pilgrimage to Canterbury; the city has three excellent independent record stores, two of them very new, which cover subtly different markets.

Some of the other touristy bits aren’t too bad either!

By ProgBlog, Aug 7 2017 02:46PM

I pay £1.47 for four pints (2.27 litres) of milk at our local Co-op, and I choose to pay almost half as much extra than is strictly necessary (there are supermarkets like Sainsbury’s, which is also very close to me, where that volume of milk only costs £1) because a supermarket price war over essentials which began in 2015 depressed the price of milk to a level below production costs, threatening the UK dairy industry. Consumers suggested that they were willing to pay more for the product and the supermarkets, faced with protests involving cows being herded through their aisles, agreed to pay a minimum price for processed milk to the dairies, which was set at around 26p to 28p per litre. However, guaranteeing a minimum price for milk doesn’t necessarily mean that dairy farmers will benefit because the large dairies supplying the supermarkets might not pay the minimum cost to the farmers. Something is broken in the economy when a staple like milk is sold for less than what it cost to produce so it’s fortunate that consumers, who stand to benefit in the short-term from this high-street competition, have decided that paying 47% more is worth avoiding the collapse of the industry.



I’ve been buying a fair amount of vinyl recently, both new and second-hand, and I’ve started to wonder if today’s prices are anywhere near equivalent to what I paid for albums in the 70s and 80s. Inflation in the UK was recorded at 2.9% in June and is expected to average out at 2.8% for 2017 and an online calculator shows me that the total inflation in the UK economy since 1973, the year I first bought an LP, is 1113.42%; if the laws of economics have held true, the equivalent of a new release costing £2.50 in 1973 would now set you back a little over £30 so it would appear that a new release 12” LP is good value for money compared to prices in the 70s. Of course I used to seek out bargains if I could but these tended to be old releases (my copy of Fripp and Eno’s Evening Star for example, bought for £2.99 from Simons Records in a large basement on London’s Oxford Street in 1981), and ‘cut outs’, sleeves with small slits in one corner or punch holes just off centre which would also penetrate the label in the middle of the LP. These items were slow selling records that had been returned to the record company by a retailer, subsequently bought by a third party at a reduced cost (they weren’t selling well anyway) and put back into record stores where they were sold at a discounted price. During the late 70s and early 80s it is hardly surprising that albums by prog acts were slow selling and ended up at sale prices. My cut out edition of Livestock by Brand X cost £2.49 from Virgin Records in Oxford Street in August 1981.


It’s interesting that a full price album, using Bryan Ferry’s Boys and Girls as an example because it’s still got the Our Price sticker on it, which cost £5.29 when it was released in 1985, would sell for £15.64 at today’s prices and that the total inflation since 1985 is only of the order of 195%. The massive hike in inflation occurred in the mid 70s with CPI inflation peaking at around 24% in 1975 and high inflation persisting into the early 80s. The oil crisis of 1973, precipitated by an embargo by the Organization of Arab Petroleum Export Countries in response to US support for Israel in the Yom Kippur War, generated inflationary forces which increased energy and commodity prices, quadrupling the price of oil in less than four months. At the same time, the world economy was in recession and this was mirrored in the UK economy. It was a period of 'stagflation', in which recession combined with inflation; inflationary wage increases were accompanied by a rise in unemployment, reaching one million in early 1976. High unemployment required increased government expenditure and borrowing.

The oil crisis had a direct effect on vinyl, a petrochemical offshoot, causing shortages and a concomitant rise in LP price. Some vinyl got thinner and my copies of The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Rick Wakeman and Fruupp’s Seven Secrets from this time are semi-transparent (with a red hue.)



The Labour Party was elected to government in February 1974 without an overall majority and they pursued a commitment to the 'social contract' (voluntary wage restraint in return for better bargaining rights) and public spending. Unfortunately, an international loss of confidence in sterling followed due to the combination of recession, instability and commitment to social expenditure, and led to the devaluation of sterling. Labour was again voted into power, this time with a tiny majority, after a further election in October 1974 and the subsequent budget in April 1975 attempted to reduce the deficit by increasing the basic rate of taxation to 35%, cutting the rate of growth of public expenditure and restricting the supply of money but it was viewed critically in the financial sector; the Wall Street Journal advised against investment in Sterling. By mid-1976 the economy was under extreme pressure and Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healy made a nationwide broadcast on TV in an attempt to reassure the markets and investigated the possibility of loan arrangements with the chairman of The Group of Ten (richest countries.) Late that year the government was forced to apply to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a loan of $3.9bn, with IMF negotiators insisting on deep cuts in public expenditure, which had a huge effect on immediate economic and social policy but also on the politics of the 1980s and beyond.

At this stage I’d like to point out that I have no faith in economic theory because movement of capital seems to be reliant on whim or the perception that a country or organisation may be at any given time in a state of stability or instability, and built on exploitation. The inflexibility of thinking within the IMF and the European Central Bank dragged out austerity and caused near-irreversible damage to most of the southern European countries and Greece in particular, spawning groups of right-wing nationalists looking for someone to blame for their economic misery. Furthermore, I believe that the global financial system is run by chancers and geared towards enriching those already with great wealth. When a government intervenes to bail out some venerable banking group because it’s too big to fail, the bank denounces regulation and carries on as though nothing happened.


I should also make it clear that I’m not buying vinyl as an investment but because it has always been my preferred medium for listening to music. If there’s anything nostalgic about my habit, buying LPs I used to own but got rid of because the music/band fell out of favour so that I stopped playing the records (Rubycon by Tangerine Dream, L by Steve Hillage, The Civil Surface by Egg, Camembert Electrique by Gong and Rick Wakeman’s The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table) or because I needed to fund the replacement of old vinyl with shiny new CDs and maybe get some bonus material), it’s the desire to hold a gatefold sleeve in my hands and look at the artwork as originally presented and maybe to count my leisure hours in (roughly) 20 minute chunks.

I don’t buy very many LPs where I have some updated form of CD though replacing my original King Crimson and Pink Floyd albums was a must; I tend to look in second-hand stores for particular recordings or bands that interested me when I was a youth but never took the plunge – Spyglass Guest by Greenslade, Ricochet by Tangerine Dream, Aqua by Edgar Froese are examples, along with Mother Focus. One of my first excursions from home to see a gig at Lancaster University was for Focus, promoting the just-released follow-up to the excellent Hamburger Concerto. It was one of the most disappointing performances I’ve ever witnessed, where Philip Catherine had replaced Jan Akkerman and the new material was not of a good standard.



I thought it was worth testing the inflation theory some more, wondering if it applied to beer. I go to the pub perhaps every couple of months and on a night out earlier this month I was paying £4.50 for a pint of Shepherd Neame (the oldest brewery in the country) Bishop’s Finger in the Bishop’s Finger pub between St Bartholomew’s Hospital and Smithfield market. I accept that’s central London but when I first started drinking in 1977, a pint of Hartley’s XB (‘best’) bitter cost 28p and by the same calculation I’d expect to pay £1.85 today. Of course Hartley’s was brewed in Ulverston and there’s a documented price disparity between northern and southern beers. I can’t remember how much I paid for a pint of bitter when I first arrived in London because I actively had to seek out decent beers in an era when real ale in London was in decline and I was never a fan of Courage – the CAMRA Good Beer Guide was an essential part of the student survival kit. Two worthwhile London breweries were Young’s of Wandsworth and Fuller's of Chiswick but there were a few free houses where the 70s equivalent of the ubiquitous Sharp’s Doom Bar, Ruddles County, could be found. I’m pretty sure this used to sell for a little shy of 50p in 1978 so I shouldn’t really expect to pay more than £2.86 for a pint in London today.

A final piece of economics: Ruddles brewery was based in Langham, in Rutland, the smallest historic county in England and produced a good-quality bitter (allegedly at least part due to the unique Langham water) which travelled well. This independent brewery was bought out by Watneys in 1986 and sold on again, to Grolsch in 1992. Following a downturn in fortunes, the beer and brewery were valued at £4.8m and sold to Morland & Co. in 1997. The brewery was closed down in 1999 and production moved to Abingdon but Greene King bought Morland in 2000 and shut down the Abingdon site...


The bottom line (as economists might say) is that whether I’m searching for second-hand or new vinyl, in real terms I’m paying less than I did when I started collecting albums. Yes, you might see pristine original pressings of In the Court of the Crimson King selling for £50 but equally, it’s possible to come across an original pressing of Tubular Bells with the black and white Virgin labels, etched stampers without matrix numbers, laminate sleeve, pinched spine top and bottom and a back cover which states "Printed in England by Robor Limited" in the bottom right corner (later sleeves were printed by E J Day), for just £5.50 and in excellent condition.



Vinyl, please!








By ProgBlog, Jul 11 2017 10:42PM

I’ve just ripped a rather large pile of my wife’s CDs to mp3 for her, nothing that remotely interests me but which does indicate the breadth of her musical tastes, according to categories ascribed by Windows Media Player: Soul and R&B; folk; electronica (not the sort that I like); country; pop; world. The selection generally dated from within the last five years and I noticed that most of the albums play for around 45 minutes with an average track length of a little over four minutes within a range of sub-three minutes to just over five. This near-standardised format would suit a release on 12” LP and though quite a few of these recent additions to her collection were originally released before the current vinyl revolution, at least one has been re-released in audiophile format and two, by the same artist, have ridden the recent vinyl wave with the one of them allegedly becoming the fastest selling LP for 20 years.



It’s well documented how progressive rock bands found the standard three minute single something of a constraint and it’s equally uncontroversial to suggest that in the late 70s, as the golden era was drawing to a close with very few exceptions, bands who were obliged to attempt to write a hit single by their label produced failures; prog relied on album sales and was a spectacular success in doing so. It’s hard enough to put together a winning formula for a hit single without attempting to include some form of coherent story or message and most of the singles in the 70s were aimed at a particular demographic, the adolescent in the early 70s and then when punk came along, older teenagers. On a sociological level this was to do with burgeoning self-awareness and searching for inclusivity; call me dumb but the tribe I ascribed to had long hair, wore flairs and suede desert boots and carried albums to and from school under our arms, as if to show the world how deep and interesting we were.


I’m not going to comment on the provenance of some, undeniably successful singles from prog-associated artists such as Greg Lake or the 1980s version of Yes and equally, I’m not thinking of edits of album tracks cut-down to favour air play but, in my opinion, the only genuine full-on hit progressive rock song of single length is Wonderous Stories by Yes which entered the UK Singles Chart at number 31 in mid-September 1977. Over the next four weeks climbed to its peak, reaching number 7 for the week of 8 October and it remained in the chart for the next five weeks. A favourite with fans and band members alike, the track somehow condenses epic Yes into 3’45, possibly because the song structure, built around a classical framework, incorporates signature features such as the harmony vocals and an uplifting vibe. It’s unclear to me how many new fans they attracted, especially in an era of punk. I didn’t buy the single in either of its formats because I owned the album but I imagine a fair number of pre-existing fans bought the special edition picture-sleeve 12” version in blue vinyl.




So what is the ideal track length, and what is the perfect album duration? As someone who began listening to music when the vinyl LP was the dominant format, I’m used to and therefore favour an album of 35 – 45 minutes of music. There are plenty of shorter length albums such as Electric Prunes’ Mass in F minor which, at 26 minutes, must be one of the shortest LPs ever, Rick Wakeman’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII (just over 36 minutes), and many of the 70s progressivo Italiano releases. At the other end of the scale, Genesis had a bit of a reputation for eking out every square millimetre of the record surface with Foxtrot lasting over 51 minutes, Selling England by the Pound at over 53 minutes, Trick of the Tail at 51 minutes and Wind and Wuthering just shy of 51 minutes; [the non-prog] Duke was over 55 minutes. Progressive rock is known for its utilisation of full dynamics and the more music included on an LP means less space between grooves and a reduced dynamic range, plus the increased likelihood of damage from a worn stylus and though my Genesis records play well, the side-long title track on Autumn Grass by Continuum which lasts over 26 minutes, has reproduction problems on my current set-up, my former set-up and on the system in the shop I used to check the quality of the (second-hand) disc.

I’m very much in favour of side-long tracks and most of my favourite groups have committed one side of an album to a single piece of music; all of them have indulged in long-form, which I consider to be one of the defining qualities of prog. From the ultimate progressive rock album Close to the Edge to each of the four sides of Tales from Topographic Oceans and Gates of Delirium; Atom Heart Mother and Echoes to Eruption and Hamburger Concerto; Tarkus to A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers; Music Inspired by The Snow Goose to Nine Feet Underground; Supper’s Ready (Horizons is the prelude) to Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play; Lizard to Mumps; Rubycon to Tubular Bells; Trace’s Birds to The Mahavishnu Orchestra’s Dream, there are also other brilliant almost side-long tracks like Grand Canyon Suite and Credo on the only studio album by Refugee.




It’s not that I don’t like sub-five minute tracks but I just don’t think they represent the best a band can do. Anything around 10 minutes or over should give sufficient scope for development of ideas to transport the listener on a journey through the composition; there ought to be sufficient time to employ a variety of rhythmic devices, changes in amplitude and different instruments or instrumental voices.

The CD format opened up a whole new world of possibilities and prog supergroup Transatlantic managed to fill an album with a single piece of music, The Whirlwind, lasting 77 minutes. This may be an exception but the temptation to fill the available time on a CD, whether with a single track or a series of shorter tracks, is ever-present. Where should we stop? My brother Richard has specifically commented on Nad Sylvan’s 2015 solo album Courting the Widow, suggesting that as much as he likes the compositions, he finds it hard to reach the end of the album (it lasts just over 70 minutes.) I think Richard’s observation applies far more generally and that there’s no real requirement to release something over 50 minutes long. Before the 90s King Crimson came along I’ve held ‘Crimson days’ where I played all original (vinyl) releases one after the other; I’ve done the same for Yes and Pink Floyd but unless you have the time to dedicate to listening to music, there’s no point. I’m someone who believes in the importance of the album as a complete entity and that the running order described by the artist is sacrosanct yet I’m unsure if it’s the lives we lead (wake/commute/work/commute/eat/sleep/repeat) which is restricting our ability to fully connect with music or if the length of a CD album itself that we find hard to assimilate in a single sitting. Is this a generational thing affecting those of us who grew up happy to turn over an LP on the platter or is it a Page family thing? Yes magnum opus Tales from Topographic Oceans was derided for its length (amongst other things) and attracted criticism for passages regarded as ‘filler’, so would it have benefitted from a CD format, if that had been available in 1973, allowing it to be produced as a 60 minute-long piece of work? I like to think that the natural breaks afforded by changing sides and changing discs provide enough break to allow us to enjoy the full 80 minutes. Then again, as much as I enjoy Anderson/Stolt’s Invention of Knowledge which lasts around 65 minutes, I find it difficult to listen to from beginning to end on vinyl or in digital format; perhaps familiarity plays a large part and it’s not just the length of the album. I no longer have the time I once had to sit down and properly listen.




In fact there’s no perfect length of either a single track or of an album. The physical restraints of the 12” LP which allowed up to 27 minutes of music each side, has the capacity to hold music which can have any number of twists and turns, whether they’re presented as one piece or as a series of tracks. It’s not the length that counts – it’s the quality of the music itself.


By ProgBlog, May 21 2017 08:21PM

Yes, another trip to Genoa. The weekend had to be carefully planned: on call on the Thursday hastily rearranged; gig on Friday; Crystal Palace playing their last home game of the season with kick off at noon on Sunday...

My wife and I left on the 07.10 flight from Gatwick on Thursday morning and returned on the 13:25 flight on Saturday. It was a bit of a whirlwind stay but rather successful. Susan doesn’t come to the gigs so we spend as much of the remaining time getting around. Ideally we’d have been able to leave on the Sunday but the importance of the football match, with both Palace and opponents Hull involved in a relegation scrap, it was a game I was not prepared to miss.

After checking in at the hotel, the first stop was for coffee in a local bar, Caffé del Sivori before moving on for a bite to eat. We were then able to wander into the historical centre where, among the narrow lanes and small piazza, you can find the second-hand record, CD and book stalls. This was where I bought the 1997 Ulisse and the 2000 Serendipity CDs by PFM, along with Anthony Phillip’s Wise after the Event. The main shopping attraction however, was the small but perfectly formed Black Widow record shop in Via del Campo; specialising in progressive rock, psychedelia, heavy rock, ‘dark’ prog and folk. It turns out that the founders of the shop Massimo Gasperini, Pino Pintabona and Alberto Santamaria, used to come to Beanos in Croydon to buy stock and that the reputation of the store within the prog community is really high; the Prog Archives website published an interview with Massimo in 2010, remarking that he’s a friendly guy and I concur - I’ve had lengthy chats with both Massimo and Alberto on the occasions I’ve visited and can honestly say that their generosity, knowledge and graciousness are boundless. It’s easy to form a connection when you share a passion for the same kind of music, despite my lack of Italian.



You might wonder why such a small shop has such a big influence but part of the reason is because Genoa is at the heart of the current prog scene in Italy, with the emergence of a number of new bands seeped in the traditions of 70s progressivo Italiano, plus a renewed interest in the original bands, some of the most influential of which were based in Genoa (New Trolls, Delirium, Latte e Miele, Nuovo Idea, Garybaldi.) This historic connection must have influenced the foundation of the Centro Studi per il Progressive Italiano (in Genoa’s Pontedecimo district) who aim to create a comprehensive archive of material relating to Italian prog and build a complete database of material, but also study the material at a musicological level. The other part of the explanation is that Black Widow also operates as a record label, promoting new talent and, where possible, reissuing old classics. They play an important role in the live music scene, being instrumental in the Fiera della Musica which had been held in Genoa until the area, with buildings by local architect Renzo Piano, was scheduled for redevelopment. (Susan and I visited an exhibition of competitors for this redevelopment and, rather to my delight, one entrant included the cover of Atom Heart Mother in their presentation.)



Black Widow were putting on a Metal festival that weekend, though I was far more interested in their Prog Festival to be held in the old harbour from 14th – 16th July, featuring local and nearby acts Delirium and Il Cerchio d’Oro, prog from France and Norway and Nik Turner, formerly of Hawkwind, headlining on the Saturday.



I walked away from the shop with a selection of British and Italian prog on vinyl: The first Saint Just album (rereleased by AMS on green vinyl); Inferno by Metamorfosi, Acquiring the Taste by Gentle Giant, Future Legends by Fruupp, plus a second-hand copy of Quark, Strangeness and Charm by Hawkwind.


Daytime on Friday was spent in Alessandria, visiting the UNESCO World Heritage listed Cittadella, the most important hexagonal fort in Europe due the integrity of the site, though our access was restricted because there seemed to be some event being set up. We visited the W Dabliu record store but I didn’t buy anything there, however I did come across the first three editions of Prog Italia, bundled into one, for €12.99 which I had to buy, having spent the last three trips to Italy looking for copies of the magazine.

It’s become increasingly obvious to me that Friday night is the time for prog in this part of the country because the excursion had been organised to see a couple of bands, playing on a Friday, at la Claque; Finisterre and Ancient Veil.



I’d seen Finisterre as recently as the 31st March at the Z Fest in Milan, but I enjoyed this performance more. Maybe it was the theatre itself, with tables organised like a club rather than crowding the stage at Milan’s Legend Club (and where the space on stage was divided by supporting columns), or maybe it was that the recent exposure to the band had made me more aware of the material. Despite coming from Genova and performing around the world, Finisterre hadn’t played in their home city since 2004, so it must have been a rather emotional return. Their set list comprised of material from three of their four albums Finisterre, In Ogni Luogo and La Meccanica Naturale: Tempi Moderni, Anaporaz; La Maleducazione; Macinaaqua, Macinaluna; La Perfezione; Ninive, In Ogni Luogo and Coro Elettrico performed as a mini-suite with Edmondo Romano from Ancient Veil as guest; Ode al Mare; La Fine; Incipit; Phaedra; with chat, announcements and introductions made alternatively by Sefano Marelli and Fabio Zuffanti. The musicianship was sublime and despite the absence of anything from In Limine, my favourite Finisterre album, the set was perfect. If I had to make any complaint, it would be that from where I was seated, fairly close to the front and centre, I couldn’t hear Boris Valle’s keyboards too well but the overall sound was clear.

There was a poignant moment when Zuffanti introduced Davide Laricchia, the original vocalist for the band, to perform Macinaacqua, for which he wrote the words but left before he could appear on the first album. This track encapsulates the experimental approach of the group, interspersing classical motifs into some riff-driven prog, Marelli guitar effects and Agostino Macor electronics. The delivery was over-the-top theatrics along the lines of Alex Harvey, though the melodic denouement hinted at 70s The Enid, coalescing into classic Zuffanti material; Macor even used a xylophone on this piece. Their superb set ended with a medley of prog classics; a little bit of Interstellar Overdrive, 21st Century Schizoid Man and the Hackett-friendly portion of Firth of Fifth.



I first came across Ancient Veil after seeing an article about Eris Pluvia, and received Rings of Earthly Light as a Christmas present in 2012. Released in 1991, six years after the band formed, this is an uplifting piece of neo-prog which at times, thanks to the woodwind and reeds of Edmondo Romano, borders on prog-folk. The upbeat lyrics, all in English, and the calm, warm voice of guitarist Alessandro Serri help to give it an almost New Age feel but there are odd time signatures and sudden changes that would suit the most ardent of prog fans. Eris Pluvia disbanded in 1992 and Ancient Veil was formed by Alessandro Serri, Romano, with Fabio Serri on keyboards and they released one eponymous record in 1995, with music very much in the same vein as Eris Pluvia. Ancient Veil reappeared this year with bassist Massimo Palermo and drummer Marco Fuliano and the CD I am Changing. Remarkably, this presentation of their new album was the band’s first ever live performance and though there were a couple of hitches, technical and human, the audience was understandably forgiving. The material was set out in three blocks, commencing with The Ancient Veil, followed by Rings of Earthly Light and concluding with I am Changing but the material flowed seamlessly. I bought a copy of the CD during the interval between bands so I had not heard any of the new songs; I’d also not been able to lay my hands on a copy of The Ancient Veil but it would not be unfair to say that the composers have a distinctive style. Maybe their most recent material contains a hint of wistfulness? They also introduced a guest from the past, Valeria Caucino, who sang on Eris Pluvia’s Sell My Feelings and also appears on the new album, on the song Chime of the Times. And, just as Romano had accompanied Finisterre on stage, Zuffanti and Marelli returned the favour during In the Rising Mist, making four acoustic guitarists (along with Serri and drummer Fuliano); this summed up the camaraderie of not only the musicians gracing the stage that evening, but the Italian progressive rock community as a whole.



What made the evening special was a combination of great music and a sense of history; the return of Finisterre to Genoa after a considerable absence, and the first gig by a band who have long been praised in prog circles – a remarkable double bill and immensely enjoyable. I’m already preparing for my next trip...
What made the evening special was a combination of great music and a sense of history; the return of Finisterre to Genoa after a considerable absence, and the first gig by a band who have long been praised in prog circles – a remarkable double bill and immensely enjoyable. I’m already preparing for my next trip...

Postscript

Palace beat Hull 4-0 on an afternoon basked in sunlight, securing their tenure in the Premier Leaguue for another season. What a fantastic few days












By ProgBlog, Apr 9 2017 09:47PM

It’s just after 8.30 pm on Friday 31st March and the taxi driver is suggesting that I’ve given him the wrong address. He’s driven me somewhere well outside the centre of Milan (a taxi was much quicker than public transport) and I have to assure him that there really is a gig at the night club he’s just pulled up outside, Milan’s Legend 54.



It’s a slightly strange looking venue from the kerbside, with an array of pop-up food stalls and not much else, though there was music blaring from one stall. The woman at the cash bar stand informed me that tickets for the Z-Fest could be bought ‘inside’ only I had no idea how to get inside. It was obvious I had arrived at the right place because the improvised musical equipment storage rooms, made of the sort of tents that fit onto motor vehicles, contained not just the odd drum kit but also the organiser and bassist with the headline act, Fabio Zuffanti. By the time I’d circumnavigated the building a queue had formed at the entrance: €8 for three bands and three hours of quality music.

Going back a couple of months following an awful day at work in Whitechapel, I arrived home to search the internet for a weekend break. Realistically, I couldn’t have gone away the next weekend, so I calmed down and checked to see if there was anything prog-related coming up in the next few weeks that I could include in a short city break with my wife. Milan, 31st March to 2nd April, coinciding with the Zuffanti-organised Z-Fest and, with cheap flights at good times and a four star hotel with cheap rooms, was something I couldn’t resist.



Jumping forward again to last weekend, we ate an early evening meal overlooking the duomo from the terrace of the Obicà Mozzarella restaurant at the top of the Rinascente before making our way to a guided tour of Leonardo’s The Last Supper (in the former refectory of the convent attached to the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie) – an exceptionally pleasing attraction made all the better by our knowledgeable and irrepressible local guide. I escorted my wife back to our hotel before getting in the taxi...



When the gig was originally announced, the line-up included Cellar Noise, Christadoro, and Finisterre. The promo video for the 2017 Cellar Noise debut album Alight, an album produced by Zuffanti, was very promising and rather than import a copy, I had already decided to buy the CD (or LP, if available) at the show. The Christadoro album, another 2017 release, featured well-known Italian songs given a progressive rock makeover, not unlike the way Yes treated Simon and Garfunkel’s America. Fabio Zuffanti was involved with the concept and played bass with the band. I’d already bought the album on vinyl before reading the group were on the bill but later Facebook posts suggested they wouldn’t appear and that they had been replaced by experimental jazz-prog quintet Zaal. The Zaal connection with Zuffanti was via keyboard player Agostino Macor, an integral member of Maschera di Cera and other Zuffanti projects, though I’d never heard any music by them, unlike headliners Finisterre, as I own all their studio releases.

The evening conformed to what I’d come to expect from an Italian prog festival; it was running slightly late, there were interviews with luminaries including Stefano Agnini and Mox Christadoro during set changes, and the music was incredible. The club was pretty full and for almost all of the Cellar Noise performance I found myself standing next to drummer Paolo Tixi (Fabio Zuffanti’s Z-Band, Il Tempio delle Clessidre.) Cellar Noise were very, very good. Their live sound is heavier than on record but they played symphonic prog of the highest order, despite a couple of early technical hitches, taking us through their entire debut album and even appending a quotation from Höstsonaten’s Rainsuite to the track Monument, a nice gesture to Zuffanti, before delivering a magnificent encore of The Knife. It’s hardly surprising then, that Niccolò Gallani should come out with some Tony Banks-like synthesizer runs during their original material, or that Alessandro Palmisano should don a mask, and his between-song explanations could have been Peter Gabriel stories, especially as Alight is linked to the back cover story on Genesis Live via the London Underground. The Gabriel flute solo was covered by keyboard, with Palmisano sitting on the stage, miming the action of a flautist. Together with brothers Loris and Eric Bersan (bass and drums respectively) and guitarist Francesco Lovari, based on their excellent first album and the transfer to a live performance, there’s a bright future for this quintet.


Zaal played some challenging music and I suspect that since the original album La lama sottile, described on progarchives.com as a ‘delicately colourful type of progressive-oriented jazz-rock, highly melodic and yet mysterious’.they have become a little more hard-core, featuring some nice electric piano with a hefty dose of electronica. I have an enduring vision of Macor reaching over his Roland to a sequencer, the keyboard player forever moving, never staying still. I was reminded of circa Third Soft Machine with sax provided by Francesco Mascardi and trumpet by Mario Martini (El Trompeta), powered by the driving rhythms of Pietro Martinelli on bass and Andrea Orlando on drums (who would subsequently also play alongside Macor again for the Finisterre set); though at times they played some mesmerising jazzy space-rock grooves. I’ll be checking out their two albums on Mellow Records.



Finisterre have undergone many personnel changes over 25 years, behaving more like a musical collective than a band, although Zuffanti, Stefano Marelli (guitars) and Boris Valle (keyboards) remain core members. Tonight they were joined by Macor (who has a long history with the band) and Orlando, and the music was again heavier than on the albums. Tracks segued into each other so I found it a bit hard to follow but the musical trickery and alchemy between the members was remarkable. During an interview at Prog Résiste in 2014, Zuffanti dismissed his bass guitar skills, suggesting he was the least accomplished musician in his band (the Z-Band.) Up close, his work rate and dexterity reveal he was being too modest; his song-writing and his ability to pick amazing colleagues for his projects was never in any doubt.



The whole evening went very smoothly and it was amazing to witness such prodigious talent squeezed into 3 hours of performance, ranging from classic symphonic Italian prog to radical jazz-prog. I can’t wait to see next year’s line-up.


I got back to my hotel room in the early hours of the next morning, having failed to understand the message on a taxi firm answerphone and making my way across Milan by late-running public transport and a taxi from the Piazza del Duomo, but I didn’t get much sleep because we had to catch the 09:25 train to Como. The purpose of this day out was to assess the suitability of the lakes as a base for a longer family holiday, and Como. Only 47 minutes from Milano Central, seemed like a good place to start.

We were both suitably impressed by the architecture and the scenery but, I was once again amazed by the presence of really good record stores – every town we visit in Italy has somewhere that sells CDs and vinyl. First up was Frigerio Dischi on Via Garibaldi, before we’d seen anything of Como, where I spent some quality time going through the comprehensive Italiano section, picking out two CDs by Alphataurus (Attosecondo and Live in Bloom), a couple by Area (Maledetti and Event ’76, inspired by my attendance at Event ’16 in Genoa last October), Clowns by Nuovo Idea, La Via Della Seta by Le Orme, and PFM’s first album Storia di un Minuto on vinyl.


I could probably have bought more but travelling on Easyjet, with their cabin luggage restrictions, made me a bit wary. After an early lunch, sitting between the duomo and the rationalist Terragni Palace (the latter a modernist masterpiece, unfortunately once used as the Fascist Party headquarters but now the base for the Guardia di Finanza) we walked towards the waterfront and had to stop in Alta Fedità to browse through the vinyl, though Susan wasn’t at all impressed by the cover version of a Dead Kennedys song being played... The shop contained some rarities and some cheap, second-hand records, but there was nothing really which caught my eye, apart from a Support Your Local Record Store T-shirt.



We flew back on the Sunday, but not after a deviation for an architectural masterpiece (Torre Velasca) and a rummage through the extensive CD and vinyl in the branch of Feltrinelli in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II; I emerged with a copy of Il Rovescio della Medaglia’s English language version of Contaminazione, (Contamination) on vinyl.


The break was successful. Getting away from work had been a high priority, but combined with the opportunity to see some amazing music made it especially worthwhile.

It’s becoming ever more evident to me that the north west of Italy, Genoa and Milan, is the crucible of much of modern progressivo Italiano. My love affair with Italian music, architecture and scenery continues. I’ll be back











By ProgBlog, Oct 23 2016 05:48PM

Pink Floyd appear to be getting everywhere, setting themselves up as a cultural touchstone with a set of Royal Mail postage stamps commemorating their albums and live performances, and while there’s currently an exhibition at the Victoria & Albert museum You Say You Want A Revolution, Records and Rebels 1966 – 1970 which features the Floyd, there’s a dedicated Floyd exhibition at the museum planned for early next year. Despite their mass appeal and huge commercial success, Pink Floyd have been praised and derided in equal measure and though 2014’s The Endless River is likely to be their last release of ‘new’ material (the bulk of the record was from sessions with Rick Wright, who died in 2008) it’s only relatively recently that the surviving band members have shaken off their relative anonymity. Their sonic legacy stretches back an amazing 50 years so it’s neither unexpected nor unreasonable that their mark on the cultural landscape has acquired an establishment-like acceptance. The Guardian may not be the mouthpiece of the establishment but it’s as close to a voice of reason we’re going to get in the world of media and apart from the stories about the current and planned V&A exhibitions, it also put out a more politically relevant article about Gilmour, Waters and Mason at the beginning of the month. This explained their support for the Women’s Boat to Gaza, a group of women from all around the world who set off by sea from Barcelona to Gaza in October to highlight the virtual siege of Gaza, only to be intercepted by the Israeli navy resulting in the crew being arrested.




The Floyd machine ticks over nicely, revealing some astute business strategy planning. This has not only tied in with a fair number of the original generation of progressive rock fans of being of an age where they have a reasonable amount of disposable income with time to plug into the nostalgia business, but is also related to our appetite for youthful reflection with the upsurge in popularity of vinyl. I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve succumbed to the lure of freshly-pressed 180g discs; I’m more ashamed of having sold off my original LPs in the first place when I thought that remastered and repackaged CDs were the future. I treated myself to a new copy of Dark Side of the Moon just after Christmas, an edition that included the stickers and posters which had adorned my bedroom walls since 1973, and Atom Heart Mother and Meddle only a couple of weeks ago. My early Pink Floyd albums were bought between 1973 and 1975 and, apart from Wish You Were Here which I had to replace a couple of times due to its popularity amongst friends at my university hall of residence, were in what second-hand record shops refer to as ‘very good condition’, having been kept in plastic sleeves for much of their life and always handled with loving care. I don’t regret the remarkable rise in resale price of quality vinyl over the following twenty years but it is true to say that at the time I offloaded a large chunk of my collection to Beanos the Floyd were hardly valued currency, yet now you might pay £15 for a Dark Side or Meddle in good condition.

The just aired BBC4 documentary Pink Floyd Beginnings 1967 – 1972 was timed to coincide with the imminent release of the 27 disc box set The Early Years 1965 – 1972 and utilised some previously unreleased material from that collection, recently unearthed and enhanced. I really enjoyed this hour long film, mainly because it included some surprising footage such as the improvised piece Show Roland Petit, recorded in 1970 and shown on French TV in 1971 that presaged the Roland Petit Pink Floyd Ballet. There were also clips from two different performances of Atom Heart Mother, one with choir and orchestra filmed in Germany, one a band-only performance in France, both of which I found fascinating. The selection of film used also included the Syd Barrett-era band miming Jugband Blues in 1967 for London Line, a series commissioned by the government to promote London as a place for overseas investment. Jugband Blues is one of the tracks I tend to skip if I’m listening to A Saucerful of Secrets but watching the clip triggered an odd association. There are a couple of bars at around 1’56 into the track where the improvised brass reminds me of opening section Father’s Shout from the Atom Heart Mother suite. Atom Heart was one of my early Pink Floyd album purchases and is still one of my favourite Floyd albums, whatever criticism it has attracted from those involved in its gestation or from fans.




The recent vinyl reissue coincided with a large piece in the last edition of Prog magazine (Prog 70) and this suggests to me that the piece is having something of a favourable critical reappraisal. I think that Atom Heart Mother sits very nicely on the progressive span of the Pink Floyd timeline, with elements clearly linked to what had come before (think The Man and The Journey performances from the previous year and Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast, and the structure of the title suite and Echoes. The track A Saucerful of Secrets demonstrates a sonic lineage from the spacey, psychedelic improvisations of the Barrett era and forward to the solo tracks, most obviously the multi-part Sysyphus on Ummagumma; This was exploratory stuff which in turn set the scene for the band to work with an orchestra. I’d come into prog accepting the fusion of rock and classical, having been exposed to The Nice in 1972, and I remain in favour of the symbiosis of group and orchestra, though the use of the choir on Atom Heart Mother may have been the first time I’d knowingly come across a wordless choral piece, giving the track a cinematic scope which conjures images of prehistoric peoples and landscapes, quite the opposite to the rather futuristic sounding title. Whereas my original LP excluded Ron Geesin from the credits for the track Atom Heart Mother, this was corrected by the time of my 1994 CD. Composer and musician Geesin seems to have been an inspired choice for a collaborator, known to Roger Waters through a shared love of golf and having worked together on the film soundtrack Music from The Body (1970), because his orchestration is sympathetic to the band’s ideas and creates a remarkably cohesive whole, from overture, through development to reprise and denouement. I have to admit that I’m not over enamoured by side two. Psychedelic Breakfast is mildly amusing; a very Floydian experiment in sound effects punctuated by some decent ensemble playing, but If, Summer ’68 and Fat Old Sun all fall into a category I’d class as straightforward rock, uninspired and unchallenging, joined by all of side one of Meddle bar One of These Days, and the La Vallée soundtrack Obscured by Clouds.

I think the qualitative difference between compositions on the two sides of both Atom Heart Mother and Meddle reflect the differences between individual song writing and group collaboration. I have recently reappraised Piper at the Gates of Dawn and as much as I love the whimsy and the psychedelic nature of the songs with Barrett’s unconventional guitar and Wright’s dreamy organ tones, these songs don’t pretend to want to change the world or set themselves up as genre defining. That’s not intended to be a wounding criticism because I do like the first Floyd album, but it is of a certain time and place. It seems to me that the immediate post-Barrett period was somewhat difficult for the group, with Rick Wright initially taking on song writing duties, followed by Roger Waters. The route to success appeared when the band began exploring different sounds and alternative studio techniques, something that was easier to do as a group rather than as individuals, collaborations resulting in the first side of Atom Heart, the second side of Meddle, Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here. As ideas dried up, Waters shouldered responsibility for the bulk of writing but, though his ideas were undeniably grand, the lack of group input reflected on the quality of the output. The Atom Heart Mother suite was the first time the band collaborated on a side-long piece and it remains a classic 46 years later.






Atom Heart Mother was originally released in October 1970





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