Lean years for prog (part 3)
The rise of neo-prog coincided with my time at the Transfusion Centre, which largely passed me by. The absence of column inches dedicated to my old favourites meant that I no longer regularly bought anything from the music press and therefore missed out on seeing Marillion, the most successful of the neo-prog bands, though there were a few acts with a loyal live following struggling to get the attention of record labels, plying a form of music very closely related to classic 70’s progressive rock. My dalliance with the genre consisted of prevaricating about buying Marillion’s Script for a Jester’s Tear; recording a live radio broadcast of the Fugazi tour from Golddiggers in Chippenham in March 1984; buying the 12” single of Kayleigh b/w Lady Nina (extended version) sometime in 1985; buying the Garden Party 7” single (b/w Margaret) from a shop on Streatham High Road close to Prentis Road because it was cheap, although I’d gone to obtain a coverless copy of ELP’s triple live album Welcome back my Friends for £3 and The Enid single Golden Earrings b/w 665 The Great Bean (released 1980). I went to see The Enid a few times during this period and by chance got to see three of the bands in the movement’s vanguard, acting as support. Robert John Godfrey was happy to share a bill with IQ, Pendragon and Solstice but denounced Marillion in a diatribe during one show. The Enid had been reduced to a trio playing with what I could only describe as background tapes and apart from a couple of early numbers, I wasn’t over enamoured with their Brixton performance in May 1983. The Dominion concert in November was better but the next time I went to see them, performing The Key at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1984, was better still.
Someone gave me a copy of Marillion in Words and Pictures by Carol Clerk for a birthday in the early 90s and around this time, while seconded to work in Saudi Arabia for a few weeks, I bought an unauthorised Marillion compilation on cassette. Marillion is a shortened form of the band’s original name, Silmarillion, after the JRR Tolkien history of Middle Earth; I finally reappraised the lack of their music in my collection in 2008 and got Misplaced Childhood on CD, plus downloads of Script and Fugazi, all more recently replaced on vinyl, before exploring more of the genre. My copy of IQ’s Dark Matter (2004) was bought from their merchandise desk at a gig, together with The Road Of Bones (2014), adding to my 30th anniversary Tales from the Lush Attic CD (2013) and vinyl copies of Tales from the Lush Attic (1983) and The Wake (1985). I found a copy of Pendragon’s Masquerade Overture (1996) in a Barcelona record store for €9.95 and more recently invested in the Fly High Fall Far EP (1983) which represents the music I’d have heard them playing live. I’ve not got anything by Solstice who I saw in 1983 but I’ve got Twelfth Night’s Fact and Fiction (1982) and Live and Let Live (1984) on vinyl.
Subsequent to my rediscovery of UK neo-prog, a trip to Milan turned up Rock Progressivo Italiano 1980-2013 by Massimo Salari, a book which covers neo-prog and the 90’s progressive revival. My decision to buy Italian vinyl whilst visiting the country means I’ve unwittingly started to collect Italian music from the neo-prog era, the most prized being Ancient Afternoons (1990) by Ezra Winston, voted the best Italian album of the 90s by Prog Italia magazine, followed by Dopo l’Infinito (1988) by Nuovo Era and Heartquake (1988) by Leviathan, which were number 2 and number 7 respectively in Prog Italia magazine’s Italian albums of the 80s – Ezra Winston were first with Myth of the Chrysavides from 1988.
One of the criticisms hurled at Marillion in particular, was that they were just a rehash of early 70’s Genesis. Fish’s predilection for greasepaint and costume changes must have added weight to that argument but it was actually guitarist Steve Rothery who comes across as being most influenced by Genesis with a playing style based on Steve Hackett and Dave Gilmour and Andy Latimer. It’s also well documented how much Gabriel-era Genesis influenced the Italian progressive rock bands but that influence also affects Italian neo-prog, with much of Ancient Afternoons referencing the pastoral charm of Trespass; however, both Heartquake and Dopo l’Infinito have a more modern sound, more akin to UK neo-prog than 70’s classic progressive rock.
The five years I spent living around Balham and Streatham in a series of dreadful and even more dreadful flats included attendance at a variety of gigs, on my own or with work colleagues, from small pub gigs like Stan Tracey and Don Weller to stadium gigs, Roger Waters at Earls Court, and Peter Gabriel at Selhurst Park for an anti-apartheid benefit. I even won a copy of Three Sides Live and two tickets to a Genesis show in a radio quiz, sending in a postcard with the answer to the question: “On which track did Phil Collins first sing solo?” My response More Fool Me was accepted even though Collins is the lead singer on For Absent Friends from Nursery Cryme. I sold my spare ticket to a tout hanging around in the Hammersmith underpass and was delighted to find that no one sat in the seat next to me and later sold the (signed) album to a friend.
Though I did go to see former progressive rock acts including Camel, Genesis, David Gilmour, Steve Hackett, Jethro Tull, Roger Waters, and Yes between 1983 and 1985, the music was mostly not prog, with the possible exceptions of Hackett and Camel. King Crimson touring Beat demonstrated how progressive they were and Peter Hammill, who I went to see on consecutive nights, was startlingly original. I even dabbled in art-rock. I rather liked the Dominion Theatre with its comfy seats and decent acoustics and it never seemed to be full allowing you to choose where to sit for the best view or the best sound. The Dominion hosted Bill Nelson’s Invisibility Exhibition, a genuine multi-media event with the guitarist on brilliant form playing synthesizer and percussion in addition to his first-choice instrument over a backing rhythm and projections of 1950s art films.
My interest in active politics had also been reawakened so I was attending rallies and benefits, including a performance by most of the members of Henry Cow at the Bloomsbury Theatre, but by 1985 I was beginning to find it difficult to find enough suitable gigs to attend