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Updated: Jan 1, 2022

In mid-May I was in Dublin to see Steve Hackett and while I was there I indulged in some retail therapy. Tower Records in Wicklow Street had a really good prog section, actually labelled ‘Psychedelia’, which covered Italian prog and other continental acts in addition to the usual UK fare, plus some rarities. The mainstream acts such as Yes and Pink Floyd were in the main rock section, but there was an additional section devoted to Esoteric Records releases, and a reduced price rack that included almost the full catalogue of acts like Curved Air and Renaissance. This involved some serious browsing – and two trips – and I came away with Malesch by Agitation Free in a nice cardboard sleeve; Song to Comus, a double album by Comus; Song of the Marching Children by Earth and Fire; The Last of the Jubblies by England; a compilation by masters of Italian prog horror soundtracks The Fantastic Voyage of Goblin; Ashes are Burning by Renaissance; and The White Ladies by Trace. I also visited Spindizzy Records in Market Arcade in my quest for The Tain by Horslips, an Irish prog/psyche/folk album I fondly remember from my youth in the mid 70s. This was something of a haven for second-hand vinyl but they didn’t have a copy and I eventually managed to find a remastered and nicely packaged CD version in Freebird Records, part of The Secret Book & Record Store, up the road from Tower in Wicklow Street.

Freebird Records, Dublin

Tower really has to be commended for its coverage of the genre. If I had more money than sense I could have spent a great deal more. My copy of The Last of the Jubblies was released on the Relics label; a company who specialise in releasing lost classics – my son bought me Zero Time by TONTO’s Expanding Head Band from 1971, also released on the Relics label from Sydney’s Red Eye Records.

The first weekend in June was spent on a long weekend break in Tuscany. The Page family were based in Hotel San Ranieri, close to the airport in Pisa but only a 15 minute bus journey to the station and the city centre. Siena is less than two hours away by train and one day was spent exploring the medieval city. This included a stop in Corsini Dischi, Piazza Matteotti, 5. This had a smallish RPI section but I somehow managed to pick up CDs by PFM + Pagani (Piazza del Campo); the eponymous first album by Banco del Mutuo Soccorso (I’d previously only had mp3 files of this album); Le Orme’s 1976 offering Verita Nacosta; and Franco Battiato’s Pollution. The huge Battiato section was adjacent to the RPI section, and there was also a large Lucio Battisti section. Though the output of these two artists is not generally prog, both embraced the prog zeitgeist. Their styles are quite different; Battiato was an electronic music enthusiast, Battisti was more from the cantautori singer-songwriter tradition who got banned from radio because of his choice of contemporary topics and frank lyrics and who employed the talents of Quelli, the precursor to PFM. I try to stick to buying music by artists from the country I’m visiting, which by extension included asking my son to seek out some Cuban prog (Anima Mundi, Sintesis) while he was visiting the country for an architectural heritage conference earlier this year. To preferentially buy Le Orme CDs in their home town of Venice might be considered unnecessary, but where better to buy Piazza del Campo than in Siena?

Corsini Dischi, Siena

Pisa itself had two good stores: Gap Record Store (Via San Martino, 18), predominantly a vinyl emporium for collectors where they were playing Anima Latina by Lucio Battisti when we visited; and the deceptively large La Galleria del Disco (Via San Francesco, 96) right in the middle of the city. Gap did have a small CD selection, including a subsection for RPI. The one drawback was that the shop operates a cash only policy, so I limited my purchases to the highly regarded Inferno by Metamorphosi; the eponymous debut album by Cherry Five, considered as something of a rarity and much sought after due to the band’s conversion to giallo soundtrack masters Goblin. At the time of its eventual release no band actually existed with that name. It was recorded in 1974 but not released until 1976 under the group name Cherry Five to avoid confusion with Goblin who had had major success with Profondo Rosso in 1975; and the 1975 release by minor RPI act Il Volo, Essere O non Essere. I had a chat with the store owner Alessandro Magnani who is evidently a real music-lover and promised I’d mention the store on this blog.

GAP Record Store, Pisa

La Galleria del Disco had a good-sized rack devoted to RPI, but this was hidden in a room off the back of the shop. There was also a section of straightforward Italian groups which included another PFM selection. This was where I first stopped and picked up Mauro Pagani’s first two solo albums on one CD, for the princely sum of €6.90! In the back room, faced with an outstanding array of CDs to choose from, I turned to the bookstand for a guide to Italian progressive music, picking up Progressive Italiano by Alessandro Gaboli and John Brass. Though in Italian, the output by both major and minor players was included and marked out of 5. A reference to the marks for the bands I already owned provided me with enough confidence to make a wide selection of purchases: Mass Media Stars by Acqua Fragile; Nude by Garybaldi (both in nice cardboard sleeves); the self-titled album by Napoli Centrale; Abbiamo Tutti un Blues da Plangere by Perigeo; and the 1974 soft rock offering by Adriano Monteduro & Reale Accademia di Musica. I also bought the book!

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