Journey from Belgium (30/4/14)

By ProgBlog, Apr 30 2014 09:26PM

Last weekend was spent eating frites and drinking excellent beer in Soignies, Belgium, where Jim Knipe and I were the only two Brits at the annual Prog Resiste festival. Last year we travelled outside the UK to see Steve Hackett and after the success of that trip, thought about making some kind of annual trip away somewhere to see some prog. We stayed in Mons, a 20 minute train journey away from Soignies but there was no choice of accommodation anywhere near the festival venue. Mons is the European capital of culture 2015 and is undergoing some major renovations in preparation for next year but a tour around the centre and the walk to and from the station hinted at an interesting and historic city. I’ve largely forgotten my school level French but Jim has travelled to the region on numerous occasions for his work and his command of the language was enough to get us by.

Prog Resiste was held over two days, commencing with a free al fresco gig by locals Keep it Deep at 1pm on Saturday 26th and closing with Italian band The Watch who began playing at around 9.15pm on Sunday 27th. A more full account will eventually be included in the gig review section but a brief overview will have to suffice for now. The event was hosted at the Victor Jara Cultural Centre where the auditorium holds around 300 people. Merchandise stands for the participating groups were arranged opposite the bar and catering facilities in the entrance hall and the interviews with bands were held in an upstairs bar area. A number of CD and vinyl retailers had stands in the ante room outside the entrance to the auditorium which represented the best array of prog music for sale I’ve ever seen. There was even an exhibition relating to Genesis’ first performance outside the UK, in 1971.

My interest in the event was originally sparked by the appearance of RPI stalwart Fabio Zuffanti on the list of artists, because I’m a dedicated follower of his music from Finisterre to La Maschera di Cera. The Flower Kings headlining on the Saturday and a recreation of the entire Foxtrot album by The Watch, closing the festival on the Sunday, were bonuses. However, the organisers had brought together an eclectic bunch of acts from around the continent. It became obvious that Lazuli were crowd favourites but there was a mix of prog and psychedelia, with a healthy dose of Canterbury and Zeuhl. The big surprise for me was the excellent Carpet from Germany who had obviously been influenced by all the different incarnations of King Crimson. Their music was dark, intricate and complex. I was probably most disappointed by the Flower Kings and, to a lesser extent, RPI band La Conscienza di Zeno because the Swedes are regarded as torch carriers for the resurrected interest in prog; LCdZ were billed as a band in the classic Italian symphonic tradition, but I feel they failed to deliver because the vocals weren’t very strong. The one instrumental track they performed was quite easily their best. They came across as a kind of neo-prog band. It was of note that the two Italian acts and the German Carpet introduced their material in English, though the official festival language was French, and actually there was a third Brit present, woodwind player Martin Grice who was appearing with Fabio Zuffanti – Grice is a member of progressive Italiano ‘A’ list band Delirium and was a guest musician on La Maschera di Cera’s Le Porte del Domani.

Congratulations must go to all bands for their performances but the event could not have been staged without the support of regional and local businesses and arts centres. The two days seemed to go very well, the beer and food running out just before the commencement of The Watch performance.

We travelled back on the Monday and Jim dropped me off with two hours to get ready for the next prog instalment, Rick Wakeman at the Royal Albert Hall, where I was to rendezvous with my prog mate Gina Franchetti and her brother-in-law Mike. After the Steven Wilson show last year I was not too unhappy about the venue, though space restrictions meant that the show wasn’t going to feature a full-on Roger Dean set. Our seats turned out to be pretty good; quite central and not too far from the mixing desk. The performance (which will be fully reviewed later) was split into two sections. The first was a short Wakeman-as-raconteur playing key pieces of music from his formative career. During this set he related stories about the five people who had been most influential through their helpful advice. He also introduced a couple of the musicians who would appear later, Hayley Sanderson and Ashley Holt. The second set was a full performance of Journey to the Centre of the Earth, the first time it has been played in full since the original tour in 1974. During the interval between sets I espoused my theory how Journey isn’t really progressive rock. It certainly has prog ambition but the only musician associated with the original album worthy of the prog mantle is Wakeman himself. The first set was Wakeman being humorous, playing to his celebrity image which is most definitely not prog. Progressive rock is supposed to be humourless and highbrow – just ask NME journalists. Though I’ve seen him do whole shows where he tells stories from his rather colourful past interspersed with pieces of music, and enjoyed the performances, on this occasion I was hoping for a bit more music. One of his jokes ridiculed the Japanese accent and that made me cringe. It’s not funny and it’s not acceptable. I like my music to be serious and would argue that the silly titles of Hatfield and the North pieces do not detract from the complexity of the music.

The performance of 2012’s extended Journey was mostly good. Some of Wakeman’s keyboards were under-mixed but the tones were, for the most part, in keeping with original analogue sounds. Ashley Holt missed vocal cues and the orchestral harmony lines sounded out of key in a couple of places, though I have to admit I do like the way Wakeman has scored the piece.

It seemed to me that this was more of a musical spectacle than a rock concert. Hayley Sanderson can sing but her style is unsuited to prog. She’d be really good in an Andrew Lloyd Webber production because the arrangements for her vocal parts were like something for a West End show, a piece of musical theatre rather than a gig. I don't like musicals and had just spent two days listening to some quality, challenging music. I wanted a gig, so this was something of a deflationary experience. This was compounded by the encore, an abridged rehash of the latter stages of Return to the Centre of the Earth that sounded too much like Journey. The house lights remained dimmed after the encore and I was expecting a second encore but the crowd started to filter out of the hall and it was only half past ten...

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I was lucky enough to get to see two gigs in Italy last summer while the UK live music industry was halted and unsupported by the government, and the subsequent year-long gap between going to see bands play live has been frustrating - but necessary.

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