Vital (originally posted 30/6/13)

By ProgBlog, Mar 28 2014 09:22PM

Barrow Civic Hall (now Forum 28) was a concert hall with decent acoustics and the venue for my earliest gig attendances. Despite the search capability of the internet the exact dates are lost in the mists of time, but I got to see a couple of the less famous prog bands there, England and Fruupp, both of which are now highly regarded in symphonic prog-fan circles. The England gig was organised by local arts group Renaissance Theatre Trust, and I managed to get thrown off stage by the RTT director, Denis McGeary when I tried to lead a stage invasion. Though I really enjoyed the performance I was still reluctant to part with hard-earned cash for their first album, Garden Shed, and I held the sleeve in my hands on many occasions whilst rummaging through the album racks in Blackshaw’s. The reduced hostility to prog in the late 90s saw Garden Shed emerge as something of a lost classic and as I’d started to acquire some disposable income I decided to buy what turned out to be a digitally remastered 20th anniversary edition on Si-Wan records. After clicking the ‘complete order’ button on Amazon it took about 4 weeks to arrive, but it was worth the wait. Many commentators have made Genesis comparisons, and though I disagree I can’t deny there is a distinct feeling of mini-opera about the 16-minute Poisoned Youth. I managed to find a copy of the second England album The Last of the Jubblies in Dublin, earlier this year and though the songs were composed around the same time as Garden Shed this was not released until 1997 and is regarded as more of a collection of out-takes and unfinished songs. Some commentators have criticised the variable quality production but my copy (Relics Records RELCD 3006) is of very acceptable audio quality throughout with clear, distinct instrumentation. It goes without saying that the quality of the songs is right up there with those on Garden Shed with hints of Genesis, Gentle Giant, slightly less Yes and even The Beatles. It would be nice to see the band release more copies of their 2005 special edition of Garden Shed that includes a booklet.

There’s a long-running project that is the third England album, Box of Circles. I picked up a “taster” specially put together for Mellofest 2 at London’s Luminaire in May 2009. This four-track sampler has Robert Webb artwork and a suggested release date for the full-length album of spring 2010. You should visit the England website to see how progress is going! Mine is number 194 of a batch of (I believe) 200. There’s also a chapter by Robert Webb in the Mellotron book compiled by Nick Awde (who was also at Mellofest 2.)

Fruupp were another of the more obscure prog bands, breaking the mould of the south-east England dominated scene and daring to come from Northern Ireland. Though their first and second albums Future Legends and Seven Secrets respectively, were readily available in Barrow’s record shops. My copy of Seven Secrets was bought from Wells record store in 1977 for £2.75 and I suspect it had been hanging around for some time. I’ve always thought it was probably one of the original pressings (the album was released in April 1974) coinciding with the 1973-74 oil crisis which resulted in a vinyl shortage. If you hold it up to the light you can actually see through the record which is tinted red, a phenomenon also noticeable in my copy of The Six Wives of Henry VIII, which was released in 1973. One of the reasons we didn’t often buy albums from Wells was that they used to commit audio sacrilege and actually wrote the retail price on the album sleeve.

I believe I went to see Fruupp twice, in February and June 1974. They had a decent following in Barrow and one of the local bands, drums provided courtesy of my friend Ian Henderson, used to perform cover versions of a couple of Fruupp songs.

Fruupp’s sound was symphonic prog, borrowing heavily from classical music (they used their own string section, Future Legends Strings) but with quite a medieval sound, with lyrics part inspired by mythology. Seeing them live may have made me part with my cash, but I was also influenced by the sleeve notes penned by production coordinator and co-lyricist Paul Charles which are what I would describe as cosmic. Right up my street!

Barrow was not a popular destination for bands so anyone interested in seeing bigger groups had to tap into the burgeoning university circuit. I went to see Barclay James Harvest at Lancaster University with a small group of school friends in a hired minibus (the Time Honoured Ghosts tour) and helped to organise a minibus to go and see Focus, also at Lancaster, during their Mother Focus tour. This gig (March 1st 1976) was memorable because it was one of the first shows following the departure of guitarist Jan Akkerman. London-born Belgian jazz guitarist Philip Catherine had been drafted in but despite being more than competent, I felt cheated that I’d not got to see the classic Focus line-up and, worse still, Catherine seemed to be playing along to a Revox tape machine. Bizarrely, there was a rumour circulating that Akkerman couldn’t play because he had the ‘flu. News of his departure from the band had not filtered through to us or the music press.

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