Yesterdays (originally posted 15/6/13)

By ProgBlog, Apr 20 2014 08:41PM

By the end of 1974 Tony and I had a combined collection of just over 20 albums. This may not seem very many but money was fairly tight. Apart from a badly-paid newspaper round and a cancer and polio research newsletter collection we had to wait for birthdays and Christmas for cash to buy music. Time and again we’d go into Blackshaw’s and think about buying something different. I’d held Aphrodite’s Child’s 666 in my hands many times without buying it, seduced both by a line-up that included Vangelis and the subject matter, and influenced by hearing the track The Four Horsemen on Alan Freeman’s radio show, though I was never convinced about the cover art. This appears to be signed M. Jubre but lyricist Costas Ferris has said that the band forgot to ask (artistic director) Gerard Fallec the name of the artist. When it came to parting with money we were reluctant to take a shot in the dark, demonstrating an innate unease with gambling - the shortage of ready funds made us very selective, or closed-minded – five of our twenty albums were by Yes, three by Pink Floyd and three by The Nice.

Contrary to the perception that prog fans were sad and lonely but actually to enable us to investigate the previously unknown, we actively engaged in temporary album swaps with friends to expand our horizons. Loaning out albums to school friends introduced me to early King Crimson. Neil Hayton (whose brother Keith was in Tony’s year) lent me In the Court of the Crimson King. Up to that point we’d only heard Red and Starless and Bible Black, so this album with its stunning cover (and an assistant engineer called Tony Page!) and amazing music shifting between the manic horror-metal of 21st Century Schizoid Man and the gentle musings of I Talked to the Wind and Moonchild via the doom-laden mellotron chords of Epitaph and the title track was an eye-opener. It was my next purchase after returning the borrowed copy. As friends’ tastes changed it was possible to buy their unwanted records. John Woodhouse became more interested in the smooth jazz of George Benson, so I relieved him of his former favourites Voyage of the Acolyte and Pictures at an Exhibition for a reasonable price. He had conscientiously looked after his vinyl, so I was far from unhappy with the arrangement.

The ritual of listening to music included multi-listening sessions for new acquisitions, poring over the sleeve and lyrics until they were committed to memory, no mean feat when you consider that a piece of work like Yes’ much maligned (but equally loved) double LP Tales From Topographic Oceans from 1973 contains some of the most obscure lyrics ever written. If there were no lyrics provided we would constantly replay sections until we’d worked out what was being sung. For a long time my copy of ELP’s Tarkus still contained my hand written efforts of the interpretation of words for the title track. Looking for errors in the printed lyrics was a kind of game, but even better, my copy of Relayer (a 1974 Christmas present) has the caption above the band photo in the wrong order and there was a black highlight over the music publisher that obscured the original text, which might say Yessongs. The photo caption was corrected on subsequent pressings and on CD releases.

At other times a group of us would gather in one of our houses to listen to music. We had the stereogram and a new Philips stereo; Bill Burford had a mono record player fitted with a stereo cartridge; Guy Wimble had a fairly nice stereo turntable in an under-used room that was always freezing cold, even in the height of summer. We’d all stay silent and attentive to each record and review it once it had finished, comparing it to other pieces of music we had heard and rating the performance of the individual musicians. Once we’d assimilated all the pertinent information about an album we would turn the lights off and listen in the dark. Rubycon by Tangerine Dream was absolutely brilliant when played in the dark. I received a pair of almost decent headphones for Christmas one year, not realising that my parents were trying to tell me something (I’d quickly learned to ignore my father asking “what’s that racket?” as he walked by the dining room where the Philips stereo system was installed.) After finishing my homework I could sit and listen to any racket I wanted without disturbing anyone.

One of the notable events to hit Barrow was the screening of Pink Floyd – Live at Pompeii. Directed by Adrian Maben and filmed in the amphitheatre at Pompeii in October 1971 the original edit only contained live recording. We went to see the subsequent edit, released in 1974, replete with footage from 1972 of the band in the cafeteria at Abbey Road studios and Dark Side of the Moon recording sessions. There were limited screenings and consequently the cinema was packed. Standing in the queue waiting to get in, I was genuinely worried that I’d not get a seat.

When I first travelled around Europe by train in the summer of 1980, Pompeii was a ‘must visit’ destination, so much so that I spent cold and clear night (according to my diary written at the time) sleeping on a platform bench on Pompei Scavi Villa Misteri station on the Circumvesuviana narrow-gauge railway. The idea was to enter the site when it opened at 9am in the morning, allowing a full day amongst the ruins. The buildings were very impressive, really well preserved and covering quite an extensive area and there were continuing excavations at various points around the site. The first stop was the amphitheatre, appearing slightly less well kept than in the Floyd film, with tiers of grass-covered steps. It’s staggering to think that we were witnessing a city that had been frozen in time for almost 1700 years, but I was also rather awestruck by walking through the stunning backdrop to Live at Pompeii which was ideally suited to the early, cosmic Floyd.

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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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