ProgBlog

By ProgBlog, Sep 14 2021 09:55PM



A year after my last attendance at a live music event, 346 days to be precise, I finally got to see bands playing again. I bought my ticket for Steve Hackett at Croydon’s Fairfield Halls, my local medium sized venue, due on Monday 4th October and thought that this was going to be the first gig of 2021 but I’d totally forgotten about the rearranged and re-rearranged HRH Prog X at the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire which took place over the weekend of September 4th and 5th. An indication that the country is genuinely gearing-up to what musicians, the support crews and fans hope will be business as usual was the presence of flyers at the venue, advertising another multi-band gig before I get to see Hackett – A Sunday in September at The Bedford, Balham SW12, and I’ll be heading off there too on the 19th, to see Abel Ganz, The Emerald Dawn, The Gift, IT, Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate and Tom Slater.


Business as usual? I’m not a fan of how the government has handled the Covid pandemic and I’m pretty sure that Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid were delighted to announce the end of all public health restrictions in England on July 19th, in effect washing their hands of responsibility for what has turned out to be a sharp rise in Covid-related cases and concomitant hospitalisations and deaths. How much would it cost to enforce mask wearing in enclosed spaces and to maintain measures to ensure physical distancing? It was interesting to note that during the Prime Minister’s statement on Afghanistan in Parliament all but six of the Tory MPs crammed onto the government benches were without facemasks, while almost all the opposition MPs were masked and observing some degree of social distancing. This was on a day when 41192 new cases of Covid infection were recorded along with 7606 Covid patients in hospital and 45 Covid-related deaths; if this is to be the new normal, I don’t really want to be a part of it. I’d rather gigs were postponed and all those in the industry were properly supported – the furlough scheme hardly touched musicians and the industry that supports live music. A truly radical Chancellor of the Exchequer would have used the pandemic to introduce a Universal Basic Income for all.


The Covid-prevention measures in place at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire were rational and well-organised. ‘Rock The Mask’ posters were everywhere and the organisers had sensibly signed up to the use of the so-called Covid Passport. The prog-watching demographic should mostly be covered by double vaccination and I like to think that if you think about your music you’re also likely to think about the benefits of being vaccinated and maybe subscribe to the view that it’s pretty important to ensure the rest of the world gets vaccinated before we head any further down the road to the old normality. Let’s be quite clear here, as much as I’ve missed being in Italy I’m not happy about travelling while cases continue to rise in the UK and less than 30% of the world’s population is double vaccinated. The virus is still circulating and sooner or later a vaccine-avoiding variant is going to emerge unless we respond globally, and quickly. Individuals need to get a grip – write to your MP and tell them to put people before the economy. I’d be happy for a circuit-breaker if that becomes necessary, on the condition that the Prime Minister, Chancellor and Culture Secretary all acknowledge how much the UK music industry generates for the economy and ensure that no one in the business slips through the support net again if live music has to temporarily stop.


My previous HRH Prog experience (HRH Prog 4 in 2016) was something of a mixed bag. The venue was fine, especially if you were in one of the apartments rather than a mobile home, and there is a lot to see in the Welsh countryside around the Hafan y Mor site when not listening to music. However, a major complaint aired by the three travellers in the car heading home at the end of the weekend was ‘where was the prog?’ I don’t mean to get into a ‘what is prog?’ argument but the unannounced replacement of Curved Air with Purson was a major disappointment because Purson played psychedelic-tinged rock. And who ever labelled Edgar Broughton as progressive rock? On the other hand, I did enjoy Caravan, Soft Machine, Focus and Ian Anderson though I’d certainly have been more reluctant to sign up to the event back in 2020 if I’d known I was going to see the line-up as it appeared this year.


Ticking off Soft Machine in 2016 was a milestone. Without any of the original members they were still worthy of the band name, with John Marshall, Roy Babbington and John Etheridge all having served time in the outfit during the 70s when the line-up was in near constant flux. This year’s equivalent was getting to see Colosseum, a band I've not seen before on my list as a ‘must-see’. I probably heard Colosseum II before I heard any original Colosseum and my collection still only consists of the Daughter of Time compilation CD and Valentyne Suite on vinyl, so my appreciation of the band, without Jon Hiseman who died in 2018 and Dick Heckstall-Smith who died in 2004 but also missing Dave Greenslade who retired in 2015 was largely going to be based on unknowns. Long-standing guitarist and bassist Clem Clempson and Mark Clarke were present along with vocalist Chris Farlowe, accompanied by Malcolm Mortimore (ex-Gentle Giant) on drums, Kim Nishikawara on saxophones, and Nick Steed on organ. I loved the two instrumentals at the start of the set but I'm not a fan of blues-rock which unfortunately made up the majority of their material, so I was a little disappointed with the rest of the performance, even though the playing couldn't be faulted.

One useless fact I picked up was Clempson and Farlowe are fans of the venue because neither had too far to travel; Clempson lives about 200m away!



Ozric Tentacles were another band I'd not seen before and one where I'd toyed with the idea of buying one of their early albums – my local second-hand record shop had a copy of Pungent Effulgent but by the time I’d made up my mind to obtain it, someone had got there before me. Suffice to say it wasn’t quite what I was expecting and no psychoactive substances on the planet could have helped me comprehend the music even though I’d describe myself as an old hippie. I thought it lacked tonality and was a little shambolic, exemplified by former member-now guest synth player Joie Hinton who couldn’t get his keyboard rig to work.



On Sunday the first act of note was Bram Stoker, a band formed in the late 60s who would acquire a 'Progressive-Classical-Rock-Gothic-Psychedelic Rock' tag over the next three years, later categorised by Black Widow Records’ Massimo Gasperini as 'dark prog'.

This was an enjoyable set dipping into the band's past - they disbanded in 1972 and reformed in 2009 but underwent a personnel change in 2014 and again in 2019, the one constant being Tony Bronsdon on keyboards. I recognised Fast Decay, Like Autumn Now and Joust from Cold Reading (2014), a collaboration with Tony Lowe which revisits a little of the material from the debut album, and having recently read Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, dubbed 'the first Gothic novel', loved Otranto from the 2019 album No Refection.



Atomic Rooster were another band I’d wanted to see and another band where I’d thought about buying either the eponymous debut or Death Walks Behind You because of their importance in the prog canon, but I’ve always been put off by their blues roots.

Formed in 1969 after splintering from The Crazy World of Arthur Brown (the preceding act at the festival, skipped for a trip into Shepherd’s Bush for something to eat), organist Vincent Crane was the only constant member of Atomic Rooster in a perpetually changing line-up until his death in 1989. His widow gave permission for the band to reform in 2016 with sometime members Pete French (vocals) and Steve Bolton (guitar), plus bassist Shug Millidge and drummer Bo Walsh, and the 2017 recruit Adrian Gautrey on organ, who managed to fill some pretty large boots. At the end of the set I was still reluctant to take a chance on one of the albums.



I hadn’t intended to listen to the Threshold performance but sat through what I thought was pretty uninspired prog metal. The bass was quite upfront, not necessarily a bad thing, but the keyboards were terribly under-mixed resulting in music lacking variation, more metal than prog despite the theatrical delivery. Johanne James’ drumstick twiddling deserves a mention because there was an awful lot of it!



The headline act was The Enid, who I’d been listening to since the mid-late 70s but didn’t get to see them play live until 1983 and witnessing The Spell premiered at the Hammersmith Odeon. I most recently saw them with Joe Payne in 2014 in Balham and 2016 at HRH Prog 4 and was disappointed on both occasions, but their performance at HRH Prog X was by far the best I've seen, including the poignant In the Region of the Winter Stars - a rearrangement of the familiar Summer Stars.



The Enid provided an excellent end to the weekend as HRH Prog X marked the beginning of a return to live prog. I’ve done my best to follow the scientific advice to minimise the spread of Covid and there was a feeling that most of the audience, certainly the others with VIP tickets on level 2 where face masks were evident if not always covering mouths and noses, took the step to normality with an appropriate degree of caution. The musicians were obviously relieved to be performing once again but I really don’t think we should rush into getting back to live events as they were up to March 2020, abandoning mitigating measures put in place to prevent the spread of the virus. Sure, the pandemic has been dragging on for 18 months now and we’re all getting antsy but it’s a careful approach, taken by each and every one of us, which will ensure we do finally emerge from the coronavirus nightmare without losing more family, friends and musicians unnecessarily.











By ProgBlog, Dec 31 2020 11:34PM

Like something out of a Hollywood apocalypse movie, 2020 descended into the stuff of nightmares during March when Sars-CoV-2 viral infections spread unconstrained around the world, and ten months later we’re still far from getting out of an unprecedented situation for our times, with Christmas marking the potential onset of a third spike of cases.

There’s no denying that most governments appeared to be putting the welfare of their citizens ahead of any other concerns in March and April. Some may have been a little slow to get off the mark but as deaths increased, huge sums of money were thrown at building, opening and equipping new hospitals, and attempting to acquire PPE for frontline staff in the other hospitals. Even Free-Market finance ministers came up with furlough schemes to protect businesses from closure and to ensure employees were ready for the return to work once the pandemic had passed. Unfortunately for those of us in the UK, there were gaping holes in the provision of protective equipment to those that needed it, there were mixed messages with policy seemingly made up on the hoof, there were no staff to run the new hospitals, local public health expertise was ignored and following the introduction of new test kits, marred by a shortage of reagents, positive contacts weren’t effectively traced by a centralised team. Politicians began to lie. They split into factions, those for or against restarting the economy before the pandemic was fully over; there was a push to get children back to school without the provision of adequate safeguards. The Free-Marketeers won the day and restrictions were lifted – before it was safe to do so.


All parts of the hospitality sector suffered but the music industry was as badly affected as any. In response, the UK government eventually put together a Culture Recovery Fund, a welcome if late move, and in the devolved nations some of the money went to individuals. In England, the money was directed at organisations and venues. John Harris, writing in The Guardian says the Musicians Union has estimated that 70% of its membership is unable to more than a quarter of their pre-pandemic work and that 87% of musicians will earn less than £20000 this year.

With no performance option, revenue has had to come from the artist’s recorded output. Unfortunately, physical sales have been declining for years and the current industry model for distribution of music is based on streaming, where the dominant platforms have been under attack for their derisory musician’s remuneration. Fortunately, prog has historically had a core of dedicated fans that seem far more willing than most to purchase an LP or CD. In fact, despite the pandemic, 2020 saw the release of some quite incredible music. Home studios and file sharing played a major part which is nothing new, but a temporary relaxation of restrictions also allowed musicians to meet up. That there has been such a quantity of quality prog is still a surprise, given the inevitable anxiety over artists’ livelihoods and their concerns for family and friends. It’s hard to believe the creative process wasn’t adversely affected by the pandemic.



ProgBlog has been in the fortuitous position to be introduced to some of these releases, much of which goes under the radar, even escaping the journalists at Prog magazine who once again have done an admirable job reporting on all aspects of prog music, even delving into the far-flung corners of interconnected sub-genres. As is traditional at this time of year, I’ve revisited submissions to ProgBlog, recommendations, releases by bands I’ve been lucky enough to get to see live in a year when there really hasn’t been a great deal of live activity, plus other gems that I’ve come across while continuing my musical research, and I’ve decided on my album of the year.

Actually, my favourite album of 2020 is jointly held by Italy’s La Maschera di Cera with S.E.I. and Norway’s Wobbler with Dwellers of the Deep. Both came out well into the latter half of the year, suggesting that at least part of the production process was carried out well into the pandemic. Compare that to another of ProgBlog’s ‘recommended’ 2020 releases, Worlds Within by Raphael Weinroth-Browne which came out in January, before almost everyone had heard of Covid-19 (more about Worlds Within can be found here: https://www.progblog.co.uk/discovery20-worlds-within/4594865353)

So what is it about S.E.I. and Dwellers of the Deep that puts them at the top of the list? By sheer coincidence my copies are both on green vinyl, but the reason it’s hard to decide which I find most enjoyable is another facet they share: they both reference 70s prog without sounding derivative. There’s a narrow line between imitating bands from the golden period of progressive rock and utilising the sonic template of those acts while sounding relevant 50 years later, and both La Maschera di Cera and Wobbler manage to sound fresh. The Italians have been playing as a unit since 2001 but S.E.I. is only their sixth album, presumably due to other musical commitments (see Zaal, below), and while the style and palette are clearly related to classic progressivo italiano bands, the writing and production easily transcends the earlier era, and the group stands out for its lack of lead guitar and lashings of idiosyncratic flute. The new album is their best yet, and a full review of S.E.I. can be found here: https://www.progblog.co.uk/la-maschera-di-cera-sei/4595073765

Wobbler came into existence in 1999, and are now on album number five. They also have a distinctive sound, propelled like a fair few other Scandinavian bands, by trebly Rickenbacker bass. Unashamed to signal their influences, there’s more than a hint of early 70s Yes in their music, lyrical themes and song titles, but they maintain their relevance with an intangible sensibility, a vaguely menacing quality that I associate with Norse myths. Dwellers of the Deep is full-on prog.


Recommended releases of 2020

Wobbler and La Maschera di Cera are both well-established acts (though Prog stubbornly refuses to write an article on La Maschera di Cera), as is another of my favourites for 2020. The Red Planet by Rick Wakeman and the English Rock Ensemble, delayed by problems ‘with the supply chain’, presumably Covid-related, was promised by Wakeman to be a 70’s keyboard-laden instrumental prog album along the lines of The Six Wives of Henry VIII. From the music to the gatefold sleeve, he delivered in full. The review can be seen here: https://www.progblog.co.uk/rick-wakeman-the-red-planet/4594979105




Rick Wakeman's The Red Planet - How prog is that?
Rick Wakeman's The Red Planet - How prog is that?

Less well known but highly recommended is the UK-Italian collaboration Zopp, multi-instrumentalist Ryan Stevenson and Leviathan drummer Andrea Moneta, whose debut Zopp from April is a natural successor to the Canterbury sounds of National Health.


Zopp by Zopp - The new sound of Canterbury
Zopp by Zopp - The new sound of Canterbury

Zaal is a prog-jazz project fronted by La Maschera di Cera keyboard player Agostino Macor. I was lucky enough to catch a rare performance by the band in 2017 where I detected Third-era Soft Machine influences but Homo Habilis, released in October incorporates a world-jazz vibe and at times reminds me of the Mahavishnu Orchestra featuring Jean-Luc Ponty. I’d suggest any fan of La Maschera di Cera or Finisterre would like this album.


Zaal - Homo Habilis
Zaal - Homo Habilis

The recently-formed Quelle Che Disse il Tuonno from Milan mix well-known progressivo italiano names like guitarist Francesca Zanetta and the up-and-coming, like Niccolò Gallani and in March’s Il Velo dei Riflessi they’ve produced a mature, well-balanced modern symphonic RPI album which would appeal to anyone who likes Cellar Noise or Unreal City.


Quelle Che Disse il Tuonno - Il Velo dei Riflessi
Quelle Che Disse il Tuonno - Il Velo dei Riflessi

Mention must also go to Phenomena by ESP Project. Since launching ESP Invisible Din in 2016, Tony Lowe has steered the band through five albums of beautifully written, played and produced music, drifting from full-blown symphonic prog to post-rock. Phenomena falls mainly in the latter category but it’s exquisitely layered and an integral part of ESP canon. See the review here: https://www.progblog.co.uk/esp-project-phenomena/4595049609


The albums listed above form a very small part of the music from 2020 that I’ve been listening to, and the bands that I’ve not mentioned all deserve credit for keeping going during trying times – I’ve enjoyed your contribution, too. A couple of bands who might have been in with a shout of an appearance in this year’s list are Gryphon, whose Get out of my Father’s Car is on vinyl pre-order, and Beaten Paths by Vincenzo Ricca’s The Rome Pro(G)ject IV, another album where I’m waiting for a release on vinyl.

The pandemic may not have ended but there are signs of hope if we stick to the public health guidelines and the vaccines prove to be effective.

Anywhere there’s music, there’s hope








By ProgBlog, Dec 15 2020 07:43PM

Christmas 2020 looks like being a very different celebration this year, coming after more than ten months of grappling with SARS-CoV-2. There’s nothing at all good about Covid-19 with more than 68 million cases worldwide and over 1.5 million deaths (as of 10/12/20); it has exposed a failure to prepare for a pandemic and the shortcomings of some of our world leaders; name-calling and displays of patriotism were never statesmanlike but in the current crisis, even less so. If there’s one silver lining to the cloud, it’s exemplified by the collaborative approach to firstly designing test kits to detect presence of Covid-19, and then producing effective vaccines against this coronavirus. The novel mRNA vaccine should give hope to anyone suffering from a range of other existing diseases that don’t yet attract funding for vaccine research.


Matt Hancock speaking in the House of Commons
Matt Hancock speaking in the House of Commons



Professor Chris Whitty at a Downing Street Daily Press Conference
Professor Chris Whitty at a Downing Street Daily Press Conference

For those who value ‘the economy’ over an individual’s wellbeing, the salutary lesson is that an economy only functions when people have jobs and their earnings are used to buy things, so everyone’s wellbeing should be the highest priority. Global interest rates are so low it doesn’t matter how much a government borrows to secure the livelihood of its citizens but some nations, like the UK, have staggered from one policy to the next with a dogmatic myopia, arguing over pennies for food vouchers and haggling over a rise in income support while handing out billions to unqualified friends without the usual scrutiny. Can anyone be surprised that these ‘jobs for the boys’ have proved a gargantuan waste of money?



Dido Harding facing questions from the Health and Social Care Committee
Dido Harding facing questions from the Health and Social Care Committee

Though a vaccine is obviously going to be the most important measure to eradicate the virus, the simple things like hand sanitation, face coverings and social spacing still have a crucial role to play, as does clear communication of a long-term strategy and the political will to make difficult choices. Here in the UK, the nationwide Christmas amnesty from the Covid-19 restrictions is possibly the most foolhardy idea the government has come up with, following on from a late initial lockdown, an early lifting of restrictions (largely due to the erosion of the good will and understanding of the general population following Johnson’s unwillingness to sack Dominic Cummings after a clear breach of the regulations at the time), the tiers which didn’t work, and the delayed second lockdown.

The government is looking for a boost from an elusive feel good factor even though only 10% of the population think government regulations are too harsh (49% thought they weren’t strict enough) but when guidelines are eased, the rate of infection increases, and Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s gamble reward our endurance and coincidentally help the hospitality sector has only proved to be an expensive way to help spread the virus. With unprecedented job losses taking money out of the economy and uncertainty surrounding the control of the virus, Christmas preparations have been delayed and any window of opportunity to hit the streets to shop has highlighted our inability to follow the most basic public health instructions.


Rishi Sunak at a Downing Street Daily Press Conference
Rishi Sunak at a Downing Street Daily Press Conference

Recent communal Eid and Diwali celebrations were suspended, so why are we relaxing rules for Christmas gatherings during a second spike of the disease when we’re pretty sure it will lead to a third spike? There will be many parents genuinely unable to pay for presents and a large number who will still buy gifts they can’t afford, not through fecklessness, but because Covid-19 arrived on the back of 10 years of austerity; Conservatives pursued austerity policies and the current administration is filled with neoliberal zealots who are totally incapable of handling the pandemic, a Cabinet tied to the notion that Christmas spending will somehow save the economy.


Boris Johnson at a Downing Street Daily Press Conference
Boris Johnson at a Downing Street Daily Press Conference

I'm not religious but I accept that some people ascribe meaning to this time of year although their belief is being trampled by the out-of-control machine dedicated to profit. The hostilities between parties advocating the commercialisation of Christmas and traditionalists pushing their views on religious significance has been raging since the height of the cold war, when the ideological conflict was being fought over consumer goods as much as the race to over-stock with nuclear arms. Fifty years ago, the West fought dirty with propaganda directed at housewives, seducing them with a wide range of appliances and products on supermarket shelves that they were obviously unable to live without. The East failed to deliver promised social equality because money was poured into the military-industrial complex rather than into basics. Despite, or rather because of planned obsolescence, the West won the day, granting us the power to consume. Then along comes 2020’s Covid pandemic which seems to have defeated the proponents of consumerism and left the Church searching for answers.


The live music industry has ground to a halt. I managed to attend two events in Genoa, the Porto Antico Prog Fest in July, just as the UK was emerging from lockdown and Italy had shown that it was possible to overcome the first wave of the pandemic with a strict lockdown, and the Abracadabra Festival in September, just before the UK had to impose tiers of restrictions and the Italians hadn’t quite started their second spike. It was a relief that musicians could continue to write, record and release new music, but promoting new material is reliant on gigs. Live music has its own economy which creates billions for the exchequer, a workforce behind the bands and a network of venues, all of which had to be closed. It’s ironic that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport were holding a select committee inquiry into the economics of music streaming while artists and support staff have not been provided with any sort of bail-out because of the way they slip between the holes in the safety net.

I wouldn’t suggest it’s unreasonable to ban concerts and other forms of human congregation because this is a measure that will save lives. The unacceptable cost of restricting our normal behaviour is when lockdown results in a loss of income for workers, ignoring the very real concerns of millions of self-employed and those on zero hour contracts, and anyone that doesn’t fall under the key worker banner. Many musicians fall into this category, as do others working in the industry such as road crew and studio technicians. Sunak’s forced U-turns on support are an indication that he cares more about the state of the country’s finances more than he does for the people who generate the wealth and when he reluctantly concedes ground, he is still far less generous than the finance ministers of most major economies and incapable of ensuring money goes to the people who need it.


What am I wishing for this year? A solution to the pandemic, full financial support for sectors forced to close along with anyone who has lost their job or is unable to perform their normal work due to Covid-19, and peace on earth (yes, really!)

To the government: Save livelihoods. Save lives. The economy will then take care of itself.

I wish everyone else the best Christmas possible under very difficult circumstances.







By ProgBlog, Sep 30 2020 10:01PM

A list of recent past, present and future happenings in the prog world


13 – September 2020


The last ProgBlog Diary was back in June, when there was some hope of countries around the world opening up again to international travel and allowing live music. Unfortunately the opening of schools and universities in the UK has coincided with a new surge in cases and much of the live entertainment industry remains closed, with no sign of being able to restart and no real signs of support for those employed in the sector from the government. The two rays of hope are that some international travel is possible, and musicians have found ways to continue to write, record and produce music


Recent additions include the delayed new ‘70s keyboard prog’ album from Rick Wakeman pre-ordered from Music Glue which turned out to be well worth the wait, and the delayed reissue of Finnish bassist/multi-instrumentalist Pekka Pohjola’s second solo album ordered through Burning Shed, but they were predominantly sourced from a trip to the local second-hand store Wanted Records in Beckenham, some birthday gifts, and two trips to Genoa:

The Red Planet (vinyl) – Rick Wakeman; Water Bearer (V) – Sally Oldfield; Verità Nacoste (V) - Le Orme; Intorno alla mia Cattiva Educazione (V) – Alusa Fallax; ΠOΑ (V) – Blocco Mentale; Campo di Marte (V) – Campo di Marte; Warmed Space Blue (V) – Ingranaggi della Valle; Preludio, Tema Variazioni e Canzona Colonna Sonora del film Milano Calibro 9 (V) – Osanna; Istinto (CD) – Jus Primae Noctis; Metamorphosis (download) – Zopp; Birdy OST (V) – Peter Gabriel; Direct to Disc (V) – FM; L (V) – Steve Hillage; Phenomena (CD) – ESP Project; A Day at the Beach (V) – Airbag; GoGo Penguin (CD) – GoGo Penguin; A Genesis in My Bed (book) – Steve Hackett; Tracks and Traces reissue (CD) – Harmonia & Eno '76; Harakka Bialoipokku (V) – Pekka Pohjola; Akasha (V) – Akasha; Fiori di Metallo (V) - I Califfi; Hypnagogia (V) Khadavra; Destinazioni (V, test pressing) – Melting Clock; Clowns (V) – Nuova Idea; Autumn Shades (CD) – Giorgio Fico Piazza; Castles, Wings, Stories and Dreams (V) – Paolo Siani; A Piedi Nudi sull’ Arcobaleno (CD) – Sintonia Distorta; Alienatura (V) – Il Tempio delle Clessidre; L’Uovo di Colombo (V) – L’Uovo di Colombo; S.E.I. (V) – La Maschera di Cera; Selling England by the Pound & Spectral Mornings Live at Hammersmith (V) – Steve Hackett



Reviews II



ProgBlog reviews have now spilled over on to a new page, Reviews 2, which can be accessed from the Reviews tab. In addition to new reviews, there are edited blog posts that now appear as standalone items, some of which may also have been posted on the Progarchives.com site under my agnenrecords profile, and the scope has been widened to include book reviews and edited versions of other reviews written for sites such as Amazon, also under the agnenrecords name.



The recent past


Gig review - 2020 Porto Antico Prog Fest, Piazza delle Feste, Genova 11/7/20




Though the UK has not yet opened up the music festival sector, and may not be able to with the current rise in Covid-19 infections, outdoor gigs have recommenced in Italy. Fortunately, the ‘air corridor’ between Britain and Italy opened up just in time for the 2020 Porto Antico progfest, and ProgBlog was able to catch a flight from London Stansted to Genoa and stay in the well-prepared NH Genova Centro hotel. The concert, a full evening of progressivo italiano, featured the legendary Balletto di Bronzo supported by local Genovese bands Il Segno del Comando and Jus Primae Noctis.

If the measures in place to minimise the spread of Covid-19 were impressive, temperature checks, social distancing enabled by reducing the venue’s capacity by 50%, compulsory face masks, and multiple hand gel stations, then the music was even more impressive. Though I’m not at all sure about naming a band after the supposed legal right of a medieval lord to have sex with subordinate women on their wedding night, Jus Primae Noctis played sophisticated layered symphonic prog, taken from their just-released CD Istinto. Unfortunately, for the last couple of years of the progfest the sound has been suboptimal for the support acts, and some of the complexity of the music was lost, but they’re certainly a band to listen out for.




There are links between Jus Primae Noctis and second act on the bill Il Segno del Commando, but given the tight-knit nature of Genoa’s prog community that’s not really much of a surprise. Diego Banchero, founder of Il Segno del Comando, played bass on much of Istinto, and Beppi Menozzi, the driving force behind Jus Primae Noctis, has played keyboards for Il Segno del Comando since their 2018 album L’Incanto dello Zero. The set was something of a ‘best of’, and was well played and really enjoyable. I recognised some of the songs having seen them at the beginning of February supporting Banco del Mutuo Soccorso and having bought a couple of their albums. Banchero uses a number of guest musicians on his albums so it wasn’t too much of a surprise to be introduced to guest vocalist Sophya Baccini, but I’d not heard of Silvia Agnoloni, their other guest vocalist. Il Segno del Comando play well constructed music which falls somewhere between dark prog and symphonic prog and is really enjoyable.



Balletto di Bronzo were incredible. Keyboard player Gianni Leone had reformed the band as a trio with Riccardo Spilli on drums and Ivano Salvatori on bass and they performed some pieces from their forthcoming album along with a run-though of the entire 1972 classic Ys. Leone is a born showman whose playing style and singing are highly theatrical – his voice is still as good as it was when Ys was released – and the music itself, both the old and the new, was full of bombast, one of the reasons Ys was so highly praised and the reason I’ll buy the new album when it comes out.



Thanks and congratulations for putting together an amazing evening go to Massimo Gasperini and Pino Pintabona.


Gig review – Melting Clock, Abracadabra Festival, Villa Serra, Comago (GE) 13/9/20



This Black Widow Records rock festival, linked with an occult/magic/new age fair (giving it the name ‘Abracadabra’) and held in the English garden grounds of Villa Serra on the northern outskirts of Genoa, marked 30 years of Black Widow – an indisputable success story launching the careers of some of the best-known names in the current crop of Italian prog bands and curating or re-launching some of the names from the original RPI scene. The link with the fair is totally in keeping with the dark prog connections of Black Widow, named after the early heavy-prog UK band which caused something of an outrage with ‘satanic’ lyrics on their debut album Sacrifice from 1970.

I went along on a prog date with my wife, only my second prog date in over 32 years, primarily to see Melting Clock, who were third on the bill. We could hear the strains of heavy rock covers from Small Band as we approached the villa, and sat with a packed lunch next to the lake while The Ikan Method plied their just released Blue Sun, which I thought sounded like early IQ and worth further investigation.

Melting Clock’s hour-long set missed out some of the songs from last year’s debut Destinazioni, with the band opting to open with their 16-minute long King Crimson medley Alla Corte del Re Cremisi which makes up side 4 of the vinyl edition of the album; I don’t imagine there are many better calling cards than a faithful reproduction of classic Crimson (the Italians have an affinity for early prog – the festival headline act Empty Spaces was a Pink Floyd tribute band.)


Caleidoscopio represents the essence of Melting Clock in eight and a half minutes, delightfully constructed from layers of guitars and keyboard phrases with Emanuela Vedana’s pitch-perfect vocal melody floating above, and the remainder of the set, culminating in the epic title track from the album, was an exercise in melodic, symphonic progressivo italiano capped by a dynamic piece of music where individual influences combined to create a highly imaginative modern prog masterpiece filled with twists and turns – heavy, melodic, tricky, angular, aggressive and stately.

The performance was excellent, even impressing my wife who thought Antares was their best song, but it wasn’t entirely perfect. I’d been warned beforehand that there was no sound check, though they had faith in the mixing engineer supervising the sound and they’d brought along their friend Andrea Torretta, the studio MAIA sound engineer who, it turns out, was required to help out with running repairs on keyboard player Sandro Amadei’s patch selector foot pedal, and the overall sound was in fact reasonably balanced; from where we were sitting Alessandro Bosca’s bass was rather high in the mix and the two guitars of Simone Caffè and Stefano Amadei were a little under-mixed. Sandro also had problems with his earpiece monitor but, on the far left of the stage he wasn’t in direct sunlight like the rest of the band. Simone described himself as ‘Melting Simone’ when I spoke to him after their performance and Stefano complained of his arm sticking to his hot guitar. It was around 34oC. There was an obvious monitor difficulty right at the start of their set when drummer Francesco Fiorito couldn’t hear himself and the opening number was stopped after a few bars before the problem was resolved and the medley restarted, and there was an unnoticeable glitch during Destinazioni when Francesco played a drum break earlier than he should have because of his monitor problems. The rest of the band didn’t miss a beat and I’m sure no one in the crowd noticed. Sandro later confided that any mistake-induced panic of their early gigs had effectively been eradicated but, errors or not, it was another exceptionally enjoyable concert in a really lovely setting.


I’d already had an extensive conversation with Massimo and Pino from Black Widow when I popped into the shop to but an album or 10 on the day we arrived in Genoa, but the festival provided the opportunity to speak to a number of other Italian friends: all the members of Melting Clock, obviously; Mauro Serpe (Panther & C.); impresario Marina Montobbio; and Diego Banchero (Il Segno del Comando.) I hope that next time we meet up there’ll be no more concerns about Covid-19.


Coming up


Lifesigns new album to be ready by the end of the year











By ProgBlog, Jul 8 2020 09:42PM

Live albums for lockdown (part 2)

While a live album can’t compare with being physically present at a gig, the best of them are able to convey a sense of outstanding music frozen in time; this is what the band were performing at that moment, this is how good they were live. In the absence of live concerts, video performances and live albums are all that are available to us to attempt to connect with the feeling live music conveys. This is the second part of ProgBlog’s list of favourite live albums, for lockdown or anytime



Camel - A Live Record (1978)



I got into Camel in 1975 after hearing Music Inspired by the Snow Goose, an album I believe to be one of the finest orchestrated rock albums of all time thanks to David Bedford’s intelligent arrangements. One of my best friends had copies of both Rain Dances (1977) and A Live Record and it was a bit of a mystery why there wasn’t more of the (then) recently released Rain Dances on the live set, though the sumptuous Royal Albert Hall performance of Snow Goose took up half the 2LP the space for more of the latest album was limited by the inclusion of a collection of some of their most memorable tracks from their back catalogue up to that time. I used to have a copy of the original-length album on CD before it was replaced with the 2002 remastered and expanded edition, which provided an even better potted history of the band; I always felt the subsequent albums up until Harbour of Tears (1996) were driven more by commercial interests than musical, though that’s not to say there was no decent material produced after Rain Dances, and Pressure Points: Live in Concert (1984) was a decent live portrayal of the more modern Camel repertoire. A Live Record features a version of Skylines, one of the most highly rated tracks from Rain Dances, captured from their performance at Leeds University on October 3rd 1977 – I wasn't there but I’d encouraged my brother who was studying at Leeds to attend – but taken as a whole A Live Record presents Camel at their melodic best.



Genesis - Live (1973)



As an introduction to (early) Genesis, Live really hit the spot. My copy of the LP is a cut-out distributed by Canadian imprint Buddah Records, bought in Leeds in 1976, though I added the 1994 CD some years later. I don’t remember if I’d heard The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974) at the time - which was my brother’s first Genesis album – but I do remember discussing The Lamb when it was toured with a school friend who managed to get to see it performed live in Newcastle, and being impressed with the story of Rael. On reflection, it’s easy to chart the path from Foxtrot (1972) to the almost punk-attitude Lamb via Selling England by the Pound (1973); Selling England is pivotal in the development of Genesis band because it marks Tony Banks’ first use of the ARP synthesizer and his distinctive lead synth lines. This means Live, recorded in February 1973 and released in July that year as a stop-gap while Selling England was being recorded, marks the end of an era.

The sound quality isn’t the best, prompting Peter Gabriel to point out that the recordings were done quickly without much regard to the sound, but it’s an inspired collection of their early material in a live setting. Issued as a single LP, it’s rumoured that a few 2LP promo versions were pressed, including a version of Supper’s Ready from the Leicester performance that made up the bulk of the material. It’s also noteworthy for Gabriel’s ‘tube train’ story, which was almost reason enough for buying the album. Seconds Out (1977) is a decent cut which also marks the end of an era with the departure of Steve Hackett during mixing, but the conciseness of Live is an advantage - and got me into Genesis.



Premiata Forneria Marconi – Cook (1974)



Cook was my introduction not just to PFM, but to the sub-genre of progressivo italiano, and is therefore probably the record that has had the most profound effect on my life after Close to the Edge. While I can’t remember exactly how PFM came across our radar I know I saw their performance on BBC TV series The Old Grey Whistle Test, and Alan Freeman must have played them on his Saturday afternoon radio show. Cook was the first of their records that I bought but I was also listening to Photos of Ghosts, Chocolate Kings and Jet Lag, blown away by the musicianship and intrigued by the Italian take on prog. What was also interesting was the revelation that there was a ‘really first Italian album… …sung in Italian’, as the live introduction to Dove… Quando…, a personal favourite, informed us. It would take more than 30 years for me to get my hands on a CD copy of Storia di un Minuto and a further 12 before I bought a copy on vinyl. I also owned the Italian version of Cook, Live in USA, on CD before it became redundant following the 2010 3CD Cook reissue, where discs two and three feature the entire Schaefer Music Festival performance from Central Park.

I’ve been fortunate enough to see PFM live on three occasions, plus original bassist Giorgio Piazza once, where the set list was predominately selected from the first three Italian releases plus the first two English-language counterparts. Cook represents a snapshot of early PFM that set me off on a long road of discovery involving a large number of Italian cities, for which I’ll forever be grateful.



Caravan – Live at Fairfield Halls, 1974 (2002)



I didn’t really get into Caravan until the early 80s, when I first heard Nine Feet Underground. I’d bought Better by Far (1977) on cassette a couple of years earlier but was seriously unimpressed, and could barely remember For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night (1973), which I’d heard around the time of its release. Prompted by Dave Sinclair’s side-long masterpiece I bought the Canterbury Tales compilation 2LP from 1976, an excellent introduction to their early material. Tucked away on side 1 of Canterbury Tales is a live version of Can't Be Long Now / Francoise / For Richard / Warlock, from September 1st 1974, part of a Croydon gig recorded for promotional reasons for an upcoming tour of the US.

I’d been quite happy with my CD copy of Caravan & The New Symphonia, a single LP recorded live with orchestra at Drury Lane and originally released in 1973, but when Decca began to reissue expanded CDs from the Caravan back catalogue in the early 2000s, the entire Croydon concert tapes were discovered. I love this album because it’s got a great set list, the sound is incredibly good (the Fairfield Halls are noted for the excellent acoustics), and because I live in Croydon. A 2LP vinyl version had been issued by Terry King’s Kingdom Records in France, The Best of Caravan Live (1980) but this went under the radar because most people thought it was a budget compilation – it would be brilliant if Decca could sanction a vinyl release.



Pink Floyd – Live at Pompeii (1972)



Both The Delicate Sound of Thunder (1988) and Pulse (1995) are well-recorded live albums but they contain material from The Wall which doesn’t particularly interest me. I am, however, a fan of the live half of Ummagumma (1969) where Pink Floyd demonstrated why they were the premier space rock band on the four classic early tracks Astronomy Domine, Careful with that Axe, Eugene, Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun, and A Saucerful of Secrets. It could be considered cheating to include Live at Pompeii in a list of live albums because my version is an audio recording of the 2002 DVD, played on a PC with Dolby sound and recorded on a laptop using WavePad sound editing software, rather than the official release on disc 2 of Obfusc/ation 1972 (2017) which doesn’t include Mademoiselle Nobs, but this 1971 recording with the audience made up of the road and film crews captures the group as they shift decisively towards prog. Three of Ummagumma’s live tracks are represented (the best three) and these are supplemented with Meddle material, the throwaway Mademoiselle Nobs, One of these Days, and the epic Echoes. The Pompeii film was an early favourite of mine, and I remember the long queue outside the cinema where it was showing, wondering if I’d get in to see it - and Pompeii was a 'must visit' on my first trip around Italy as a student. If live albums represent music frozen in time, then Pompeii is history frozen in time. The site is atmospheric and moving, so it's no surprise that David Gilmour returened to perform in the amphitheatre, with an enthusiastic crowd, 45 years after Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii.



It’s interesting to note, reading through my thoughts above, that my favourite live albums with the exception of Real Time, all feature recordings made during the first wave of progressive rock. It’s not that I don’t possess any recent live albums – my three-drummers King Crimson collection may not be complete but it is substantial; I’m also the proud owner of a copy of Topographic Drama and Steve Hackett’s Genesis Revisited Live at Hammersmith but once again, with the exception of some King Crimson pieces, all the compositions are from the golden age of prog. Real Time itself is made up from 70’s material and two tracks from 2005’s Present.

One explanation for this is familiarity. In part 1 I explained that I sometimes bought live albums as an introduction to a particular group but I’m also both more used to the earlier material and more appreciative of it; more recent concerts are likely to contain more modern material that I don’t think is as good as the output during the 70s, and with more music to choose from it becomes harder to please me because some of my earlier favourites will get dropped from the set list. It’s important for a band to reinterpret their music for a live setting, something King Crimson were at pains to point out during their 50th anniversary tour, but personnel changes inevitably bring about different arrangements. From the ten albums I’ve listed not one of the bands, if they’re still active, has the same current line-up; fewer members, different personnel, or an expanded line-up.

A short, finite list invariably means some of my highly-regarded live albums have not been covered, but I didn’t have to think too hard about which albums to choose. It’s unlikely anyone else would pick this same ten, because there are thousands of live recordings, each with a special bond to its audience. And in the absence of live music, we need something to keep us going.



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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.

The first weekend in September marked the return of live prog in England, and ProgBlog was there...

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