Tag Archives: Prog

Neo-Prog Three Decades On

Joe Banks writing in The Quietus has a grear piece in Neo-Prog Three Decades On, covering the likes of IQ, Pendragon and Pallas.

He’s spot on when it comes to Twelfth Night. His description of “Fact and Fiction” as the Unnown Pleasures of prog reminds me of how some aspects of their sound reminded me of Joy Division at the time. Perhaps what JD might have sounded with Dave Gilmour style guitar solos?  As for their eventual disolution when they “couldn’t make up their mind whether they wanted to be Pink Floyd or Duran Duran“, is Joe Banks certain he didn’t steal that line from me?

He’s good on Mairllion too, pointing out how they started out wearing the influence of Gabriel-era Genesis on their sleeves, but soon evolved towards evoking Pink Floyd at their most song-orientated. Not quite so sure about present-day Mairllion as “credible-if-a-bit-bland nu-prog, somewhere between Talk Talk and Muse“, though. At least he didn’t compare them to Coldplay….

It’s also good to see the late Tommy Vance mentioned. John Peel’s hagiographers tend to dismiss him for playing the music too uncool for The Peel Show, but the two were actually highly complementary. Certainly Tommy Vance was as much loved by his listeners as Peel was to his.

The whole piece is well worth a read.

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I Marked Your Essay on Prog and Give it an E-Minus

Sometimes you read something that makes you nostalgic for the really bad writing from student newspapers. The arch, bombastic style that can only come from a writer too young to have developed any sense of self-awareness. The way they don’t let little things like serious lack of knowledge of the subject get in the way of their enthusiasm.

To be over-critical of such things can feel like kicking a puppy.

But this article on Progressive Rock is still one of the worst pieces of music writing I’ve seen since Ian Gittins’ review of King Crimson.

Some examples.

Of course, The Beatles were and are unlikely to ever be labelled a “progressive rock band,” Portnoy was simply arguing that Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) was perhaps one of the first albums in western musical society to take rock music away from a fugacious bop-along catharsis and to begin an ascent towards higher musical artistry.

I’m not sure that “fugacious” is a word. But it gets worse:

Quickly, however, the First Wave of Prog faltered upon the rocks of punk and disco. Rebellious youth themes such as nihilism, violence, anarchy, and the macabre (not to mention pop music’s tendency towards love and dance), forced the philosophical themes of human transformation and utopian society back into niches within the rock. Excuse the puns.

Forget the puns. What about the hoary old clichés?

… a small list of rising acts who drove the Second Wave of Prog, more commonly known as neo-progressive rock. What separated these two waves was the greater influence that keyboards and synthesizers began to have on the music. Organs and Mellotrons became clunky and clichéd.

Reading lines like this I do begin to wonder exactly how much 70s or 80s progressive rock this lad has actually listened to.

But Goodwin had less success with these bands, managing to acquire only small iconoclastic audiences rather than a large countercultural movement such as the hippie, psychedelic phase that had inspired original prog. The Second Wave’s greatest creation was perhaps Marillion, who famously began the ‘pre-order’ initiative, through which they would fund an album’s writing, recording and production via the loyalty of their intense fanbase.

You use the word “iconoclastic”. I do not think you know what it means.

Through the rise of heavy metal bands Metallica and Iron Maiden, and the continued peripheral success of progressive rock bands such as Yes, Rush and Gentle Giant, the late 1980s and early ‘90s led to the Third Wave, a movement which exists today.

This is the point at which it completely loses contact with reality, and looks as though he’s throwing out names at random without doing the most rudimentary research on those bands’ histories. Gentle Giant split up in 1980. Rush have been filling arena-sized venues throughout the 80s and 90s, so could hardly be described as having “peripheral success” unless daytime radio is your only source of information.

It goes on like that. At one point he describes The Flower Kings as “vigilantly fantastical“, whatever that’s supposed to mean. I personally find The Flower Kings to be utterly dull, their formless music devoid of energy or tunes. It’s easy to imagine The Flower Kings as what those who cannot stand progressive rock believe all prog bands must sound like.

I can’t fault his enthusiasm, and progressive rock does need its younger ambassadors. He clearly enjoyed Spock’s Beard’s recent tour. But the quality of both the writing and the research here is just embarrassing. Reading it is like sitting through a Flower Kings set at the festival.

If this student submitted an essay as poorly-researched and written as this, he would not expect a good mark from the professor…

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In The Court of the Crimson King

No photos, because you know what Robert Fripp is like Today is the 46th anniversary of the release of King Crimson’s first album, “In The Court of the Crimson King”.

This is an album that’s been a cornerstone of the progressive rock canon ever since its release in 1969. The intense and jagged “21st Century Schizoid Man” set the template for prog-metal before metal itself had emerged as a genre, since it would be another year before Black Sabbath released their eponymous début. The stately Mellotron-drenched magnificence of “Epitaph” and the title track showcased the evocative poetry of Pete Sinfield’s lyrics, which still divide opinion two generations later. It was an tremendous and unexpected privilege to hear all three performed live a month ago. And that instantly-recognisable cover artwork remains one of rock’s iconic images.

I only heard it a decade after its release when it was already an established classic, so it’s difficult to imagine how something so revolutionary must have sounded to first-time listeners at the end of the 1960s. That period must have been an exciting time to have been a rock fan, with music evolving at an unprecedented rate. King Crimson themselves, having defined a genre out of nowhere, went on to leave it behind just as rapidly as they explored stranger and more experemental directions. Later King Crimsons had an influence on post-punk; when PiL recently played live you could hear a lot of Robert Fripp in Lu Edmond’s guitar work.

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One of many things that really needs to happen: A prog-rock concept album about Roko’s Basilisk. Prog bands (any of you): you know you want to!

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In a week’s time I’m seeing Johnny Rotten in a small club in Reading, then two days later I’m seeing Steven Wilson at the Albert Hall. Who won the punk wars again?

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Malady – Kantaa taakan maa

How about some Finnish prog with lashings of genuine Hammond? The instrumental part of this song reminds me a lot Sweden’s Änglagård.

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Why I Became a Prog Fan, Part N

I was probably only about nine or ten when ITV’s investigative journalism flagship “World in Action” did a program about trains. The particular issue concerned a spate of derailments involving short wheelbase wagons, including a reconstruction the derailment and fatal collision at Roade in 1969 using 00-scale models.

For a small boy interested in trains, it was obviously fascinating stuff. But it was the theme music that stuck with me; both the dramatic opening theme, and the slower, more melancholy closing credits music, both of which are included in the above clip.

There’s something about those descending minor-key runs in the distinctive tone of the Hammond organ, both signficant elements of progressive rock’s musical palette. Not that I was aware of the existence of Yes, ELP or King Crimson at the time, that was something I wasn’t to discover until several years later.

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Prog, Still Misunderstood?

There’s a well-meaning but flawed piece in the Telegraph about Prog, probably inspired by The Chart Company’s launch of a new progressive music chart. It does namecheck a lot of the new generation of progressive artists such as Big Big Train and Steven Wilson, and make a number of positive points

But there are a few things that suggests he doesn’t know the subject and hasn’t really done his research. The fact that it appears not in the paper’s music section but in the “Mens pages” may be the root of the problem.

First he makes the bizarre claim that Prog originated with Frank Zappa’s 1968 album “Freak Out”, which is a new one on me. Now Zappa’s music in certainly progressive, but he was really a whole genre in his own right. To claim any American artist founded the prog-rock genre ignores the scene’s roots in late 1960s Britain as a generation of musicians wanted to move beyond the limitations of commercial pop music. Prog surely took recognisable form somewhere between The Beatle’s “Sergeant Pepper” and King Crimson’s “In the Court of the Crimson King”.

Then he claims that prog has been dismissed as “too white, male and uncool” for decades. Uncool, certainly, but it’s only in the past few years that anything whose appeal is disproportionately white and male has been regarded with suspicion. But it’s not as if prog has ever been a hotbed of white power anthems or awash with misogynistic imagery. The suggestion that women and non-white people aren’t interested in music you can’t dance to is itself a bit sexist and racist; I know plenty of dedicated female prog fans and musicians who would take great exception to that. And I can’t avoid another mention of the bill at this year’s HRH Prog, where half the bands on the bill had at least one woman in the band, and they were the better half of the bill.

And then there’s a commenter who claims Transatlantic aren’t prog. Where do these people come from?

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Matt Stevens asks for help

On Matt Stevens’ Facebook page:

I’m not moaning, but sometimes it’s a challenge making music that doesn’t fit in. Promoters etc want to fit you into easy boxes. If it’s not “traditional prog” or “straight post rock” (as some one described their taste in music to me) or something else that it’s easy to define then it makes it difficult.

I think me and the band are lucky to have an audience at all and in the UK at least through hard gigging and shaking hands it’s kind of worked. But on paper if you’ve not seen us it can be a “hard sell”, no vocals etc

I’ve previously described Matt’s band The Fierce and the Dead as “A punk version of King Crimson”, which I know doesn’t really do them justice, but was the best I could come up with at the time. His own solo material is more varied and touches a lot more bases, especally on his most recent album.

Being difficult to pigeonhole is a double-edged sword. It can be harder for promoters to get a handle on them, but it also gives opportunities to have feet in multiple camps. For example, TFATD’s occasional partners in crime Trojan Horse played a prog festival, and the next week announced they’d be supporting The Fall. A more generic neo-prog or post-punk act would not be able to do that.

The next thing is to get gigs outside the UK, without losing lots of money. That’s the challenge. How hard can it be?

Any suggestion? Matt built up his audience in Britain by doing a lot of supports, where his solo instrumental act was something a bit different from the typical acoustic singer-songwriter, and by tirelessly flyering the queues for just about every prog gig in London. What would work over a wider geographical area?

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Jym Furlong

Jym FurlongThe progressive rock family have lost one of our own.

I didn’t know Jym well, but he was a familiar sight at London gigs, and we had a great many friends in common. This post from Jym’s blog about last year’s Touchstone gig speaks of the sort of person he was.

RIP Jym, you will be missed.

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