Tuesday 10 December 2013

The Day My World Turned Prog

Prog Rock can be bluntly summed up as:
Rock Music with Orchestral and Classical pretensions.  It will probably be overlong, possibly pompous, and more than likley deal with wizards, elves or the writings of J R R Tolkien.  Other favoured subjects are medieval history or science fiction.  The band will probably entail one (if not all) of the following: a Rickenbaker Bass, Hammond Organ, oversized drum kit that TWO drummers would have difficulty navigating.
The sound will probably be a bit jazz-fusion-y, almost spacey and will incoporate an extreme number of widdly-widdly solos, or elongated musical diversions.
Oh, and lets not forget the inclusion in the bands catalogue of at least one Concept Album.  A related song-cycle/narrative, spread over 4 sides of vinyl.

It's undoubted peak in the UK was the early to mid-70s, with the most famous exponents being  Pink Floyd, Yes, King Crimson, Genesis, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
(there are MANY others, but brevity prevents my producing a definitive list)

I have dabbled in the waters of Prog, but to be honest my knowledge of all things Prog is probably best described as "adequate".
Is there such a thing a populist Prog? If there is, then the Prog albums I do own (variable numbers of releases by Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Yes, ELP, Jethro Tull, Genesis & Rush), may well act as a definition.

And then a couple of weeks ago I received an e-mail from Universal Music (not just me, I think loads of people did) informing me of the 10 Prog Albums You MUST Own.
Now I fully accept that this list is basically a list of "someones" favourites, and therefore not definitive.
In actuality, it is probably a list of 10 albums that Universal hold the rights to and are trying to make some cash out of.
Anyway, it piqued my interest, containing artists I'd heard of, but never actually heard.

And it caught me at a time when the CD on permaplay chez-Digit was/is: Steven Wilson's "The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories)"

In a foretaster of a soon to be published bog entry (probably), this album sits comfortably in my Top 5 Albums of 2013.
But the one thing it did do was make me want to go and listen to the Prog albums I do own, particularly Genesis and Rush.

And so with fortuitous timing I received an invitation to discover more Prog stuff.
But I still wasn't sure - Prog is (as stated before) overlong, pompous and at time a tad pretentious.
So I posed the question to similar minded individuals who inhabit The Afterword blog.

The response was varied and a number of stand out recommendations were apparent.  In exchange for money, Amazon have sent me in the past fortnight Peter Hammill's "The Silent Corner and The Empty Stage" and Caravan's "In the Land of Grey and Pink".  Also pending delivery is an album called "Garden Shed" by England.
Released in 1977 to very little response, the music therein touches all 70s Prog Rock bases from Yes, King Crimson and Genesis, with future echoes to later Prog like Marillion (or did Fish and the boys simply look backwards?).  To alleviate the anticipation of the wait, there is a whole album video on YouTube which is taking a bit of a caning at the moment.  Maybe its my in-built musical snobbery taking over, but I really do believe that this is a great album, and deserves a wider audience.
This is not the full album, but the first track on the album ('Midnight Madness'):

And so after my initial question, and the responses/recommendations received, I was contacted by e-mail by one of the residents of the blog offering a "Prog Starter Kit", and a week or so later a jiffy bag landed with a thwack on my doormat.
The bag contained undiscovered/unheard wonders including Matching Mole, Gentle Giant Steve Hillage, Egg and Gong.  That was my weekend sorted.
At the moment, the undoubted pick of the bunch is "The Rotters Club" by Hatfield & The North (a band that is forever confused in my head with Kilburn & The High Roads).  Aside from the 20 minute long 'Mumps', the songs on this album rarely exceed 5 minutes.

'Share It' (Track 1):

So what have I learnt?
1. Prog is not as exacting as the throwaway definition at the introduction
2. Not all Prog is overlong and eternally widdly-widdly
3. Sometimes the helpfulness and generosity of people really does surprise you
4. Don't be fooled by initial impressions of a genre, Try It, You Might Like It
5. When you want to investigate different forms of music, Amazon gets richer and I get poorer (I think I know why)

Final question:
Progs heyday was undoubtedly the 1970s, but by 1975/76 it's popularity was on the wane.
Did Punk kill Prog?
Well, consider the fact that albums by Yes, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd et al continued to sell by the lorry-load, and ELP had that most un-Prog things (ie a hit single) in 1977 and that might give you a clue.
Also, John Lydon has never hidden the fact that he is a massive fan of bands like Magma, Can and Van der Graaf Generator and the Prog like influence apparent in some Public Image Ltd and the case for the defence is looking stronger.

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