Music Is A Journey Video Series a Success!

Music Is A Journey is posting its seventh episode this week. Each episode so far has featured different music artists and some of the albums on which they have played. Episode One was entirely dedicated to the late Colin Tench, and Episode Four was all about Oliver Rusing’s band, KariBow.

For Episode Seven, the video series turns its spyglass toward five albums – most of them recent releases – that have captured my aural heart, albums by Forever Twelve, Evolve IV, Colouratura, Fabulae Dramatis, and Babal. Clips from five songs from each of the five albums are included in the latest video.

Episode Eight won’t be recorded and prepared until late July or even early August, but that episode will be about the bands 3rDegree and Cell15.

Future episodes will first feature more artists and bands at first and then move on to specific genres and periods in the history of progressive rock and heavy metal.

Comments about the video series’ individual episodes have been very positive!

Episode One: Colin Tench

“Thank you so much for this, Peter! Very well done, natural flair, and a nice overview of the brilliant work of Colin Tench.” – Murky Red

“It’s good – it’s almost too good! You’re very good and not scared of cameras at all! You explain it all so well, and Colin must be smiling now! I’m deeply impressed and touched. Thank you, Peter!” – Pasi Koivu (Corvus Stone, Wolmari)

Episode Two: Petri Lindstrom, Blake Carpenter, Andres Guazzelli, Stef Flaming, Gordo Bennett

“Peter Skov’s videos are of such an added value to the music that I have the feeling that they will become iconic!” – Yolanda Flaming (Murky Red)

Episode Three: Steve Gresswell, Marco Ragni, Peter Matuchniak, Hamlet

“It’s Wonderful! Thanks a lot, Peter. Really appreciate it” – Marco Ragni

“A nice review of my musical past and present by Peter Skov – thank you, sir!” – Peter Matuchniak (Evolve IV, Gekko Projekt, Bomber Goggles, solo)

“Thanks for highlighting so many amazing projects (including mine!). – Hamlet (Transport Aerian, Fabulae Dramatis)

“Thank you for doing this. I love your videos and the way you promote the bands. The perfect pronoun of MRR. Much love and respect.” – Nick Katona of Melodic Revolution Records

“Another awesome job, Peter. Brilliant! You’ve got the knack, eh!” – Gordo Bennett (GorMusik, GorFusion, GorAcoustic)

“I’m truly fascinated at how it isn’t just an appreciation of the music, but how personal it actually is. You get to know the artists and dive into the micro universes of each one that many may never get to know.” – Jason Johannson (Theoretica)

Episode Four: Oliver Rusing and KariBow

“Peter Skov did it again and all I can say is ‘Chapeau’. Please take your time and watch this wonderful video. I highly recommend it to everybody who appreciates ambitious music projects, witty eloquence and charming presenters with a sense of subtle pronunciation issues. Thank you, Peter, for all your effort…” – Oliver Rusing (KariBow)

Episode Five: Phil Naro, Pete Jones, Grandval

“Peter was kind to talk about Grandval and the four fantastic guitarists!” – Henri Vaugrand (Grandval)

Episode Six: Sean Timms, Marek ArnoldChris Gill

“I had a blast watching this last night… even showed it to my wife… she was very proud. It’s a bit surreal when people such as yourself really enjoy what I do. Thanks for the kind words. I’m thankful, humbled, and honoured.” – Sean Timms (Southern Empire, Unitopia)

“Peter made 2 nice and funny videos about my releases with my prog bands… Thanks, Peter Skov – for your support. I really had much fun watching it.” – Marek Arnold (Seven Steps to the Green Door, Toxic Smile, Flaming Row, Damanek, etc.)

“Thank you so much for doing the video… Makes me feel like a rock star…” – Chris Gill (Band of Rain, The Nonexistent)

Did Punk Kill Prog?

Tales from Topographic OceansProgressive rock grew out of the experimental and psychedelic era of the second half of the 1960s and reached its peak between 1969 and 1974. During this time, groups like Yes, Genesis, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Gentle Giant, Van der Graaf Generator, and dozens of others were at the top of their game. Albums became double albums and concept albums and live performances grew to fill stadiums with grand stage sets and sometimes costumes, too. The show began to take over for the music and the music became grandiose and above the listening patience of many. By this time too, the social climate was changing and the hopeful, forward-looking youth of the sixties were being replaced by a new generation who faced a grimmer, un-promising reality.

It is said that the decline of prog came at the pivotal year of 1974 but its demise occurred once punk rock became the new music of youth around 1976 and 77. By the late seventies, punk, disco, and New Wave were what young people were into and the older generation of long-haired and bearded (except for the ladies) musos found themselves playing to smaller audiences or only partially filled venues. Not just progressive rock, but the fledgling musical style that had become termed heavy metal also fell out of public favour as it too tried to be musically complex and intelligent. Only bands like AC/DC with their rawer and simpler approach to hard rock were able to find big success during punk’s rise to the forefront.

This is the general story that I have read and heard. A memorable moment in the BBC documentary about progressive rock in Britain is when Rick Wakeman describes looking for records in a store and having to ask in a hushed whisper if there is any prog rock in the store and the clerk says that he has some in a brown paper bag under the counter (watch the video from about 1:23:00 to 1:24:05).

Trick76But did prog really die out in the late seventies? Though the year the rot set in is given as 1974 the true decline of the first generation of prog rock coincides with the early days of neo-prog, with some saying that the first neo-prog album was “A Trick of the Tale” by Genesis, one of the first generation prog rockers and now without their performing artist frontman, Peter Gabriel. A new turn for Genesis sparked the neo-prog movement possibly? The interesting thing to note is that as the old guard were beginning to face the music, so to speak, the next generation were already eager to establish themselves as composers of music and songs that went beyond the standard rock format. And not all of the chart-toppers of the early seventies were looking for lifeboats just yet either.

Among the first generation of progressive rock groups, Pink Floyd and Yes both found great success with their 1977 releases, “Animals” by Pink Floyd and “Going for the One” by Yes. Yes even scored a hit song with “Wondrous Stories”. Genesis had not yet evolved into a pop band and “Wind and Wuthering” was still very much in the prog vein and holding on to the fan base for the band. Other bands like ELP, Jethro Tull, and King Crimson struggled with their music, changed their style, or split up in order to take time to think about the next move while prog rockers like former Yes and King Crimson drummer, Bill Bruford, teamed up with others and formed new bands like UK.

Prog was far from dying during the early days of punk and disco. The Enid released their debut “In the Region of the Summer Stars” – a symphonic approach to rock music if there ever was one – in 1976 and began their career then. Canada’s Rush found their very progressive third album a hard sell in 1975 but found huge success with its follow-up “2112” in 1976. The next two albums saw Rush at their most “progressive” with lengthy and complex compositions. silent knightPerhaps Canada was slow to catch on to changing musical trends because neo-prog band Saga was also born during the fall of prog. Their first four albums released between 1978 and 1981 combine a pop sound with intelligent song structure and lyrics and classical/rock blends of guitar and synthesizer duels. Furthermore, the neo-prog movement in Britain took shape during these same years as bands like Pendragon, IQ, and Pallas continued the tradition of writing more complex and thematic rock songs. It was Marillion, with their hard rock guitar approach combined with a modern pop synthesizer sound and an frontman to match Peter Gabriel for flamboyancy and theatrical vocals, whose success paved the way for the neo-prog movement into the 80’s.

Outside of Britain and North America, Eloy from Germany were enjoying the peak of their success with “Oceans” and “Silent Cries and Mighty Echoes” during the years of 1977 and ’78. And Sweden’s Kaipa had begun recording songs in English because their success was creeping beyond Swedish borders.

Perhaps the supposed “death” of prog was more of a forced step back and a time to rethink the approach. Prog could only have died if for three reasons: the prog fan base had grown so small that bands could no longer sell enough tickets to shows; record companies refused anyone of a progressive music nature; and musicians themselves gave up on writing more complex music. The BBC documentary linked above says prog became something talked about in the backrooms, and Rick Wakeman likens it to the porn of the music industry. Yet clearly faith was not lost.

iron-maiden-debut-album-cover-x-large-picAs it was, progressive rock shrank back and survived punk, disco, and New Wave, and with the New Wave of British Heavy Metal it received an unexpected revival in a new form. Many of the musicians who were part of the heavy metal scene of the early 80’s had been fans of and influenced by the prog bands of the 70’s. Iron Maiden’s eponymous debut in 1980 featured three songs where instrumental sections were extended to include rhythmic and tempo changes and music dynamics rather than just guitar solos. This approach to song composition influenced younger bands who would begin their recording careers in two or three years time, namely Queensryche, Fates Warning, and Crimson Glory – all three groups being credited for helping to start the progressive metal movement. In fact, while many of the older progressive rock bands were finding commercial success once again by playing more mainstream music (e.g. Yes, Genesis, Jethro Tull), the progressive metal movement was on the rise and even reaching groups like Metallica.

From my perspective, the real low point of progressive rock was in the late 80’s when even neo-prog bands were choosing to write more commercial and conventional-sounding pop music. Aside from the progressive metal movement which was still gaining momentum, there were only hints that progressive rock had not died. It Bites included some very fine prog compositions on their second album “Once Around the World” and Ozric Tentacles were gaining ground with their unique take on music. Jon Anderson had to leave Yes because the new line-up didn’t always agree with his old-school ideas, so he teamed up with former Yes members Bill Bruford, Rick Wakeman, and Steve Howe to form a new band that wrote music beyond pop.anderson

The final attempted blow to the progressive rock genre was likely the grunge explosion of the early 90’s, which not surprisingly also caused trouble for heavy metal bands again as punk had some 15 years earlier. But shortly after and largely thanks to progressive rock bands from Scandinavia, the prog revolution was reborn, and since then there has been a very good-sized niche for progressively oriented musicians and artists.

Citizens of Hope and Glory – A Review

cover-various-citizensofhopeandgloryCitizens of Hope and Glory: the Story of Progressive Rock by Stephen Lambe

Stephen Lambe is a co-promoter of the Summer’s End Progressive Rock Festival, a promoter of the band Magenta, the Secretary of the Classic Rock Society, and a writer for Rock Society magazine. His book “Citizens of Hope and Glory” was originally published in 2011 and the second edition only recently released with a few updates. The title makes the book sound like a historical account of the progressive rock, and that the book covers the history of the genre from its inception in the late sixties all the way up to its present revival and even mentions albums from 2013 made it seem like it might be one of the best books out there on the subject of prog. But it was not exactly what I had hoped for.

As author Stephen Lambe explains in the beginning, the story is told largely by mentioning important bands and their albums with “gateway” albums being given a brief review. The actual development of the musical genre comes together by explaining which band was doing what to contribute to it. In this way, if one wanted to, you could buy or listen to all 64 “gateway”albums reviewed in the book as companion pieces to the book and you would have a very clear picture of Lambe’s journey and experiences with progressive rock.

The story unfolds well enough but for me it was a little too casual and light and never dug deep enough. Additionally, the perspective is British and mostly looks at symphonic prog bands. Regarding the former, a great many of the bands and artists mentioned are British and the state of the genre is largely seen as growing or failing based on what was happening with the music scene in Britain. There is plenty of room made to mention American, Italian, Scandinavian, European and Eastern European bands as well, but I felt there were some notable gaps such as Rush not getting mentioned until 1981’s “Moving Pictures” and Saga not being mentioned at all (my Canadian perspective). Uriah Heep are also often listed as one of the big heavy rock prog bands of the 70’s but their name appears only once, if I recall correctly.

As for looking at symphonic prog mostly, it is fair enough, but, as Lambe admits, that means other genres are given only a paragraph or two and many significant bands are hardly mentioned if at all. The rise of progressive metal is treated very briefly.

For the reasons stated above, I would say this book is more like reading about a friend’s love and passion for the music and learning about how he has experienced it rather than a comprehensive historical account. And Lambe does not deny his personal approach. He out rightly admits that this is his book about progressive rock, his journey.

What I really enjoyed while reading the book was the feature of many albums that Lambe felt were worth mentioning. Of the 64 albums given a review, I had 20 in my collection already and another 20 I had already placed on standby in my Amazon account. This meant that Lambe and I shared roughly two thirds the same musical taste so it was easy to understand where he was coming from. Many of his opinions and experiences with the music paralleled mine, most notably his original regard of Peter Hammil’s vocals and how he came to accept them and even appreciate them. Hammil’s vocals kept me away from Van der Graaf Generator’s albums initially, too. Now I understand them much better. As for the albums I didn’t know, it has been fun checking some of them out in an effort to find new music that I might enjoy adding to my collection.

Of course as a book chronicling the story of prog, there are plenty of short background stories and anecdotes about artists and albums, and there is a decent reference list at the end, plus a lot of photos of artists and bands then and now, including a colour photo section.

The book also includes chapters on topics such as the evolution of equipment and recording technology, concerts and festivals, the DVD concert, vocals and lyrics, and so on. At first I found the placement of these chapters puzzling and intrusive. While reading about prog in the late seventies a new chapter begins on progressive rock live that takes us from the 70’s to the modern stage show. Then we go back to the history of the music in the following chapter. Later on I understood what was going on as more such chapters appeared.

Overall it has been a fun book but a very easy one to read. I learned some new things and I have picked up on some new albums and bands to check out, plus I have given a second chance to albums that I previously wasn’t interested in, sometimes finding that my hunch was right and other times finding that I might just like them after all. As for really learning about an in-depth behind the scenes of progressive rock I feel there must be a better book out there. Two out of five stars for not living up to my expectations but four out of five for being an enjoyable book nonetheless.