Post-punk decimation in the bloodbath of ‘76, progressive rock has been something of a guilty secret, a troubling sore for sufferers soothed only with drops of tricky time signatures over layers of extenuated Mellotronic drones (best meted out in the privacy of one’s own home with windows shut and curtains drawn).
A measure of how it’s all changed is that BBC TV News not only covered Prog Magazine’s first ‘Progressive Music Awards’ in London where Newsnight reporter (and avid fan) Gavin Esler presented gongs to the likes of Rush and Floyd but broadcasted the footage at peak time.
Further, an abundance of bands fuel a growing appetite for contemporary prog rock for established indie labels dedicated to the genre. One such – Germany-based InsideOut – team up with Prog Magazine and EMI for this exhilarating bowl into the skittles of patchouli, cloaks, sorcerers, mystery ladies on mysterious moors that is the 5CD-strong Prog Rocks! box set.
Catalogue comps of this kind are hardly rare (this is the third – and biggest – under this title alone) but EMI score a point right away for having the marketing nouse to bag tracks into label-dedicated CDs, in this instance one apiece for Harvest, Charisma, Virgin, Liberty/United Artists and InsideOut themselves.
Listening to their music this way affords insight into the labels’ specific tastes and identities and the spirits of legendary A&R men like Malcolm Jones and Simon Draper are restored to proceedings as fresh cogency as to how this music came to be made is borne on the spin of each disc.
Harvest is resolutely great-coats, scuzzy dope, hippies getting it down in the country; Charisma, British by jingo, and a tad more eclectic, even refined; Virgin, just so experimental for its day, it hurt; Liberty/UA, a skew of ‘out there’ space and pub-rock; InsideOut, all big vistas and determinedly serious.
Compiler Jon Wilson wisely eschews the easy route of just selecting hits from prog’s big guns (there’s no Genesis) and opts instead to meld icons such as Deep Purple, Barclay James Harvest, Van Der Graaf Generator, Steve Hackett, Tangerine Dream, The Flower Kings and Spock’s Beard with faintly-recalled, if no less entertaining, foot soldiers such as Cochise, Capability Brown, Greatest Show on Earth and Clive John.
It’s not all cape-swishing: acts like pub rockers Brinsley Schwartz, r’nb’s Flaming Groovies, modern classicist David Bedford, folk rockers Jack The Lad and Lindisfarne (plus mainman Alan Hull going solo), and a jazz-primed Keith Emerson demonstrate how other genres could be informed by progressive music.
For the longer-term fan (including those who bought the music upon its original release), this collection will affirm a rigid belief system, undaunted by the fickle fingers of music fashion.
For those still adjusting to the genre and seeking answers to its nascence, Prog Rocks! is a first rate port of call. Deftly-sequenced, this music forms a narrative whole that determinedly assures prog is back – and that old punks lay down their weapons…and quake! ****
Review by Peter Muir
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Power Plays w/c 10 January (Mon-Fri)
SMOKING MARTHA Wild & Free (Xelon Entertainment)
TRUE NORTH Fix (Out Of Line Music)
COLLECTED Say When (indie)
ABOUT KINGS Heaven On Down The Highway (indie)
WHALEDOG Leave Me Alone (indie)
LED BY LANTERNS Six Feet Down (indie)
KROOKED TONGUE Freaky Love (indie)
Featured Albums w/c 10 January (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 BITE THE BULLET End Of The Line (Escape Music)
12:00-13:00 CRYSTAL BALL Crysteria (Massacre Records)
14:00-16:00 SEAN TAYLOR The Beat Goes On (indie)
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