Thursday, 8 July 2010

The Gates Of Delerium

Over the years the one form of music I have probably listened to more than any other is prog rock. Even during The Punk Wars, when I had a heavy Clash/NME/John Peel fixation, I would occasionally, under cover of darkness, and when no-one was looking (or listening), play the odd Yes or Genesis album, heaven forfend!

I've recently been listening to Procol Harum and it occured to me who were the bands that sowed the seeds of prog without being or becoming prog themselves?

Prog in my opinion is the merging of three or more styles to create something entirely different. I put the case that the first fully formed prog band, emerging out of seemingly nowhere were Van Der Graaf Generator, releasing their strangely strange but oddly normal debut Aerosol Grey Machine in January 1969. For some obscure licensing reason this LP was not released in this country, so the mantle of the first UK prog band to release an album in this country falls to King Crimson, who with their amazing October 1969 debut put an early definition on the genre.

So here's my guesses, in no particular order. You will notice that there are no American bands in this list, as imo, the Yanks never really "did" prog did they? He asks, waiting to be shot down in flames.....Ok, you've got Iron Butterfly, who are the closest I can think of, but they were basically bludgeon riffola morphed into acid rock. I mean "In A Gadda Da Vida" although 20 minutes long is hardly prog is it? Butterfly Bleu (which I love by the way) from their 1970 album Metamorphosis is as close as they got. But that's after my 1969 deadline.

Procol Harum
With their 1968 sophomore effort Shine On Brightly introduced the world to the 20 minute song cycle, "In Held 'Twas In I". With Keith Reid's verbose but interesting lyrics and Gary Brooker's R&B meets classical inspired tune smithing, along with Robin Trowers' acidic guitar breaks here is the first true proto-prog epic. Believed to have insprired the writing of Tommy and other rock operas.

The Moody Blues
Days Of Future Passed (1967) & In Search Of The Lost Chord (1968) both qualify as proto-prog efforts, the former being the first group/orchestra collaboration. It's probably only the pop leanings of Hayward & Lodge that stopped this band turning into a veritable prog monster. This band also discovered the early prog instrument of choice, the mellotron, hiding in a bush in Aston, Birmingham. They took it home, fed it, and the rest is history!

The Pretty Things
1968's S.F. Sorrow is credited as being the first concept album, and were it not for record company cock ups would have been released a year earlier, and given the right promotion could have given the ubiquitous Sgt Pepper a run for its money. If you've not heard this you should search it out. An underrated masterpiece imo.

The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown
Their one self titled LP (1968) contained the keyboards of Vincent Crane (later of Atomic Rooster, and, briefly, Dexy's Midnight Runners would you believe!), the man who wrote Fire. The LP is full of weird effects and strange time changes. Great stuff. The booming baritone of Mr Brown went on to grace Kingdom Come who released three prog classics in the early 70s. Well worth checking out.

The Nice
Ars Longa Vita Brevis (1968) moves on from their psych beginnings and gives us a template for prog based on corrupted classical music. Responsible for unleashing the "waste of talent and electricity" (John Peel) that was ELP on the world. Never a truer word said.

Mentioned in dispatches:
The Zombies - Odyssey & Oracle (1968). Pop-psych masterpiece from the band that morphed into mid table proggers Argent.
Ian Carr's Nucleus - although not releasing an album until 1970, thus falling short of my 1969 cut off, deserve a mention for having most of the UK jazz-prog alumni passing through its ranks at one time or another.
The Edgar Broughton Band - Wasa Wasa (1969). more psych blues than prog, gave birth to free form wig outs later popular at the more jamming based end of the prog spectrum (Man, Hawkwind, Gong etc)

No doubt there are omissions here, feel free to add any you can think of....

PS - But worrabout Pink Floyd you may ask? Well, I reckon they invented space rock, a different kettle of fish from prog rock. Look no further than Interstellar Overdrive & Saucerful Of Secrets. I mean, you wouldn't call Hawkwind prog would you? Ok, I'll admit that some of the second disc of Ummagumma and the track Atom Heart Mother  are probably prog, but Floyd then turned into what we now call classic rock. Dark Side Of The Moon altho' obviously a brilliant album has very little that's prog about it. The only track in a time signature that may be classed as unusual is Money, the instrumentation is by and large conventional. I'm not knocking it, I love the album, just don't think it fits in with my definition of prog. I'm probably in a minority of one, but who cares!

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