Sunday 29 July 2012

Music You Can Dance To In Your Head

The question “what is prog rock?” has followed the progressive rock genre since its inception, and it continues to rear its hoary old head on internet forums and in Facebook discussions. Nowadays there is a concurrent debate along the lines of “Is “prog” necessarily “progressive” or are the two becoming mutually exclusive?”

There be a good article in this, methinks. Originally I was going to pen said article and pepper it with quotes from a number of friends and musical contacts, but having garnered far more replies to The Questions than I was expecting, I thought I’d simply use them all, verbatim.

The Questions go something like this:

Whenever you see or hear the words "prog rock" or "progressive rock" what immediately springs to mind? Do you see it as a rarely achieved musical ideal, or an excuse for self-indulgence, or somewhere between the two? What does "progressive rock" mean to you? Is the "rock" word even necessary? Let's share our opinions of these questions of many answers, questions that are as old as the mighty Mellotron itself. Your answer could be one word, it could be two thousand words, but for practical reasons try and keep it to two hundred max. Get those thinking caps on!

And these are The Answers – editing has been kept to a minimum, and please bear in mind that some contributors do not have English as their first language; as long as the meaning is clear enough I’ve left it as I received it. There is no order of preference; I’ve tried to randomly order the replies. Be warned, it is a bit of a marathon, but there are some interesting thoughts here. To ease your course along this winding ramble through the synapses of our contributors there will be some prog and/or progressive goodies scattered throughout, starting with:

Happy reading!

Michel Delville - The Wrong Object, douBt, Machine Mass Trio, Comicoperando

I’ve always felt rather uncomfortable with the “prog rock” label (especially when people put the sticker on my own music). You hit the nail right on the head when you suggest that the word “rock” may not be necessary since some of my favorite bands in the genre, old and new have more affinities with jazz than with rock. Also, it seems to me that the words avant-pop could just as easily apply to, say, the music of Robert Wyatt and other songwriters who have been influenced by prog rock models in the largest sense (Radiohead, Muse, …).

I am, of course, a little biased since my own “niche” has always been the Canterbury and post-Canterbury “scene” which has as little to do with, say, the RIO (anti—)tradition of Henry Cow as with the “space prog” of Hawkwind or the neo-classical models which still dominate the progressive rock scene these days. In the last analysis, it doesn’t really matter, really, as long as people are exposed to good music that makes your body and mind dance. Zappa made it easier for a lot of people to listen to Stravinsky and Varese, that’s good.

Massive Attack sample a percussion sequence from a Daevid Allen’s “Wise Man in Your Heart”, even better (as long as they pay the old man his dues, of course). And Radiohead gathers thousands of people who nod their heads to a riff that sounds exactly like something from Can’s Tago Mago (which raises other questions: is Krautrock prog?, is Radiohead prog? etc.).

Dave Willey - Hamster Theatre, Thinking Plague, 3 Mice

I have 2 reactions to the word "progressive..." one is based on what I wish it were, the other based on what gets called progressive but isn't really.

To me, real progressive music is something that is challenging both the composer and the listener to progress! That often means broadening the definition itself.

But there is a misuse of the word in the media that seems to mean "anything with analog keyboards, long guitar solos, and/or forms that divert from standard pop." So under this definition, prog would include Boz Scaggs' "Lido," Styx, Boston, and even Steve Miller.

Maybe it's subjective; I never saw the Moodies as progressive, but I did feel that way about Tull!

Phill Hall - my good mate, alt-music fan

I know what I like. What a witty, progtastic answer that would be, but it's actually the truth; I know what I like (and not necessarily in your wardrobe).

I grew up in a family of essentially prog rock fans - prog rock from the halcyon days of 25 minute epic songs and Jon Anderson replicating a farm yard in a recording studio because, he could. I was introduced to albums such as Trespass, The Yes Album and the eponymous ELP 1st album at about 8 years old and along with The Doors (1st record bought when I was 6) and classical music, this was, ahem, my jam.

When peers were ejaculating all over the rise of punk rock, I was thinking imaginary creatures that disappear in pools of bubbles and tears and strange worlds floating in space. My imagination has always been prosaic, so finding solace in prog rock was always a destination for me.

Yet, the question is something of a problem for me. I wouldn't know an A flat minor from a flat miner; when someone says Apocalypse in 9/8, I see illiterate biblical equations not time signatures. I wouldn't really know a prog record if it bit me on the arse and that is because I view prog or progressive rock (or as I prefer progressive music) as the kind of thing I like. In my humble opinion, if it sounds different, then I probably like it and will look for prog trademarks.

I thought Tears For Fears were prog pop. I think Hybrid are prog electronica. I thought Mescalito were prog acid jazz. I think bands like Hammock, Boards of Canada and producers like Ulrich Schnauss and Jon Hopkins are prog ambient wibbly shoegaze nonsense. I suppose it's a case of I know what I like and if I can force it into some kind of prog category I'm happy.

Raffaella Berry - music blogger, DPRP

Progressive rock was the soundtrack (though not the only one) of my teenage years, so it is not surprising that I have a strong emotional attachment to the genre. It has always been something that resonates with me - probably because of its adventurous, omnivorous nature, which in some ways reflects my own character. However, I have never considered it superior to other forms of rock music. Nowadays, I prefer to think in terms of "non-mainstream music" - a definition that often crops up in my reviews, and that does not necessarily require the use of the "rock" word. One thing is for sure: I completely disagree with those who maintain that "prog" is a style, and has no longer anything to do with the original meaning of the word "progressive".

Davide Guidoni - Daal

For me the prog rock is not a distinct artistic style.....for me is a mindset:
Everything in sound starts as experimentation can be defined music in progress, from Bjork to Popol Vuh.
Progressive not buy a mellotron - (since all the great keyboard players had), but buy it to experiment with alternatives!!!!!!!!
Everything that is miserable revival of classical styles is regressive.
Progressive is an anarchist approach

Will Vigar - music fan & former broadcaster

Well... now here's a thing because I can delineate between the wholly derogatory "prog" and the not at all derogatory "prog rock" or "progressive".

With "prog", I'm speaking about bands who write self indulgent fret-wank (or key-frot?) for the sole purpose of proving their virtuosity. Technically astonishing, but god do they let you know it. ELP and Yes and the like were far more interesting in being "real" musicians (whatever that means) than producing honest art. I liken this to opera which annoys me by being technically perfect but emotionally stunted. I can never quite believe opera, because the emphasis is on perfection.

There is skill is prog, just an almost total lack of passion. Kind of why I was so enamoured with punk which had the opposite raison d'être

It's ironic then that Yes took on the Buggles. Not so much for the Drama album (although there are a couple of tracks on that that are fantastic) but for the Owner of a Lonely Heart era Yes. That managed to combine the pretence of prog with an accessibility and immediacy previously unseen in their career. That one song suddenly made them relevant.

Prog rock, on the other hand, covers a vast range of musical styles that literally does progress the form of contemporary music. Yes, there is still a reliance on virtuosity, but there is also energy and invention. A lot of modern ambient (which is anything but ambient!) is really prog with a hipper name. Bands like Fuck Buttons, for example, even Global Communication.

The things that come to mind when the word 'prog' is bandied about, though, are soul crushing solos, pretentious lyrics often based on literary works as an attempt to glom on the artiness of another form (Oh Lord of the Rings, you have so much to answer for!). Prog suffered from trying to make itself seem like art. Rather than actually be art, in and of itself, it wanted to gain acceptability by self consciously alluding to other forms.

All I want is music that is heartfelt.

Leonardo Pavkovic – MoonJune Records

Today's prog-rock world is a weird place to be. I was collecting albums since the late Seventies, accumulating in my collection thousands of LPs, then CDs and then digital albums. Despite the fact that in my collection I had and still have many thousands of so called prog albums, I never paid too much attention to the term "prog". Only when I moved from Italy to the USA in 1990, I started paying attention to the "prog-rock terminology". When buying albums of Mike Oldfield, PFM, Pink Floyd or King Crimson, 30+ years ago, when I started collecting LPs, I never thought about prog I was always thinking of good music that I like or that I might like, whatever the genre is. To me even artists like Cream, Blodwyn Pig, Colosseum, Traffic, electric Miles Davis, Spirit, Vanilla Fudge, The Doors, early Santana were progressive, but you cannot very often find their name in the conservative snobbish prog circuits.

To me prog-rock is not just Genesis, VDGG, King Crimson, PFM, ELP or Gentle Giant. Even jazz-rock or fusion, is very often snubbed by the progressive rock "intelligentsia", perhaps Weather Report, Soft Machine, Nucleus, Return To Forever, Terje Rypdal or Pat Metheny are too jazzy for most of the prog-heads. Today, to me, prog rock is a mythology, and in the so called progressive rock world, which is mostly very conservative, the real progressive music is more than often snubbed by those prog-heads, and if you see their list of "best of such and such year", there is very little of real progressive music, and there is a rather redundancy in glorifying pseudo-progressive bands, mostly neo-prog and progressive metal, of which most of them excel in pathetic pomposity and lack in originality, artistic organic sincerity and very often, there is nothing progressive in their music.

Most of today's progressive rock glorified by those conservative prog-pseudo-strongholds is like a sumptuous meal in a buffet all-you-can-eat restaurants: you take a prog plate, then go to the buffet table and you fill up your plate with tons of melodrama, tons of cheesy keyboards, tons of over-indulging time signature, tons of forced complexity, tons of self-indulgent pseudo-virtuosity, and all in the name of so called "prog-art", and so and so. Without doubt, there are many great so called prog-bands today, but talking about prog-rock today is cliché and passé. I would rather insist on progressive music of any kind, rather than on "prog-rock". Prog-rock is a mythology.

MoonJune is a label of progressive music, exploring boundaries of jazz, rock, avant-garde and the unknown, but in my free time, I listen and appreciate music of any kind. Duke Ellington said that there is a good and bad music, but I would say there is music we like or we do not like. And despite being a lover and maybe even a connoisseur of the classic progressive rock from all around world from the heydays, I am not very into being part of the prog-rock world or the prog-rock scene, which is very limiting.

Conor Fynes - music reviewer, Prog Sphere

For me, there's now quite a difference between the terms 'prog', and 'progressive'. The former of these entails a genre of music revolving around longer song structures, mellotrons, flute solos and generally esoteric lyric content. The latter is a much broader term; to me, it may be used to describe any music that advances its respective genre in some way. There are plenty of hip-hop acts, for example, that I think do something 'new' with hip-hop, or smooth jazz, or club-centric dance music. The term 'prog' may have worked well as an umbrella term to fit any ambitious rock artist in its heyday, but at this point, many sonic elements of 'prog' have solidified. As a result, many bands who associate themselves with this sound are emulating a forty-year old sound, essentially the antithesis of progressiveness. Even so, I do think there are plenty of stunning contemporary prog acts coming out nowadays that hold true to the 'progressive' mindset, but one of these terms has come to mean something different than the other. In shorter terms; prog is now a genre, whereas 'progressiveness' is a philosophy.

Derrick Osborne - oldest mate

In my mind, prog rock is a lot of things, mainly based around the
guitar, bass, keyboard and drums. It’s heavy, non-repetitive,
experimental and more arty and intellectual than your standard rock.
Some of it when it gets too clever can have a tendency to get stuck up
its own arse, but what do I know!

I think the ‘rock’ is required, to separate it from prog soul and funk.
I have only listened to what could be termed the more mainstream side, i.e. Yes, Genesis, early Pink Floyd and Deep Purple, and some of it I couldn’t abide, i.e. King Crimson and ELP!

I’m sure if I gave some of the rarer stuff a listen I’d enjoy it in
small doses, but I’m too much into my jangly guitars, three chord power
pop and more angst ridden lyrics. Some newer stuff which could be
classed as having prog roots I like, Radiohead, Muse and the
Decemberists. I’m sure the purists would hate it though!

Peter Lindahl - In The Labyrinth

Progressive rock means to me a certain intellectual format of music which evolved along side of hard rock in the late 60s to early 70s.

Undoubtedly there is a contradiction in the definition itself as progressive means just what it says, to 'progress and move forwards'. And to me it's quite apparent that this old movement has not shown that much development during the past 40 years or so, even though there are a few exceptions to the rule.

I would prefer the term 'Art rock' as it is more neutral and doesn't play on associations to a nostalgic style of long ago, but I would also have preferred the combined definition of 'Psych prog', which does seem to reflect a somewhat broader scope.

Though to be quite honest, I would rather do without any categories at all, if it were made possible, as I like to just go with the flow and not be restricted by moralistic thinking.

Torrod Fuglesteg - music blogger

What is prog rock ? In many's opinion, progressive rock is regression. That is to stand still in the 1970s and don't accept any movements on the calendar after 1975. Those who believe in that are now wealthy middle aged to old men. Those who have made Classic Rock Present Prog (now Prog Magazine) to the runaway success it has become. A magazine who cater for their taste. I see nothing wrong with that whatsoever. I see no wrong in prog rock being as regressive as our economy too. I personally believe prog rock should be progressive music. A type of mind blowing music pushing the envelope. Prog rock in the vein of AOR and symph prog is no longer progressive music. For me, progressive music is the likes of electronica, post rock, experimental metal, neo-folk, zeuhl, avant-garde and death metal. Yes, death metal. Death metal has been everything symph prog was between 1968-75 and has a much bigger claim on the prog rock label than symph prog anno 2012.

Prog rock anno 2012 is regression and about putting horse shoes and lungs on cars as the mean of propelling a car down the road. Prog rock is no longer progressive music and too many of its followers is suffering from sectarian uber-menschen personality disorders. That though is another debate.

Fred Laird - Earthling Society

Prog was a fantastic concept that disappeared up it's own a-hole as the 70's went on. From the brilliance of Caravan to the utter over indulgence of ELP's pompous arrogance that eventually made this beautiful exciting music about as interesting as algebra...

Francesco Zago - Yugen, AltrOck Productions

From my point of view, “Progressive” is basically a musical attitude, and not – or not only – a genre or musical style. “Prog” means “looking ahead”, and has to do with research and boldness. I’d really like thinking about “prog rock” not in terms of nostalgia of a glorious past. Prog attitude has to be referred to the actual context too: for example, Genesis was clearly prog in 1972, but I don’t think that playing and writing music reproducing old Genesis style in 2012 is prog (this being not a value judgement on specific artists). You have to explore, experiment and evolve, if you want to call music “prog”. Moreover, as Frank Zappa said, “without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible” (I have to thank Elaine Di Falco for indicating me this quote). Otherwise, you’re not creating anything; you’re just repeating a model from the past (even a beautiful model, but you’re not risking your own ideas and creativity), or just satisfying the audience or some kind of market. I think that “Rock in Opposition” movement is a good model for “prog” musicians, for its features and evolution as well.

Alison Henderson – DPRP

Prog rock to me is a fusion of classic rock with the mindset of classical music. It is music which cannot be heard – only listened to. Why? Because it is music of the mind and the best prog compositions take you on a journey in which both you and the players are integral to the plot. They paint the aural pictures which you then gather up and put into some kind of personal context based on your own life experiences, beliefs and values.

The best prog always has a spiritual dimension in my opinion, best represented by classic 70s songs such as Pink Floyd’s Echoes, Yes’s Awaken – and indeed Close to the Edge. This tradition continues with Transatlantic’s masterpiece The Whirlwind and indeed, Sean Filkins’ beautiful Epitaph for a Mariner.

And when you hear someone like Jon Anderson both vocally and lyrically, you are connecting with someone who seems to exist in a very different reality and so presents a unique but nonetheless truthful view of human existence.

It is the very fact that prog rock seeks to educate, inspire and inform us all rather than dumb us all down that makes it my music of choice for always.

Steve Feigenbaum – Cuneiform Records

“Progressive rock” usually makes me think of either “classic” 70s stuff (the usual subjects) or the new adventurous stuff that is being made in the tiny dumpy clubs that people who like the 70s stuff seem to not pay attention to.

Time for another tune…

Steve Messina – Blow Up Hollywood

When I hear the term Progressive Rock I think of a combination of a rarely achieved musical ideal and an excuse for self-indulgence.

I would like to think that progressive rock would do exactly that - progress the art of rock - but it seldom does these days. When I think of the groups that have truly achieved that goal I think of the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Yes, and Radiohead. Just to name a few.

Igor Gorely – R.A.I.G. Records

I still want to think that the words “progressive rock” is not only a name for one of the rock sub-genres, but a definition of music which offers the innovation of compositional forms and the originality of arrangement solutions… Unfortunately, not so many modern prog-bands meet these criteria. Focusing on technical perfection, the majority of so-called prog-musicians just explores well-known trends of the 70’s or simply steals ideas from well-forgotten classical music composers. Being a long-time collector of both classical and rock music, I would give my personal preference to modern prog-music from Argentina and South America.

And yes, the “rock” word is still necessary. Because the word “progressive” is also used in electronic music… which, I’m sure, has nothing to do with the music we talk about.

Paolo Botta – Yugen, AltrOck Productions

Whenever I see the words "prog/progressive rock", my instant feeling is a perfect balance of happiness and sadness, in that I see someone's attempt to express his feelings or idea in an extensive and thorough way, even if that is probably going to be a disaster economically, which will make further attempts even harder. I feel there's a gap between what is put out from the artist and what actually reaches the listener. Why is that? It's beyond me !
I think I don't have a precise idea about the "rock" part of progrock tho, I could live without it but I guess it's down to personal taste.

Basil Francis – DPRP

Progressive rock is like a good ale, rather difficult to define but you'll know it when you hear it. It’s not necessarily the use of odd time signatures or overzealous instrumentation, after all, you can play in 4/4 and still be progressive. Progressive rock, by its very nature, cannot be defined, and that's why I love it so much.

There is, of course, bad progressive rock; prog that makes you cringe, or leaves you feeling frustrated or underwhelmed. Recently I reviewed an album that had me cringing, frustrated and underwhelmed all at once, possibly because I was overanalysing the music, searching for hidden depths that simply weren't there.

To me, a common factor is that progressive rock is only good if you don't understand it on the first or subsequent listens. The best progressive tunes will keep you guessing after dozens of listens.

However, I don't understand early Tangerine Dream records, but this does not increase their appeal to me. What really turns me on in a progressive tune is something vaguely 'awesome', in a nerdy prog sense. It could be anything, breakneck syncopation, huge bass guitar, or even a yodelling section, whatever, it keeps me coming back. Perhaps each personal definition of 'awesome' is what makes our music tastes so unique. At any rate, after forty plus years there's a plethora of awesome progressive music to enjoy, and I don't think it will run out soon.

Jason Spradlin – Herd Of Instinct

In the early 1980s, when I was 13 or 14, my girlfriend had a set of TIME/LIFE books on the history of Rock music, and there was a complete volume on Progressive Rock. I read this book every time I visited her.

When I hear this term now, I immediately think of the original English/Italian pioneers of
this music. When I began listening to this music, I noticed that it took me on a journey. These musicians were trying to make music that went against all of the pop, blues, and R’n’B of the day.

For me Progressive Rock, even in its current form, is about taking chances, moving forward, and giving the listener a form of escape. It's my belief that if you're not living on the edge, and are merely trying to sound like the greats from yesteryear, you are not truly progressive." Let's face it, all great art is a bit self indulgent.

Jan Erik Liljeström – Anekdoten

The categorization of music gets less and less important to me. If you say 'prog rock' or 'heavy metal' today that can mean so many different things that the genre names actually say quite little. Once I was curious about all things labelled prog, but now there's only small portions of what is released within the genre that I really enjoy listening to. This has more to do about changes in personal taste than anything else. Actually there's much more good prog related music coming out today than when we started out in the early 90's.

Dan Burke – Music fan

The word “prog” conjures up the many clichés that are attributed to the genre - the 23 minute songs, extensive soloing, lyrics overly obsessed with magical places, cover art that conveys the fantasy worlds described in the music and lyrics. I think of Spinal Tap with synths, of a musical era locked into its own set of rules and expectations.

When I hear the term 'progressive rock', I think of music WITHOUT rules. I think of musicians who want to challenge themselves and their listeners as they take them on an aural journey using the latest instruments and techniques available to them at the time of recording. It is this refusal to settle into a static sound language that makes the music truly progressive. In this regard, it is much like the best of jazz.

I've never been a fan of music that is too simple; its like a puzzle or a maze - if the solution is revealed to quickly, its a bore. As a drummer, I respect a band that can take challenging musical passages and play them with what feels like complete effortlessness. This idea of "learning the count, then forgetting it" and playing it from the heart is the invisible math that titillates and keeps me coming back for more.

Dennis Rea – Moraine

I feel that the descriptor "progressive rock" is no longer useful, if indeed it ever was. In many respects the music of the progenitors of what's come to be known as prog rock was only progressive relative to the rock mainstream of the day, with its tyranny of bedrock chord progressions. But when compared to both the jazz and classical avant-garde, progressive rock - with a few notable exceptions, particularly the RIO axis and certain incarnations of Crimson and the Softs - was in fact rather conservative in its choice of musical materials and strategies.

It has always struck me as ironic that many of these bands were touted as 'progressive' on the basis that they brought elements of classical music into the rock context, when most of them (the Nice, ELP, Genesis, etc.) were sourcing periods of classical music that had already been old hat for a century or more, and rarely ventured into the territory being explored by advanced contemporary composers (again, the RIO bands represented a significant exception). In that sense, calling a band like Renaissance progressive is like calling a Dixieland repertory band modern jazz. As for the influence of modern jazz on progressive rock, it's been my experience that most prog fans actively dislike jazz, as evidenced by the prevalent disdain for horns among that crowd.

A truly progressive music would take into account the latest advances in serious contemporary music, rather than merely cherry-picking motifs and devices from bygone eras and framing them in an updated context.

Andy Read – Stroud FM, DPRP

It's fair to say that the genre descriptions of 'progressive' or 'prog' have, like the music, evolved and expanded over the many decades since the phrase was first coined. Some people have moved their definition with the times. Others have stayed with the definition from the time that they first heard the music that it described.

Ask a music fan in the 1970s what bands they would describe as 'progressive' and you'd rarely find a list that didn't feature at least one of Pink Floyd, Yes, Genesis, ELP or King Crimson. Ask a music fan now what bands they would describe as 'progressive' and you could get a list that includes anything from the extremely heavy to the ambiently light, from the impossibly complex to the unbelievably simplistic, from the mainstream stadium fillers to the downstream home studio nerds; there is simply no accounting for the breadth of 'progressive' musical taste; from Opeth to Procosmian Fannyfiddlers!

For me 'progressive' music is simply a listening experience that isn't afraid to take a few risks; that thrives on challenging me as a listener. It is frequently music which blends musical stylings from different genres, ages, bands and cultures. It is music that requires more than a few cursory listens to even start to appreciate. It is music that will stay with me for a lifetime. For that reason alone, 'progressive' music today and in the future will never sit within a handy, single descriptive word or phrase.

Keith Turner – Quasar

This is one of my pet complaints as a 'label' or genre. I had always thought it gathered together all those bands that were daring to do something new, different and certainly original. But now it seems it is a 'label' for bands that sound the same. Perhaps that is what 'genre' is supposed to do, because it was developed by the record companies rather than the artists, but I find it disappointing. I'm not sure if it's driven by the fans or the bands, but it does seem that many "prog" fans have fallen into the "comfort zone" in their later years, and prefer bands that sound like their favourites from times past. Equally I hear so many bands that fit comfortably into the genre, offering nothing new.

There are many bands out there moving forward, but they get little attention, which is sad. I thought, back in the '80s" we had a new thing going, moving on from, but influenced by Genesis, Yes, Tull etc. with the Neo Prog bands like IQ, Pendragon, Solstice, Marillion etc. but it does seem that little has moved on from there.

Having said all that, prog rock does seem to be thriving now, though I don't listen to much of it. Even the Original bands seem stuck in the past!

There are some newer bands that are very popular, but I'm not sure why they are "progressive" or even "prog rock".

Jonathan Barrett – bass player, Owl

Using the Chaucerian definition of the word, Progressive Music should be a journey. Quite simply it should have a beginning, a development period and a conclusion. It should make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up,and remind me that there's more to music than face pulling and posing, although the genre seems to attract much more than its fair share of these activities. And the musicians are even worse. Fabulous technical expertise isn't necessary, although most prog musicians do fancy themselves a little too much in this department. The most important ingredient is imagination.

As a piece of story telling, 'Love at the Five and Dime' (Nanci Griffith) is a better example of progressive music than a bunch of cliché ridden longhairs blundering in 7/8 while whimpering about 'The Mage of Illyrion,' or some other fantasy based twaddle.

Although there are some brilliant artists around, largely labouring in obscurity, the field seems to have been taken over by instrument owners with no imagination whatsoever who just want to re-tread a load of 70s prog, much of which wasn't that good in the first place. These people are clogging the arteries of Prog, and should be stopped at once; then hopefully progression will flourish anew. Hurrah!

Phil Walker – Record dealer (Second Spin Records)

For me the whole adventure started with The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper. Without them (or someone else doing what The Beatles did) I suspect that there would not have been a 'progressive rock' genre as it became known. Music began to emerge from psychedelic and pastoral folk styles of the late sixties. Again, for me, the Golden Age occurred during the late 60's - 70's period with bands such as Pink Floyd, Procol Harum, The Nice and The Moody Blues (all featured heavily in my personal collection) laying the foundations. Personally, the single most important 'ear-opening' moment was hearing King Crimson's 21st Century Schizoid Man on the Nice Enough To Eat Island Records sampler. This opened the envelope for my collection to include Jethro Tull, Gentle Giant, Genesis, Van Der Graaf Generator and Curved Air. On the 'technical' side, the vinyl long-player was a willing host for the 'long song' form as was multi-tracking and greater emphasis on production values. The good ship 'Prog Rock' was setting sail for increasingly uncharted waters or, more probably, down idyllic streams for musicians to 'get it together' in the country! Blistering solos, dreamy vocals, un-nerving time signatures would disturb grazing ruminants in nearby fields (of gold?). Muscle-bound roadies limbered up to handle bigger PA's, national grid threatening lighting rigs, not to mention the hiring of symphony orchestras. The chase was on to find the Holy Grail that was a unified work where music, visual motifs and verbal expression became inextricably linked. The stage was set!

However, to truly understand why the original show had to close and the curtain come down on those first green shoots of prog, give a listen to a truly frightening record - Emerson Lake and Palmer’s Love Beach. Here was a 'prog rock' band (certainly on their first two LPs) trying to turn in a mainstream pop band while hoping nobody would notice. Ed’s note: Genesis managed it, and bloody awful it was too!

Pete Dobbie – Curator, FB page “Nice Enough To Eat”

What is prog? For sure, it’s a beast of many heads, some of which should probably be cut off but nevertheless take their place in the great pantheon we call progressive rock.

For me, it’s not about how many “difficult” time signatures and exotic modal scales you can fit into a 37 minute magnum opus, nor is it about playing the same bum note twice to show you meant it the first time around, although admittedly, these things have a part to play and I do quite enjoy them.

For me, it’s about innovation, inspiration and imagination. It’s about having to stop and listen to the exclusion of everything else and being taken on a journey to an unexplored place that can be repeated time and time again. It’s an escape from the dull, formulaic and banal music we’re surrounded by day after day. But most of all, it’s an endless eargasm. What more could a boy want?

Bob Mulvey – DPRP Reviews Editor

Answer - 1971

Why 1971? Simply because 1971 was a pivotal moment in my formative years where music came together for the first time.

Initially fuelled by the radio and hearing tracks like: Black Knight,  Living In The Past, Kites, Survival, One Of These Days,  Hocus Pocus, Lucky Man, In The Court Of The Crimson King, A Whiter Shade Of Pale… to name but a very few. Bands such as The Nice, The Moody Blues, Uriah Heep, Atomic Rooster, VdGG, Gentle Giant, BJH, Family, Caravan, Wishbone Ash… and of course a band called Genesis. Not all strictly prog I hear you say. But let them all be counted. Over the next few years bands like Queen, Camel, Gryphon and so many more… 

And here I’ve only really touched on the UK scene …

These bands, tracks and countless others sparked the curiosity to find out what this strange and exciting music was. No computers then, so the only option then was to buy Sounds, Melody Maker, NME and see what they had to say. Talk to friends and go round their houses to check out more.

Over a short period of time I worked out that the music I liked was something called prog. It had been forming since the late Sixties and had started to peak around the time of my early curiosity. The prog I liked took music a step further. It was not afraid to be longer than three minutes, it could fill the whole side of an album. Prog combined elements of classical music, jazz, rock, fusion, folk, psychedelia, blues; in fact it was a melting pot of ideas. It had “uncomfortable” time signatures it had magnificent and often daring vocal arrangements.  It could be dissonant…

There have been many theories and opinions as to what exactly defines prog. This isn’t intended to be another – just some thoughts on what prog means to me. What made it exciting then - still does to this day with its no boundaries approach.  I may not like it all – but it’s still fun tracking it down…

André de Boer – DPRP

Let me start by stating that I'm not going to explain what Rock music is. I will only try to describe what the Progressive corner of the playing field means to me.

I like music to be interesting and innovative. Mainstream rock music doesn't offer that. Songs may be nice but the music itself mostly is no more then stuffing for a melody. Progressive Rock, whether it is eclectic, metal or any other subgenre, has the ability to find and present new ways to draw the attention to the music itself; which means you discover and enjoy a twitch, a riff or an instrument that you haven't noticed before. As a conclusion: Prog Rock is Progrock to me if I say to myself "Wow, how do they come up with this?!”.

Andy Williams – No, not that one! A good mate and self-proclaimed Bard of Pompey concludes with his humorous take:

Having consulted the book of armaments aka the New Oxford Dictionary of English circa 1998 which doth saye “Progressive – adjective – happening or developing gradually, otherwise proceeding step by step”, I would pose questions two.

Is it the sometimes less than gentle progression of music from the jazz/blues influence of the 1950’s and early 60’s into the fusion of rock with  classical influences characterised by the wonderful sound of the Hammond L100 as destroyed on many occasions by the picture of exhibitionism himself, the self styled pirate, Lord Emerson?

Or could it be the pretentious progression of overly long and subtle intros, (the sort that when you get to my age make you wonder if your speakers have packed up), into screaming vocals coupled with random guitar solos, building into a cacophony of sound which is the finale some 20 – 30 minutes later when you have forgotten how it all started?

It is little wonder that those roisterous smash and grab punksters like the Ramone brothers showed that they could do it in nano seconds.

Either way, as my son Thomas the digger of holes in the ground and a bear with a very small paleolithic brain, so eloquently puts it “IT’S AWESOME”.

Well after all that, I suppose you want my tuppence worth? Well, this be it…

On the plus side "prog rock" conjures up grainy images of the original greats when they were actually progressive in the literal sense of the word, the two songs included above being prime examples, but on the minus side what qualifies a band to be "prog rock" today is often far removed from anything remotely progressive, and indeed there are far too many bands out there peddling what I like to term "regressive rock". This ranges from bands who deliberately set out to make "Fragile Cryme" ad infinitum to others who are little more than bland AOR, to others who routinely get away with stretching a half-decent four minute song to ten minutes and upwards, killing it stone dead, simply because their audience expect it. Unfortunately there is also a fairly large and equally conservative audience out there who will readily lap up this aural wallpaper as genuinely progressive new bands struggle to survive.

Progressive music does not need really need the "rock" appendage at all and there are a good few bands out there who while they may all to a greater or lesser extent have elements of "rock" in their music have moved (progressed?) a long way from what the mainstream would regard as "rock music". There are a few members of some of these bands quoted here, and they, to my mind, are what progressive music should be about. These bands often come up with songs or pieces of music that contain more ideas in their five or six minutes than their distant "prog rock" relations manage in entire careers. Luckily the audience for true progressive music be it "rock" or anything else is small but fiercely dedicated, enabling the true progressive music scene to survive...just.

In the end, for me prog is simply music that you can dance to in your head.

If you’ve lasted the course and got this far you will have no doubt noticed that there’s a nice concurrence of opinion from a majority of contributors. Great minds obviously think alike! And to end, here’s a tune from a new album that for me ticks all the right progressive boxes:

I would like to thank everyone who took the time and made the effort to send me their opinions on the thorny subject of “prog rock” in all its many-splendoured forms. Thank you all very much!


  1. Roger,
    That was a great read, and I was honored to be asked to contribute. I feel like we're all on the same page here regarding the whole prog/progressive labels thing. I mostly use these categories to help organize my ever-expanding music collection and have now determined that I must make a matrix format database where I can cross-reference searches based on multiple traits in music (i.e. 70's German psychedelic, female vocals, progressive). Let's just say that it weill be a long winter's task involving lots of scotch and revisiting many 12" black vinyl and 4 3/4" silver friends. Thanks again.

  2. glad you liked it Dan!

    Being a veteran keeper of lists, my entire collection is already on Excel and can be filtered to my heart's content. About 10 years ago I transferred it all from manual records - it took a while!

  3. Surely prog isn't about "bands sounding a lot like Porcupine Tree" as some people see it?

    Some brilliant writing above.

    1. The Bard of Pompey22 February 2020 at 12:31

      Its been a while, but while writing thesis amendments I was looking for distractions. Found this again, excellent choice to finish with - love it! DAAL are now on my playlist!!


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