Cruise to the Edge with PFM

P1000682Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM) appeared live on the Cruise to the Edge concert voyage April 7-12. The shows reinforced why they have been one of the premier international progressive rock bands over the years, and their playing is undiminished by time. PFM’s music, while sometimes touching on dark themes, is overwhelmingly positive and joyful, particularly when the music incorporates snippets of traditional Italian folk within the progressive, jazz and pop music formats. Many fans consider their best work in live performance, of which there are many official recordings available. Unlike some contemporaries, they still play complete works in their original form to make up their set list – lots of early work, such as “La Carrozza di Hans” from their first Italian release Storia Di Un Minuto (1972), to “Romeo E Giulietta” off the beautiful new Pfm in Classic-Da Mozart a Celebration (2013)There is a high degree of precision in their live performances, but also room left for jamming and improvisation. These days drummer/vocalist Franz Di Cioccio has a backup percussionist leaving him several chances during the show to come out front with lead vocals and enthusiastically rally the crowd. It’s a rewarding experience to capture PFM playing live.

I caught up with the three primary members of the band, Franz Di Cioccio (drums, vocals), Franco Mussida (guitars, vocals), and Patrick Djivas (bass) for the following interview during the cruise:

 

P1000160D: Can you tell us a bit about how your popularity was built outside of Italy?

PFM is the best-known and most famous band of this kind in Italy. At the start, we came to the USA and UK and stayed there for 6, 8, 9 months at a time – you have to build up the following in country. We thought with a worldwide mentality – we did not think only in the Italian way. But we are Italian, we know the mother language –and there are a lot of things that anybody who goes into art must consider. We did the best with our potential – for example leaving home touring the USA for a long time in a lot of places – big towns but also places like Grand Rapid, Fort Wayne – you have to be out there and the people love it and know you are really an international musician.

Our big opportunity was when Pete Sinfield from King Crimson liked our music. He found in PFM– a new renaissance of a theatrical mentality and creativity. He wrote incredible lyrics for our music because our lyrics are not as good in Italian – the image you get from music and lyrics together in English is fantastic. “River of Life” for instance – the combination is fantastic. In Italian it’s not quite the same – it’s got to be the right music combined with the right lyrics.

Franco Mussida
Franco Mussida

D: Having said that, if I could pick one of your Italian language songs on albums Per Un Amico or L’isola di niente and translate a lyric to English – what would be a favorite?

PFM: In English words are very short and it’s fantastic for rock because it will get you moving. In Italian everything is more about drawing out the syllables (sings a bit of “Dove Quando”) and it’s more melodramatic. We didn’t translate that one – even Pete said you don’t need to translate this lyric because it’s perfect in Italian. The same is for “Il Banchetto.” English is more clipped and there is better possibility to carry the idea. When you want to communicate something from the heart use the vocal melody – you can use the round vowels to carry emotion.   Another example is from our first album – our song “Generale” which has no Italian lyrics – they would be difficult in Italian – Pete made it easy – “shiny shoes he runs to catch the train…rockets launched if he is late again…” (sings and taps this out to the beat of “Mr. Nine Till Five”) and it makes the melody different – we made a melody to support the Pete Sinfield words that we didn’t have in the Italian version. By contrast, when opera is in Italian or German – you can’t do it in English.

cookD: Cook – the first live recording released by PFM, was recently re-released with the entire concert included and it’s a stunning document that displays the bands full range – was there a discussion at the time of putting out a 3 album set?

PFM: No we did not try to get it out – did not have the time. We were not even supposed to do a live album at that moment – we had access to a recording studio which was paid for but unused. We decided to use it and we were playing in New York – so we used the time to make the record and taped a few more shows. We decided to do one album – to make something very accessible to the people – to represent PFM with one album – and cost was a factor – double albums are expensive – three even more. Now you can do these box sets and legacy collections more easily. So we did the best in one, and made it more successful. I even decided to cut my drum solo!

Franz Di Cioccio
Franz Di Cioccio

D: Franz, back in those times, did you have drumming support – it’s entertaining when you come out front during shows today.

PFM: Not at that time – I stayed back on the drums with a mic. When we used to play as a 5 piece, everybody sang something because there was not really a singer with that one role in PFM – our voices mixed together. I did sing “Dove Quando” and “Just Look Away” up front because the drums only came in at the end.

D: Chocolate Kings was the first of several albums with Bernardo Lanzetti out front on vocals (from 1975–1977). It’s an album that gets talked about more than Jet Lag – yet I find Jet Lag is just brilliant – did it not do as well?

PFM: The music did get more difficult and this is the way PFM has always been – we play what we feel like playing in the moment. At that particular time we were living a lot in the states and had a lot of contact with jazz musicians and we had more jazz influence – some of us more than others and it went in that direction. We did not really think about “why or why not” – we did it because we liked that music at the time. Maybe people did not expect anything like that from PFM. It was more improvisational – its a different way – we used to improvise a lot. PFM always changes album by album – we didn’t want to stay the same for each one – for instance our latest, Pfm in Classic-Da Mozart a Celebration, is different from all the others. It’s not planned – not decisions we make but it just comes – its why we keep playing with the same interest because we always do different things. If you play the same thing all your life – whoever you are and how good you are – you get bored and you don’t get better. You are just doing the same thing all the time. For us its nice to have the influence of all kinds of music – for instance the 2006 record Stati di immaginazione – this is the record where you really understand the way PFM is – where we put a little bit from all the experiences from all the years – so every musician comes to the project with all of their background, and this is what’s important to us.
(ed: Patrick mentions Stati from 2006 – for those not keeping up with PFM’s more recent releases, this one is highly recommended)

Patrick Djivas
Patrick Djivas

This is why we can do the Mozart work. It was very difficult to do the Mozart album – it’s easy to score or play with an orchestra doing what everybody else does – which is either playing the classical themes with your instruments, or else using the orchestra to back your music – we did not want to do that – everybody has done it. We wanted to do something totally different – we thought, what if Mozart had guitar, bass, and drum – what would he have added to his compositions – so we had to invent and make music to fit this inside of his music. And let the people get comfortable without shock – to have a different experience about a another period of music but still be contemporary – have it be contemporary now.

D: PFM has released a lot of CDs of live shows, so there is audio covering your entire career. There is a wonderful DVD of PFM live in Japan in 2003. Have you thought about releasing a video history of the band?

We played straight live, no lip-syncing, no overdubs – the music spoke for us. Most of our live performances sound better as there is more energy and adrenaline. We did Old Grey Whistle Test, Midnight Special, Don Kirshner in concert, the reason we got on the charts was because we played live. But we have no video tapes of that – they ask a lot of money for those. The DVD from Tokyo in 2003 took advantage of better technology. There is also video of the show in Siena Italy – released on audio as Piazza Del Campo Live in Siena (2008) – but it has not been released. Lucia Fabri was back on violin for that event and we played the solo together at the end of the show just as in 1974.
(ed: I’ve since located the video Franz mentions above – it’s all online now, and there is enough to give one an idea of what the band was like in the beginning, and middle of the ’70’s.  The 2003 Live in Tokyo is the best footage available commercially at the time of this writing, and is an amazing document from the band)

P1000200D: In live performance it almost seems like you increased the tempo of many tracks and it could be at times simultaneously loose and tight like a train that could go off the tracks – was there almost a competitive spirit to play faster at the time?

PFM: No – the reason it sounds that way is because we were playing more than 300 concerts a year and we would play very fast, almost too fast – not competing, just natural – tight and fast. For example last night when we played “Four Holes in the Ground” the count in was [taps out a slower tempo] but in those days it was more like [plays out a rapid fire tempo].
(ed: listen to this track on Cook and you will see what Franz means!)

mozart2D: Will you tour more in support of Pfm in Classic-Da Mozart a Celebration?

PFM: We have done some shows – our manager is figuring out where else we can play. The challenge is you have to go to a place and hire the orchestra instead of trying to take them with you. Everyone who plays with an orchestra has to do this. But we could take PFM plus say 5 additional musicians – a chamber orchestra but not a full one. For instance, last night we played “Romeo E Giulietta” and it came out well.
(ed: the band’s rendition of “Romeo E Giulietta” was played wonderfully even without the full orchestra)

Here’s hoping for more chances to catch the amazing PFM live soon – with or without orchestra!

 

 

 

Three Friends plus Three

P1000501Three Friends performed the music of Gentle Giant at the Cruise to the Edge voyage April 7-12, doing 3 sets on different dates, and in the process reinforcing the preeminent place where Gentle Giant belongs on the progressive rock mantle. I had the chance to see all three shows and interview Gary for Gonzo Weekly magazine, and it’s a week I’ll never forget.  The shows were exciting, diverse, and precise yet rocking, featuring Gary, Malcolm and all their friends, expertly arranging and performing these brilliant compositions.

The full band P1000795were led by Gary Green, the guitarist from all Gentle Giant albums, and Malcolm Mortimore who was the drummer on the 1973 album Three Friends.  As the story goes, after recording the nuanced, boyant drum tracks on that album and beginning the live gigs, Malcolm had to leave mid tour after a motorcycle accident that led to a broken arm and leg.  He went on to play with dozens of famous musicians including Ian Dury, Tom Jones, Van Morrison and many others, while the band went on with John Weathers.

For these P1000808shows, Gary and Malcolm were joined by a fantastic band of musicians including Charlotte Glasson on violin and winds of all kinds (recently winner of the Best Newcomer Award at Marlborough Jazz Festival,)  Neil Angilley on keyboards, who has recently been touring with the War of the Worlds extravaganza, and Mick Wilson on vocals, who has also been touring with 10CC and as a solo artist, and Jonathan Noyce on bass, known by many from his years playing with Jethro Tull.  The band obviously worked hard to master the clever, intricate parts originally played by composer/multi-instrumentalist Kerry Minnear and the Shulman brothers, Derek, Ray, and in the beginning, Phil.

I sat down for a chat with Gary on April 8, 2014 on the voyage:

D: When you look back, at the various stages of the bands career what’s your perspective now on the band’s history, which ended a couple of years after punk hit in Britain. Your swan song, Civilian, which I saw performed at the Roxy (their last ever show) seemed an apt title and a bit polarizing for fans.

G: Music is a product, like art is a product of who you are at a given time, it does reflect the times – and everything we went through. Certain of the albums were named because of knee jerk reactions– like In a Glass House was named precisely that because we felt that anything we were doing would be [shot down] by someone else. So IAGH seemed like a totally appropriate name. For Free Hand – we just joined Chrysalis and thought, they’re so good for us – they were letting us do what we want, and the music reflected those times. It did change – as a band we got a little frustrated that all our peers where getting fame and playing big gigs and we were lumbering on producing what we thought was good music to deaf ears –there’s pressure from the record company a bit to produce a hit, and punk had come out. Ray was always keeping his ears to the ground for what was new and happening and steered it that way. But really the best period was the early-middle third of the band.

P1000281D: Three Friends seemed like the album where the band was really coming together, after the very experimental Acquiring the Taste. And then new drummer Malcolm had to leave the group mid tour.

G: Yes, Malcolm had a motorcycle accident right when we were on an upswing. When John came in a started playing with us it just fell together. Malcolm went on to do a lot better than us – he was with Gary Moore, Ian Dury, and he’s done great.

D: The opening track from Three Friends, “Prologue,” is heard live from New Orleans in 1972 as an extra on the latest re-master of that album – and is performed very aggressively – was your playing different at that time?

G: Oh, the breakneck speed version – there’s a certain adrenalin – especially when we were playing an opening set for somebody – we had 40 minutes to do something. If you have a violin and cello opening for Black Sabbath, you had to do that. Then even if it didn’t rock, it was enthusiastic!

D: After Octopus Phil left, and In a Glass House not released in America (though it did great here as an import) What was the impact of that?

P1000511G: Phil really was the original leader of Gentle Giant and forged the direction with that statement on Acquiring the Taste (The statement: “It is our goal to expand the frontiers of contemporary popular music at the risk of being very unpopular”) That’s complete Phil and though I did not like it too much at the time, now I think that was a great statement to have made because that’s really the truth – we lost that kind of literal import to the words and philosophy of the band with Phil’s leaving.  At the same time he and his the other two brothers were always rubbing up against each other – so it was sometimes difficult to be around all that. When he left, there was an initial “oh my God the band’s gonna break up thing” and I think Ray and Derek actually did think that might be it. We loved Phil, but determined he was not critical to the band’s live success. We became a very strong 5 piece as a result of that and Derek took to fill his shoes with the lyrics.

D: For live performances, Derek would often sing Kerry’s parts – did they agree on that?

G: Kerry does not have a loud voice, and is not a strong live vocal performer – he has a high register with not a lot of force and in those days we had really crappy monitor systems– you couldn’t hear it well enough to do it – had it been today with in ear monitors – different thing probably.

D: With Three Friends did he do some lead vocals?

G: We didn’t do a lot of shows – but he did do “Think of Me with Kindness” live which was sweet – with Kerry singing it was lovely.

D: Why did Kerry stop playing in Three Friends?

G: He felt and feels an allegiance to Ray and Derek, who are not terribly happy about us doing this – not obstructionist, but they are not sentimental about these things. Kerry decided in respect to that he could not faithfully continue – and he never liked playing live a lot and hated travel – we went to Japan to Canada and he remembered “I don’t like this.” For me, I think, yes they wrote the music, but it took me and John to inject a lot of life to it – great work takes some great interpretation.

P1000245D: Do you think you will take this band out again?

G: Yes we are going week after next to Portugal – a nice little festival. The band does not play a lot purely because everybody is busy doing other projects. Everyone is busy doing other stuff. Mick is with 10CC – Jon Noyce [with several projects]. Neil Angilley with the War of the Worlds tour – phenomenal stuff. Honestly so many promoters we talk to want to say “we’d like to have you but we want to call it Gentle Giant” and I won’t have that cause it isn’t because there’s only that one Gentle Giant and there could never be another one. But there could be really good interpretations of the music by people who know how to play it and love to play it.

D: It seems this music can live on like classical music played into the future.

G: I think so and it deserves to, you know, and that was my and Malcolm’s whole reason for doing this again – yeah there was a resurgence of interest because of the internet and everybody enjoyed that – but I never felt Giant music in its day got a wide enough listen, and even those who heard it perhaps didn’t quite get it, and time has moved on and perhaps there’s another generation or two who have decided that Gentle Giant has subtle influences on what they’ve done.   I’d like to say “okay then, this is how it’s supposed to be played,” while I can still do it and I love doing it. I’m totally respectful of the music. Some of the recordings really irk me- I listen to it and think “I really rushed that phrase” – so now there’s a chance to correct some of those things and I find that really cool! It’s not to be perfect, but music lives and music deserves to be heard – especially this as its very wide ranging – Giants music – its got many styles and it goes to many emotional areas and I find that fascinating. And it’s a complete challenge to play. When you play something like “Schooldays” live it’s a bastard of a tune to play really and when you pull it off it’s like climbing a hill and thinking – I didn’t have a heart attack!

GGatGGD: There has been a lot of reissue work and scraping of the barrel – both audio and video, which is so important to us who did not see those shows

G: I was the archivist for the video – I was the one who went to the BBC after the show saying we need a copy of that. There is not any more that I’ve found – wish there were. We are talking ancient history – there’s little video back then.

D: Are you involved in the Steve Wilson re-master of Power and the Glory?

G: The rights to Power and the Glory have reverted back to us – so we own it thank God, and we don’t own all of them by any means, but this we’ve got and Steve Wilson is working on it with Ray for a 5.1 surround sound remix – I’m as anxious to hear that as anyone else cause I love that album

D: How did it come to pass that the “title track” single was left off the LP?

G: It was made as a single – it was obviously and determinedly meant as a single but it seemed to me and all of us that it’s not really part of the album.

P1000491D: In preparing for the Three Friends shows, what’s been hardest or most rewarding track to go back and play now?

G: “Schooldays” is very rewarding – we did it only a few times back then – we had decided it was not a good thing for a live audience because often times we were opening up for somebody. It’s good for a headliner where you have an audience and do what you want. Also now the technology is so different – it’s a whole different world of noises and the monitors are good – better at least. We just learned “The Moon is Down” – I never played on it originally – the guitar you hear is Ray and now I’m singing it with Mick – I’m not a great singer but I’m giving it a go! A lot of them are hard to play and some are challenging or both – the best might be “Free Hand” which is both.

——-

Gary’s words rang so sincerely during the three sets that unfolded over the week.  For the record, included in one of more of the shows was a cross section of some of the most complex and rewarding prog rock ever committed to record:

“Alucard” /  Gentle Giant (1970)
“Pantagruel’s Nativity”, “The Moon is Down”, “Wreck”, and “The House The Street The Room” / Acquiring The Taste (1971)
“Prologue”, “Schooldays”, “Mr. Class and Quality”, “Three Friends” / Three Friends (1972)
“The Advent of Panurge”, “The Boys in the Band”, “Think of Me With Kindness” / Octopus (1972)
“In a Glass House” / In a Glass House (1973)
“Proclamation”, “Playing the Game” / Power and the Glory (1974)
“Free Hand”, “Just the Same”, “Mobile” / Free Hand (1975)
“I Lost My Head” / Interview (1976)

P1000499It was beyond expectations that a band of such diverse musicians could pull off these tracks with such accuracy and enthusiasm.  The only thing that felt missing at all was Kerry’s vibraphones, though they were replicated by Neil’s exciting performances on keyboards.  Also for this fan the lack of medleys was a real plus as I’d always felt some of those detracted from the original compositions. Top that off with the set lists being so faithful to the core period of Giant’s catalog after so many years and you realized this was a new historical milestone for this music.

Hopefully not the last voyage for these many friends.

Cruise to the Edge Returns to Port

Still reeling a bit from 5 days out to sea witnessing a terrifying battle between two sea monsters… wait, no, that’s a different story – ahem – 5 days at sea bearing witness to at least a dozen progressive rock concerts on the wonderful Cruise to the Edge voyage.  Met and interviewed band members – many who are musical heroes to me, made new friends, and took in some sun & sand besides. On the plane now heading back to San Francisco, thinking about the highlights:

P1000501 Three Friends (now two – featuring former members of Gentle Giant – Gary Green (guitar), and Malcolm Mortimer (drums)):  The talented band they assembled played three full sets, varying the selections each time, including “Alucard” from their debut, four from Acquiring the Taste including the searing “The House, The Street, The Room”, and four from Three Friends including “Prologue” (the opener for each show), “Schooldays” (yes, really, live!), “Mister Class and Quality” and “Three Friends”.  Among other mid period tracks, they did several from their masterworks, Octopus, In A Glass House, Power and the Glory, and Free Hand.  I’ll have a lead story on these shows and an interview with guitarist Gary Green in an upcoming post.

Premiata ForneriP1000195a Marconi (PFM): This will be the subject of a second lead story which will include an interview with the three primary band members and I’ll have a review of their latest Pfm in Classic-Da Mozart a Celebration. PFM has seldom made it to the states after the 1970’s other than the east coast Nearfest dates some years ago, and time has not diminished their musical prowess in concert.  The band tore through tight renditions of “La Luna Nuova” (Four Holes in the Ground), “Mr. Nine ‘Till Five” (including the “alta loma” coda), “Romeo E Giulietta” (from the beautiful new Mozart orchestrated disc) and the ever popular “Celebration.”  At their main stage show they included the songs “Promenade the Puzzle” from their first English language release Photos of Ghosts (1973) and “La Carrozza di Hans” from their first Italian release Storia Di Un Minuto (1972).  PFM earned many new converts among the cruisers with these fine shows.

P1000777Marillion: This show was a real surprise for me Thursday night on the cruise.  I’ve not had the chance to experience this band but we kept meeting so many very (very) dedicated fans on this cruise, and being able to talk to them, along with the very personable band members themselves over the days leading up to these headlining shows I think prepared us to finally “get it.”  And we really did get into this band – Steve Hogarth is one amazing singer and performer who communicates their work in an inspiring and compelling way.  Steve Rothery (guitar) had a bit of the bad back, but played beautifully, and temp drummer Leon Parr had to fill in for an ailing Ian Mosley, but the band was in fine form, and played an excellent set that opened with “The Invisible Man” – most impactful to these new ears were “Ocean Cloud,” “This Strange Engine” and “Neverland.”.  One experienced fan on the way out said if he could have designed the perfect set list, that would have been it.

P1000644Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited: Steve and his tight band played two shows on the main stage, each including Supper’s Ready (he and Nat joined on the last show by Simon Collins, son of Phil for the “Apocalypse” vocals), Firth of Fifth (with John Wetton on vocals – also last show) “The Knife” and “The Musical Box.”  For the first show they wrapped these together with “Dance on a Volcano” and “Los Endos.”  The second show was more extended with “Squonk” and the closer “All Along the Watchtower” joined by Chris Squire and again with John.  Also added for the second show was “Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers…In That Quiet Earth” followed by “Afterglow” from Wind and Wurthering and “Broadway Melody of 1974” from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.  These were rewarding shows, though the shorter format let a bit of the steam out of the proceedings given the full sets on these tour dates have been more than twice as long.  Still, amazing to see this master guitarist paying respects to his early work with Genesis.

Yes – After all, the cruise is nP1000334amed for these headliners.  The shows were very much like the current tour – the band played all of Close to the Edge, and The Yes Album, at a reduced tempo, along with “America” and “Roundabout.”  The slower pace for their original work allows one to see Steve Howe (guitar) and Chris Squire (bass) hit all their notes and I think works well for any frustrated musician or technically curious fan.  Unfortunately the downside is it robs a bit of the immediacy from the work.  One nice surprise, most notable to this listener, was just how strong a vocalist Jon Davidson has become – he nailed several very sustained perfect notes at just the right times to drive a bit more energy into the mix.

uk_j UK – John Wetton and Eddie Jobson were joined on stage by guitar and drums to make a four piece this time out.  Both shows presented their debut album in it’s entirety, plus a bit of their second, Danger Money.  Each show included a nice surprise – the band doing a faithful rendition of “Starless” from King Crimson’s Red (1974).  Was great to see them again and this time with deft guitarist Alex Machacek who filled in Alan Holdsworth’s parts, often missed from the first tracks when not present.  No photos were allowed for these shows.

Along with these headliners we were able to catch great sets by Patrick Moraz, Sound of Contact, Tangerine Dream, Renaissance, and Soft Machine.  We missed Moon Safari and Stick Men who were also favorites on the ship, and a few other bands, but overall were able to take in as much music as I suppose was possible over the five days.  Even caught a bit of the midnight movie – Paul Williams in Phantom of the Paradise on the pool deck – major cheese (!) – how could that have been any better?  What an awesome experience the cruise was – think about saving up for next year.  In the meantime, I think now that we are back on shore, to regain my Eustachian balance we will have to listen to something a bit less prog…. maybe the Beach Boys!

Cruise to the Edge Embarking

Very excited tScreen Shot 2014-03-30 at 1.38.52 PMo be going on the Cruise to the Edge trip to Honduras and Cozumel this coming April 7, 2014.  To date I’ve been a bit wary of going on a cruse as I’m not quite seaworthy and typically regret any time spent without feet on terra firma!  However, as this particular cruise will have as entertainment over a dozen famous progressive rock bands of the 1970’s and beyond I’m intrigued.

Besides Yes who host the event, we have Genesis Revisited (Steve Hackett), UK (John Wetton, Eddie Jobson, plus), PFM (Premiata Forneria Marconi from Italy), Three Friends (former members of Gentle Giant Gary Green and Malcolm Mortimer), Marillion, and Tangerine Dream.  Plus having ace keys player Patrick Moraz, stick man Tony Levin, and the great Simon Phillips on skins, among so many others made it too hard to say “no” to this cruise event.

As we’ve been able to catch Yes, UK and Steve Hackett recently, the biggest draw for me is being able to meet and see Gary Green play live once again after all these years.  Three Friends has not made it to the west coast in the states to perform the music of Gentle Giant, so this is a rare treat.  Also key is the inclusion of PFM from Italy.  Its rare to catch them outside their home country and this is arguably one of the best ever progressive rock bands of the past, and present.  Check out their latest disc for proof – the wonderful PFM in Classic da Mozart – a Celebration to witness how they have sustained their craft.

Planning to file reports as we go, as long as the Dramamine kicks in!