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Mountains Come Out of the Sky: Reviewed

Book Review: Mountains Come Out of the Sky, The Illustrated History of Prog Rock, by Will Romano
Backbeat Books, Hal Leonard Corporation, Milwaukee © 2010 by Will Romano
ISBN 978-0-87930-991-6

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As I prepare a manuscript for my own book for next year, I’ve been doing some research on other works that cover progressive, classic and space rock music genres. There is quite a mix out there as anyone interested in music journalism knows. Most of the books I’ve found are about specific bands, such as Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Gentle Giant, Led Zeppelin and many others. My favorite of these, I Know What I Like by Armando Gallo, long time Genesis biographer was covered in an earlier article. I’ve found a few books that focus on very specific works by those bands, the most excellent of which is Tim Smolko’s Jethro Tull’s Thick and a Brick and A Passion Play: Inside Two Long Songs. Some are by photographers or artists and the best of these is Roger & Martyn Dean’s Magnetic Storm which chronicles Roger’s art and architectural design as well as Martyn’s work creating the fantastic staging Yes deployed during their early years.

Many rock music books make an attempt to cover the entire genre or specifically the progressive rock music genre and these books can be the most difficult to assemble. There is the encyclopedic The Billboard Guide to Progressive Music by Bradley Smith, Progressive Rock Reconsidered by Kevin Holm-Hudson and one that ties prog to the counterculture of the times called Rocking The Classics by Edward Mecan, among others. Often these books end up being for reference only (Billboard Guide) or a bit more academic and stuffy. The best of the books I’ve found that delve into the progressive rock genre and its practitioners is Will Romano’s Mountains Come Out of the Sky.

Spectacular Book Design
Spectacular Book Design

Romano’s book, reportedly the result of three years of effort, is an excellent, thoroughly researched document that includes interviews with the artists, essays, and vibrant color photos that include album covers, portraits of the artists and live shots. After a nice forward by Bill Bruford, the book begins with the ever-important question “What is Prog?” This is answered quite well in a short essay that includes Romano’s own position on the subject, peppered with quotes from Greg Lake (ELP), Ian McDonald & John Wetton (King Crimson), Steve Howe (Yes) and others who present a clear and simple definition. The script moves directly into a study of prog’s early history, and first practitioners including The Beatles, The Moody Blues, and Frank Zappa while charting the impact of the Mellotron and Moog keyboards on the sound of the emerging bands in the scene.

The story continues with chapters devoted to the six largest acts in the genre, starting with Pink Floyd, and continuing with King Crimson, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes, Genesis, and Jethro Tull. Each group’s chapter is well researched and composed, including many direct quotes from Romano’s own interviews with band members, producers, engineers, and peers. The material is factual and engaging, detailing the origins of the bands, descriptions of the music and observations as to where it fits in history from today’s perspective. Follow-up chapters cover some other major bands, primarily from the 1970’s. These include groups that were part of the Canterbury scene, some who delivered a sort of Prog Folk sound, bands hailing from American, Italy and Germany, and an additional set of key acts including Camel, Gentle Giant, Marillion. Some of these chapters are lighter on content, particularly when the bands hail from outside the U.K. But Romano makes a defensible case that the birthplace and origin of progressive rock is Britain, and this focus keeps the book from becoming yet another encyclopedic reference, instead allowing him to tell the complete story of the most important acts without becoming ponderous.

Well-read prog fanatics will find bits of new information here, but more importantly, will see that the content on each band details what one must know in order to understand the act and their legacy. I have already used the book to introduce a band to someone who is not so versed, and they attain a quick understanding of the group, it’s key albums, and iconography. In this way the content will please existing and new fans alike. The book includes a bibliography and a discography that includes almost 300 titles, almost all of which I would concur belong in every collector’s library.

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Key Albums

Special mention must be made that this volume is referred to as a “visual history” for good reason. The design by Damien Castaneda and color rendering by the printers is exceptional. There is a generous set of photos, including album cover art, band portraits and live shots. Many of these have not been seen before appearing here, and several are quite rare. These have been edited so that the book is colorful and vibrant. An occasional ribbon at the footing allows for key albums to be nicely referenced, with their cover and year of release, and there is a clever design technique overlaying bits of album cover art and labels as portals into the band’s iconography. It’s almost a coffee table book format, and worthy of its sturdy construction.

In summary this is an excellent entry in progressive rock literature. Romano makes the subject relatable, presenting the best quotes by the musicians and readable descriptions of what makes this music special, and why Britain must be considered the birthplace and primary region from which the form emerged and flourished. The choices as to who to include and who to leave for another tome are well made, so we end up with a fine set of bands and commentary. With that, and the excellent visual layout, it’s an instant favorite for this avid reader and collector.

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Mountains_ZappaBy the way, our own Gonzo Multimedia label carries a load of interesting books on the genre, most of which are more about placing music in the context of it’s times, with socio and political commentary. One that I plan to read soon is Frank Zappa et al – The Real Porn Wars (http://www.gonzomultimedia.co.uk/product_details/15802/Frank_Zappa_et_al-The_Real_Porn_Wars.html ) which covers the maestro’s fight against the puritanical “Parent’s Resource Center” in the 1980’s here in the states. One that is more focused on exposing music that I was most surprised by is Neil & Tom Nixon’s – 500 Albums You Won’t Believe Until You Hear Them (http://www.gonzomultimedia.co.uk/product_details/15804/Neil_&_Tom_Nixon-500_Albums_You_Won’t_Believe_Until_You_Hear_Them.html) . I thought I had a lot of rare music, but came across hundreds of peculiar and rare album recommendations! Check some of these out.

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Jethro Tull’s Long, Exceptional, Songs

Jethro Tull      photo @Barry Wentzell
Jethro Tull photo @Barry Wentzell

I’ve been on record for a long time in these pages as to my love for progressive rock music, and in particular, the work of Jethro Tull. This superb band, led by prolific composer and multi-instrumentalist Ian Anderson, released about 20 studio albums over 30 years after forming in the late 1960’s, beginning with This Was in 1969 and ending with J-Tull Dot Com in 1999. This along with a number of collections, live albums, and a Christmas album from 2003 represent one of the great rock collections in music history. Last year I reviewed a wonderful book by Brian Rabey on the group’s legacy, which included extensive interviews with Ian Anderson and many of the band members through the years. Afterwards I went on the hunt for the next book on the subject, and was elated to discover an incredible and unique study of their two finest progressive rock albums.

JT_TwoLong_CoverThe book is Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play – Inside Two Long Songs, by Tim Smolko. Tim holds master’s degrees in Musicology and Library Science and as such he takes a scholarly approach to coverage of these two albums, along with the band itself, and the nature of progressive rock music in general. The subject albums, Thick as a Brick (1972) and the subsequent release, A Passion Play (1973), both topped billboard charts despite each being one long song lasting over 40 minutes. Both are considered progressive rock masterworks, taking that mantle alongside other luminaries such as Yes’ Close to the Edge, Gentle Giant’s Octopus, Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, King Crimson’s Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, and Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Both albums have been re-released over the last two years as definitive re-masters assembled by the illustrious Steve Wilson and are thus ripe for re-examination!

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For any fan of Jethro Tull, progressive rock, and in particular these two albums, this book is an absolute revelation. I’ve not read another tome on a musician or their art that delves as deeply as this into the origin and context of a work, the compositional approach taken, it’s presentation, or it’s place in music history. The book contains some exhaustive passages documenting both compositions from a musician’s perspective. Dedicated fans who know the musical themes and lyrics in these long songs will enjoy this most while more casual fans may skim through some of the more detailed parts of the study.

Tim begins by establishing these records in the context of the 1970’s period of rock music, focusing on how Ian incorporated elements of medieval and Renaissance culture and music into the work, which had been shaped mostly by American blues and British folk influences. Tim outlines how an interest in preindustrial culture arose within Britain in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and how this was related to the ecology movement, the popularity of fantasy and medieval stories, and explosion of contemporary folk on both sides of the pond.   Of particular interest is his explanation of the extended form of song known as the medieval “lai”, how the form was used by troubadours, beginning in the thirteenth century, and how it was incorporated by Ian into these compositions.   One aspect of the structure that is relatable is the potential repetition of material from the first stanza into the last, with all that comes between employing an unconstrained framework – some parts even improvised. These are aspects of both Jethro Tull albums familiar to fans, such as the two repeated refrains:

And your wise men don’t know how it feel
To be thick as a brick

There was a rush along the Fulham road
There was a hush in the Passion Play

and the sometimes abrupt changes in meter, key, and song structure throughout. After this fascinating introduction, JT_TAABTim delves into Thick as a Brick first, followed by A Passion Play, including a segment detailing the aborted Chateau d’Isaster recordings that preceded the latter. He explains the strophic, AABA, verse-chorus and compound forms using examples most readers will know, including Tull’s but also Led Zeppelin, Queen and others. Then he writes a detailed study of the artwork, lyrics, music, and meaning of each. In order to illuminate the content of these long songs, Tim maps out the musical structure of each – reprinting lyrics and detailing and comparing different sections from several angles. This results in elaborate tables displaying each vocal and instrumental section mapping the song form, meter, pitch, lyrics, and time codes to these so that the informed reader may follow and gain insight as these complex compositions progress from start to finish.

One table that is quite useful maps entire length of each album into it’s numbered vocal and instrumental passages, in order, showing which band member or collaborator played what instruments in each. As I’ve always been fascinated by the few years during which Ian played soprano saxophone, it was wonderful to see those occurrences mapped out across each album. This was also how I confirmed before talking to Dee Palmer about this period, my recollection that strings were utilized only in the last instrumental segment of Thick as a Brick and “The Hare” segment of A Passion Play. Strings came back to the fore in Tull for the follow-up albums Warchild and particularly for Minstrel in the Gallery. In this way, Tim’s scholarly approach and detailed reporting adds much to a listeners understanding of what they are hearing.

JT_PassionTim goes on to recount the live concerts staged for each of these albums, the critical reception, the curious impact of Monty Python and even the availability of any live audio and video content (which for the record is, not much!)   The conclusion brings focus to these complex, sometimes inexplicable works, with some final commentary. Inevitably, there is a comparison and Tim joins most observers in naming Thick as a Brick the better of the two, possibly just so that A Passion Play fanatics like me have something to argue about.

For those readers who are not musicians and for whom “motives”, “pitch” and “song form” are foreign concepts, segments of chapters in the book will be challenging. Fortunately, the writer employs a clear, readable text to accompany these sections, so that even if one may feel a bit lost in the most technical parts, we are always returned quickly to relatable information, quotes from Ian Anderson himself, and other anecdotes. It’s worth spending a little extra time to study the text, so as to come away with a greater understanding of how pop/rock and progressive rock music is constructed. Ultimately it’s a rewarding celebration of these two outstanding albums and a reminder that the prog movement has created some of the most important and interesting musical art of the ages. It’s one of the most thoroughly researched, scholarly, and informative books on this genre ever released. Having poured over these albums in every format over the years, I was surprised to arrive at the last page with an even greater understanding of and passion for their mastery. “Geared toward the exceptional rather than the average” as Gerald would say. Highly recommended.

Top Ten Concerts from 2014

kate_doug_hamThis year has been one of the greatest ever for live music based on the sheer number of amazing rock concerts I was privileged to witness. Many milestones were hit – Kate Bush performing 22 sold out shows in London 35 years after her first and only tour – Stevie Wonder doing all of Songs in the Key of Life – his masterwork from which had never played more than 3-4 numbers – Fleetwood Mac with Christine McVie back after 16 years absence from touring – Yusuf / Cat Stevens, back in the U.S. 38 years since his last appearance here. To top it off, Sir Paul McCartney, playing the final event at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, the site of the last Beatles concert some 50 years prior. So quite a few firsts, which may become “lasts” – one never knows.

Special mention this year goes to the “progressive rock cruise” called Cruise to the Edge. On that journey my lovely wife joined me and we saw Steve Hackett, Yes, UK, Tangerine Dream, Marillion, and most importantly for me, Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM, from Italy) and Three Friends (Gentle Giant’s guitarist Gary Green and drummer Malcolm with full band of hired help). Both of these shows were absolutely fantastic – both celebrating 70’s progressive rock and keeping it alive with surprising precision and power.

Hard to pick a top ten out of these, but here goes:

  1. Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo Theater, London

IMG_1127This was one of those “Once-in-a-lifetime” experiences as we witnessed the third of what were 22 highly anticipated Kate Bush concerts she staged after 35 years absence. As the night’s proceedings and the accompanying media frenzy proved, this long absence was a terrible shame. Focusing on The Hounds of Love (1985) and Aerial (2005) irked some fans, but it gave her the chance to perform two acts of the best rock theater ever staged – heights only reached by the likes of Pink Floyd and Genesis. Absolutely brilliant – here’s hoping they filmed it as well!

  1. Three Friends (Gentle Giant), CTTE

P1000511Because I had not been able to see Gentle Giant until their last ever show at the Roxy Theater in Los Angeles, I had not seen them perform many of their complex classic works live. Gary Green (guitar) and Malcolm Mortimore (drums) hired a band of crack musicians calling themselves Three Friends and changed all that on the cruise as they tore through almost all of the third Gentle Giant album, Three Friends (1972) along with something from almost every record made between their debut and Interview. Early in they played “The Moon is Down” – one of four tracks they would include from Acquiring the Taste (1971). They perfectly nailed this dense composition going beyond all expectations. For this fan the whole experience was true nirvana.

  1. Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM), CTTE 

P1000160PFM was Italy’s answer to the British progressive rock invasion of the ‘70’s. Their records were unique, beautiful, and completely original. We had been able to catch them early in this millennia at a prog rock festival, but the shows on the cruise beat that, as the band covered lots of tracks from their first five releases, along with a few more recent, including one from PFM In Classic – Da Mozart A Celebration. A highlight of the show was their performance of “Promenade The Puzzle”, an early classic with brilliant lyrics by former King Crimson lyricist Pete Sinfield.  It was a truly rare treat to witness these maestros perform live, and to interview them for Gonzo Weekly as well!

  1. Yusuf / Cat Stevens, Nokia Live Theater, Los Angeles

cat3Cat Stevens has been absent from the stage in the U.S. for 38 years. The first concert I ever attended was his last – the Majikat tour in 1976 with my sister Sue. My 7th grade Social Studies teacher had us reading and interpreting his lyrics in class, focusing on his seminal album Tea for the Tillerman. At that first concert, in my 15th year, I discovered the amazing impact seeing an artist perform live could have on a heart. “The Wind” was the first song on the set list back then, and again when Yusuf / Cat Stevens came to the Nokia Live theater in December. What was surprising and gratifying about this show was that he chose songs from his whole career, including the Foreigner suite, Days of the Old Schoolyard from IsItSo, and others. His voice is aged like fine wine and the show was superb.

  1. Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key of Life Tour, Oakland Arena

stevie_bandUnbelievable, fantastic, heartwarming, tear jerking joyous show in which one of our finest artists played his entire masterwork from 1976, sounding like he’s never aged a day since. Joined by 30 musicians including a 10 piece orchestra, 6 piece horn section, three keyboard players, three drummers, numerous backup singers, bass, and guests, each track was played with it’s perfect accompaniment, whether that meant Stevie alone, as on “If It’s Magic” or all 30 as with the anthemic finale “As”.

  1. King Crimson, Warfield Theater, San Francisco

KC_Oct4_BowThis progressive rock juggernaut brought their seven-man supersonic distortion machine to the states for a series of highly anticipated concerts. These were epic events for King Crimson fans. For the first time in what seems like forever, leader Robert Fripp agreed to dust off older tracks like “Pictures of a City” from In the Wake of Poseidon (1970), “Sailor’s Tale” and “The Letters” from Islands (1971). Given he had winds genius Mel Collins in the band they were able to reproduce those rare treats with surprising ferocity, particularly “The Letters” which was just stunning. The three-man drum assault was legendary. I’ve never seen Robert appear more happy and excited to be addressing his followers!

  1. Elbow, Fox Theater, Oakland

P1010130Elbow played one of the top shows we’ve seen this year.  Singer Guy Garvey led the group through a lengthy set that included much of the latest album, along with highlights from their catalog of recordings.  What was really impressive is how this singer emotes and connects with the audience.  At times the languid pace threatens to overstay it’s welcome, but this band can meander between slow and soulful to more medium paced bits, building the dynamics of a song until the audience can be swept up in the emotion and joy of their beautiful melodies, their meaningful lyrics, and Guy’s silky smooth vocal delivery.  In this way I would compare them to The National – one of the other great live acts seen last spring.

  1. The National, Greek Theater, Oakland

P1000846The band were in fine form this year, supporting 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me, driving their slow burning moody compositions to lovely crescendos – punctuating dark passages with horns and carefully placed guitars and keys to enliven the procession.  Matt is a baritone and as such inhabits the sound spectrum at the low end, spilling out his unique lyrics, huddling over his mic, or stalking the stage to accentuate the sound of their work.  This time out, the band backed the volume down during key passages, allowing Matt to be heard clearly and gain additional dynamics in the mix – a clever way to help connect him and the band to the audience.  The show was a wonderful demonstration of their wares – the best yet for this viewer.

  1. The Eels, Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco

Eels_closeupThis American alt-rock band played the best and most impactful show I’ve seen them deliver here in the city. Since so much of singer-songwriter E’s music does tend toward dark and painful subjects (he calls it “soft bummer pop”), his work in large quantities can threaten to depress. However on this night, the crack band of musicians aided the man, teetering perfectly between the melancholy and happy, quirky sides of his catalog, peppering the sadder tracks with the upbeat. Notably, E sang several covers, including lovely renditions of “When You Wish Upon A Star,” (okay small tears were shed) “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Elvis and “Turn on Your Radio” by the similarly underrated and wonderful Nilsson. Friends of soft-bummer pop unite!

  1. Fleetwood Mac, Oakland Arena, Oakland
Christine McVie
Christine McVie

The Mac is back! They rolled into the town for the “On With The Show” tour featuring the return of Christine McVie – singer, songwriter and keyboard player who left the band to retire some 16 years ago. The audience greeted her with rapturous applause. It was wonderful to hear the band whole again, back to their 1975 lineup, which endured for so many years producing mega hits on the albums “Fleetwood Mac” (1975) through Tango in the Night (1987).

 

paul_ticketHonorable mention goes out to other amazing artists we caught this year including Paul McCartney, Yes, UK, Steve Hackett (on his Genesis revisited tour), Kraftwerk, Queen (with “glambert”), Tom Petty, Neil Finn, Midlake, Daniel Lanois, America, Erasure, Elton John, Tears for Fears, Adrian Belew, Paula Frazer, The Musical Box and others. Thank you to Artina for being so open minded and musically inclined, and for taking so many of the best photos we shot during the year. I will have to renew that resolution to catch more new artists this year – we are starting in January with Ty Segall. Happy New Year, everyone….

Lee Pomeroy’s Progressive Journey

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Lee Pomeroy with Rick Wakeman

Lee Pomeroy is a multi-instrumentalist; composer, producer and band member or session bass guitarist for the likes of Headspace, It Bites, Take That, Gary Barlow, ELO and others. Lee’s work as live performer includes tours with some of the top progressive rock acts in the world, hailing back to classic era stars such as Steve Hackett (Genesis), Three Friends (Gentle Giant), and Rick Wakeman’s English Rock Ensemble. This means that besides his own fabulous compositions, Lee has performed work originally developed by the likes of Michael Rutherford (Genesis), Ray Shulman (Gentle Giant) and Roger Newell (Rick Wakeman) – some illustrious company! He plays the original progressive masterworks from these artists faithfully and with technical mastery, but also with feeling – bringing his own unique interpretation and infectious energy and enthusiasm. Seeing him perform live is a marvelous experience.

I reached out to Lee recently to find out more about his work, and what’s coming next for his career.

Lee what led to your abiding interest in progressive rock?

I think I was drawn to progressive rock because of my two older brothers who used to play records that I would end up hearing and I think it just settled in my brain at a young age. They didn’t only play prog rock though, they’d play heavy rock, pop, reggae, jazz, classical and electronic music too so I grew up liking Bowie, Be Bop Deluxe, Stevie Wonder, The Beatles, The Zombies, Argent, Bob Marley, Genesis, Yes, Gary Numan, Ultravox, The Police, The Jam, Billy Cobham, Steve Hackett, Thomas Dolby etc…..

Last year I was witness to two shows that featured Lee as bassist – the one-off Rick Wakeman charity gig at Cheltenham, where most of Journey to the Center of the Earth and Myths and Legends of King Arthur were played with orchestra and choir.

Lee, far right, with Rick Wakeman
Lee, far right, with Rick Wakeman

Lee, what can you tell us about that show? Had you been able to play with the band and full orchestra and choir before this?

The Rick Wakeman shows in Cheltenham last year were really good fun. We had played with orchestras many times before so it wasn’t a learning curve this time around. I love Rick’s band because we have a real hoot and we play our arses off for two and a half hours. It’s always good fun being out with the ERE. John Noyce did the Six Wives shows in 2011 because I was on tour with Take That so I asked him as he’s a mate and brilliant player who understands that music. He played in Jethro Tull for about 15 years so he was just the right man for the job. In fact he’s now doing the Three Friends gig for me as I’m always away when they’re playing. I recommended him to Malcolm Mortimore and Gary Green and he’s doing an unbelievable job there too.

The second concert was as rare – a chance to see Steve Hackett play his Genesis Revisited show at London’s Royal Albert Hall – which is now available on a superb DVD release. Lee brought his chops to the bass, twelve string guitar, pedals and all the rest it took to create the sounds from recordings dating from 1971-1976.

Lee, one of the things that stood out for me at that show is how much fun you seemed to be having – do you find yourself being the guy that’s lightening the mood when things get stressful?

Lee right, with Steve Hackett
Lee right, with Steve Hackett

The Steve Hackett tour last year for the Genesis Revisited album was the literally a dream come true for me. Genesis are my favorite band of all time, especially the Gabriel era, so that’s why I had a permanent grin plastered over my face for the whole tour. I was into Steve’s music (Spectral Mornings, Defector, Cured, Highly Strung) before I got into Genesis so to stand on stage with the man himself really was and is a boyhood dream come true. He’s the nicest, most caring person you could wish to meet too – I love him. The whole band are brilliant too, they’re a real clever bunch too so I always come back off tour far more knowledgeable than when I went away.

Watching you play Mike Rutherford’s parts, I was struck by their complexity, particularly during the Selling England by the Pound tracks – yet Mike was pretty demure in his autobiography about his skills and this album. What are your thoughts about Mike’s playing on these and other Genesis compositions?

I’ve always loved Mike Rutherfords’ playing both on guitar and bass and this took my respect for him to another level. He has the most brilliant independence between his hands and feet so when he’s playing bass pedals he’s also switching in effects and adjusting his volume. In fact I got so good at it that I was able to add in some vocals that he could never get to and I also added in a moving bass pedal sequence that he’s played on the album version of The Musical Box but never did live. I do those things for all of the fans that come along because I’m a fan too and I hope it gives them the same thrill as I get when I’m playing those things.

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Lee on double-neck with John Wetton singing Firth of Fifth

What preparations were needed and what impact did the use of double-necked guitar have for you – was this a new feat?

The double-neck was a real challenge but it was a challenge I’d wanted all my musical life and I leapt at it with all guns blazing. When you have to play bass then switch to 12-string all while playing bass pedals and sometimes even singing you expand your own abilities massively, so now it’s not such a hardship to come back to. It’s almost like a dance that you learn: switch that switch and play that pedal note, turn the volume down while still playing bass pedals then sing that bit while switching back to bass!! It’s crazy bit it’s fantastic fun.

I know you played for a time with Three Friends (former members of Gentle Giant) but there is scant information available about their activities. What are your thoughts about playing in their style and for those shows?

Gary Green of Gentle Giant
Gary Green of Gentle Giant

Three Friends is a great band to play in. Gentle Giant are another of my favourite band and Ray Shulman is one of the most gifted bass players I’ve ever heard. His timing and his accuracy are second to none and he can play things on bass that leave you scratching your head and wondering how on earth did he do that. Gary Green is another wonderfully gifted player who has a childlike playful energy on stage that’s so infectious that it fires you up. He’s another lovely man who just is so warm and friendly but also really funny. I hope to do some more shows with them at some point but I’m not sure when that’ll be.

Headspace is a progressive metal band with Lee along with Adam Wakeman, Damian Wilson (Landmarq/Threshold vocalist), Pete Rinaldi (bass) and Rick Brook (drums). They release an EP followed by a debut album I Am Anonymous in 2012. The music is textured and dense, highlighted by tight metal riffs and Damian’s clear sustained vocals.

Lee_HeadspaceHeadspace is a band I’ve been in since 2005 and it’s great fun to play with those guys. I got to know Adam Wakeman in 2000 when he was producing and playing on a Yes tribute record and a mutual friend of ours recommended me as a bassist because I knew all of the Yes material. He called me and we got together and started working and got on like a house on fire. He then recommended me to his dad Rick for a tour and that’s how I got started with Rick.

Headspace came about in 2005 when Adam worked with our guitarist Pete Rinaldi and asked him about putting a band together. Pete said yes and then Adam called me, Damian Wilson and Richard Brook to see if we wanted in as we’d all worked together with Rick. And that was it. The lads in the band are such a laugh and we spend more time laughing and taking the mick out of each other than we do rehearsing.

What was your experience with Headspace when they toured opening up for Ozzy Ozbourne?

The Ozzy shows in 2007 were great fun. We’d just released an EP entitled ‘I Am…..’ and wanted to promote it. Adam Wakeman plays with Ozzy and with Black Sabbath and when Sharon Osbourne heard our music she invited to come and open three UK shows. It was Ozzy, Black Label Society and us. We were on first but the audience each night didn’t know that we were on the shows. So when the lights went down the crowd began to cheer because they thought Black Label Society were coming on. When we walked instead there was a chorus of “Who the $#%& hell are you?!?!” which was a bit nerve-wracking!! We soldiered on though and eventually they started to listen to us and we gained quite a lot of new fans from those shows. In Dublin, they were throwing 1 euro coins at us at the start of the gig. These were smacking into our guitars and bouncing off but at the end of the gig they gave us a massive applause, plus we earned about 50 euros as a tip! We are in the process of making a follow up album to our ‘I Am Anonymous’ album of 2012. It should be out early in 2015.

lee_ELO_posterBBC Radio 2’s “Festival in a Day” was held in Hyde Park on 14 September 2014, and Lee played bass backing Jeff Lynne’s ELO with the BBC Concert Orchestra with Gary Barlow’s band. There are now rumors that Jeff will agree to stage an ELO tour in 2015.

Lee – what can you tell us about the ELO show and the potential for a tour?

Lee_wJeff
Lee (w/cool Giant Giant t-shirt) with Jeff and crew

The ELO show was absolutely incredible. The whole band were all huge ELO fans so we were completely wallowing in the glory of that music. It was one of the best gigs I’ve ever been a part of and the crowd were so full of love for Jeff that we could really feel that energy coming toward us. I’ll never forget it. In terms of an ELO tour, nothing has been said as yet so I guess it’s just wait and see what Jeff wants to do. I do know he had a great time though and he was really floored by the crowd reaction.

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Lee with the ERE, second from right

What’s up for you as we close out 2014 – what do you have booked?

I’m currently rehearsing with Take That again for a promo for their new album that is released next week. In 2015 I shall be doing a very big Take That tour – 37 British shows and then off to Europe and other places. The Take That shows are a real spectacle. Incredible lights and special effects, loads of dancers and set changes and even the odd 50 foot tall crying robot or giant elephant! So it’s more of a multi-media spectacle than a gig. Gary’s tour is a proper gig where as Take That is a show.

I’m also stepping back into the Hackett band in February for some South American dates.

Here’s hoping for more chance to see Lee this coming year plying his trade as one of our most prolific and accomplished musicians.

LEE’S DESERT ISLAND DISCS 

Lee_desertislandLee says, “Here’s a list of 10 albums I love. They are not necessarily my absolute top ten but these spring to mind at the moment. I’m including just one album per artist just for the sake of variety!”

Nursery Cryme – Genesis
Fragile – Yes
Moving Pictures – Rush
Acquiring The Taste – Gentle Giant
Discipline – King Crimson
Telekon – Gary Numan
Gentlemen Take Polaroids – Japan
The Hounds Of Love – Kate Bush
On Land And In The sea – Cardiacs
One Of A Kind – Bill Bruford

The Power and the Glory Rise Again

GG_PATG

Gentle Giant was one of the most adventurous and rewarding British bands to ply the progressive rock trade in the 1970’s. Their career represented a perfect arc from the beginning to the end of the decade, starting with their debut Gentle Giant, and ending with the more strident rock attack of Civilian. In between, Giant crafted nine studio and one double live release that remain important studies in composition rife with counterpoint, multi-instrumentalism, and eclecticism.

In 1974, at the mid point of their short career, the brilliant The Power and the Glory, was released. The compositions were tighter, a bit more straight-forward than their work to that point, and the album sported an excellent concept with intelligible lyrics detailing a story of power and corruption. Gentle Giant’s albums prior to this release represent some of the most esoteric, and uncompromising progressive rock ever put to vinyl. By this point, while still not being quite commercial, their work seemed even more assured, and less encumbered by more obscure sounds on their previous outings. It’s follow up Free Hand would become their most popular studio album and commercial success, but the writing, performance and recording technique that led to that accomplishment starts with this album.

P1010695While there have been several re-releases of Gentle Giant albums over the years to produce better CD sound, and to reproduce their artistic packaging, most have not resulted in state of the art sound. This time Steve Wilson took the helm, as he has with so many other bands of this era, and produced the now definitive version of this classic. There hasn’t been a lot of discernible tinkering with the stereo version that occupies disk one, just an overall improved mix, deeper bass response, and clarity in the midrange. Disc two’s DVD features a 5.1 surround sound mix which is a revelation. Like Jethro Tull’s A Passion Play, reviewed last issue, the surround mix allows for previously indiscernible sonic detail to come forth.

P1010704Extra tracks include “The Power and the Glory” single, not found on the original album, and on disc one an alternative instrumental version of “Aspirations.” The original version of “Aspirations” is one of keyboard, vibraphone player and raconteur Kerry Minnear’s most beautiful vocals. This instrumental version gives the listener a chance to try to sing as he did (probably in your car on the way to work) though it’s a mighty challenge to hit those choir boy tones!  On disc two, instead of only “Aspirations,” the entire album is presented a second time without vocals which allows the listener to catch even more of the complex musical interplay, particularly between guitarist Gary Green and Kerry Minnear’s many keys. Try tackling singer Derek Shulman’s exhausting vocals on Cogs in Cogs as a reminder of his range and power. This may be drummer John Weather’s best moment on record, and the gutsiest power-chords from guitarist Gary Green. The bonus studio track and a flat stereo mix are also included.

P1010701Making this release truly special, the 5.1 DVD presentation includes lyrics and videos prepared by bassist / multi-instrumentalist Ray Shulman which illustrate the story and content of each track. This presentation is unlike anything I’ve seen from another band. The content is graphical, using illustrations of playing cards, people, places, and things along with some fairly psychedelic imagery at times to represent the contrapuntal instrumental interplay. Lyrics appear or scroll through the picture in creative ways that add to your appreciation of the compositions. If you are inclined to pay attention while listening and watching you will be rewarded with these clever visuals that make the collection worth every penny.

On a related note, the tour that follows this album was captured on video in Germany and California on the wonderful Giant on the Box DVD release. It would have been fun to find the filmed material here as well but if you purchase that DVD as a companion piece you will own a complete set of the most rare Gentle Giant material available. Seeing this band play live is critical to gaining a complete appreciation of their work.

While some may wonder why this level of release didn’t begin with Three Friends, Octopus, or In A Glass House, there is something about the more friendly rock-and-prog The Power and the Glory which makes it a great place to start, beyond who owns the rights to the material. All in all, highly recommended.

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!