Tag Archives: jethro tull

Rockin’ Angels Interview

Jon Downes, editor of Gonzo Weekly interviewed me last week about my new book, Rockin’ the City of Angels. Here is the transcript, also up at GonzoWeekly.com:

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Tell us about the book

When I was a teenager (way back in the 1970s), I was lucky enough to be able to attend dozens of rock concerts staged in Los Angeles, (aka the City of Angels). Rock music was life to me, and probably due to 7 years of piano lessons I was in love with prog rock. My collection of records and concert tickets included Genesis, Yes, Jethro Tull, and Pink Floyd, along with what I felt were the highest quality rock bands like Zep, The Who, Queen, and Kansas. Music patronage became a lifelong passion for me. The concerts at that time were becoming amazing spectacles, with elaborate theatrical productions. As the lyrics were often as important as the music to me, the fact that many bands dramatized the themes of certain songs, or even whole concept albums made for artful theater.

I wrote this book as a “love letter” to rock musicians of the ‘70s— focused ultimately on the concerts and the films that captured them. I used only photos of the bands live in concert – no portraits. I wanted to show and tell the story of these concert performances from the standpoint of a fan, hoping a reader would relate to a guy who might have been a few seats down the row at these shows, who might have raved about what we just saw on the way home.

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As an example of a chapter, one covers the Genesis tour The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. There are fantastic shots by Armando Gallo, a Melody-Maker cover showing Gabriel’s grotesque Slipperman costume, pages from the concert program, a ticket stub from the date at the Los Angeles Shrine auditorium, and sample frames from the film. The written material illuminates the album and tour, the special effects, and the film of the production’s slide show, which many fans might not realize exists (it’s on the 71-75 box set). This was a blueprint for all 36 bands covered.

How long has it taken to research and write?

At one level its taken 45 years of “field research,” record collecting, and study. But from the time I started writing and finding the photos it all took 2.5 years. I spent a lot of this time tracking down a selection of iconic photographs from around the world, sometimes digging through archives at agencies, others directly with the photographers of that day. I was fortunate to meet several of those photojournalists including Neal Preston, Armando Gallo, Neil Zlozower, and Lisa Tanner, who opened their archives for me at their studios or homes. I could not believe how many amazing shots exist that have never been seen by fans, shots that captured our musical heroes in their prime.

mccartneypaulwings_rockshowcover_72dpiAnother thing that took a lot of time was combing through more than 100 rock films from the decade, all part of my private collection. You and I know that TV appearances, professionally filmed 35mm movies—even celluloid left in the can for years, sometimes decades after light hit the film—are finally getting home video or streaming media release. I remember going to see many of these films at the local cinema that featured Led Zeppelin, Yes, AC/DC, Alice Cooper, Paul McCartney and Wings, and so many others. Now, just about every major band of the rock world can be seen performing live in one format or another, thanks to Eagle Rock Entertainment, Warner Home Video, and others who are helping to keep their legacies alive. I’m still that guy, the one who collects the high quality digital transfers available on media, rather than streaming them. Having said that, many of these films are available on streaming services like YouTube.

Were there any gigs you didn’t go to which you wished you had seen?

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Oh yeah! For each band I had to select what I think in retrospect was their finest hour –the best album and concert, and the best film covering that band, hopefully for that same tour. In the case for instance of Jethro Tull, I had not seen the Passion Play tour, but I knew through older friends and research that it would have been for me their best, and that is my favorite Tull record after all. Same with Genesis’ Lamb tour, though tribute band The Musical Box recreated it professionally just recently.

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In a few examples, I did not get to see the band in the ‘70s but instead did catch them later. Only three bands out of 36 eluded me completely. I was never inclined to see AC/DC (although I did enjoy the great film, Let There Be Rock!), and Happy The Man never toured the west coast (and, there is no film!). The worst mistake was missing the mighty Led Zeppelin. In the case of the Zep ‘77 tour, I loved Presence, and that was the concert to see, but I was instead booked to see Pink Floyd’s Animals concert just weeks before and budgets kept me from seeing more than one show every couple months.

What was the best gig you ever saw?

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All of that is in the Genesis family – I will never forget the Wind & Wuthering tour in 1977, and the first time I saw Peter Gabriel solo at the Roxy Theater the next year. But number one was Gabriel’s tour for his 4th album (also dubbed Security) which came early in the ‘80s – it’s a bit of a cheat as I cover that show in this “70s” book, but it’s really for me, the epilogue of the ‘70s decade. He absolutely stunned the audience and finally emerged on his own at the level of performance he had achieved while in his former band. Armando Gallo’s unbelievable shots give a very good idea of the drama. As there is literally no film of this seminal tour, we examine the So movie, particularly those songs he performed in the same way as that prior tour (like “Lay Your Hands On Me”).

Others in the top tier include Paul McCartney’s Wings Over America tour, Queen’s News of the World tour during which Freddie held the audience in complete awe, Kansas Point on Know Return featuring Steve Walsh giving the most physical performance I’ve ever seen, Dixie Dregs with their stunning virtuosity, Camel, ELO – so many incredible shows I will never forget. For the Floyd, while Animals was spectacular, I suffered a bit of “bad vibe” that night in the gi-hugic Anaheim Stadium, and it was eventually to be Roger Water’s restaging of the Wall this decade that became the ultimate live experience of that band’s music for me.

How did you go about the picture research?

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This was the most difficult part of the book’s production, hands down. Thank God for Google, but even with all the search engines in the world, it was amazingly difficult to find some of the photographers and shots that eventually did appear in the book. One snap alone, of Camel in concert with the London Symphony Orchestra on the night they recorded The Snow Goose together, took 7 months to find and it was sitting in the vaults at The Daily Mail, having also been recently unearthed by a researcher at PROG magazine (RIP). I never found shots of Ambrosia and Happy The Man until I actually reached a member from the band themselves, who had boxes “in the attic” with old shots and memorabilia. A lot of the shots in the book came from slides I was allowed to borrow and scan at Dickermans in San Francisco.

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Ambrosia’s David Pack, Joe Puerta

What is your next project?

TalkingHeads_SMSPoster_72dpiWell, this book was so expensive to produce that I have to sell all the copies I ordered during this year. Provided that happens, I will move to the next decade, sliding into the ‘80s with late ‘70s punk, then covering the era of New Wave music, including bands like Depeche Mode, The Cocteau Twins, Japan, Echo & The Bunnymen and so many others that were part of the second “British invasion!” I’m really looking forward to that as I’ve not seen any great ‘80s genre books that include what for me were the best bands of that decade with any kind of stunning photography.

Thank you to Jon Downes and his long time support of my work at GonzoWeekly.com

Hey ma, I got the cover!

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Rockin’ the City of Angels – How?

Click here to buy Rockin’ the City of Angels, the new book now available at Amazon.com

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This is the third in a three-part piece about my new book Rockin’ the City of Angels, and I want to answer the question – how did all this come about, for a guy that worked in the tech industry for so many years, and became a writer so late in life?

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Doug & Steve Hackett

In earlier posts, I established that I am a die-hard fan of classic and progressive rock from the 1970s and beyond. I saw almost every one of the 36 artists in the book in Los Angeles (the City of Angels) in the 1970s. But my first written piece on a rock concert was inspired by seeing Rick Wakeman live in London in 2009 with orchestra, choir, and Brian Blessed telling the stories of the six wives of Henry the VIIIth:
https://diegospadeproductions.com/2009/05/16/six-wives-live-live/

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Doug more recently in 2016 with Rick Wakeman and band

From this meager beginning my friend Jeff Melton, a writer for Expose magazine, helped me get the article accepted and into print. On that basis, I contacted several zines, determined to write about these concerts as they came along, and maybe about new and legacy record releases. Jonathan Downes at Gonzo Multimedia liked what he saw and picked me up as staff writer for his magazine: http://www.gonzoweekly.com

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Doug’s Review of Phil Collins’ Bio

After years writing for Gonzo, and also contributing to SomethingElse! I put a pause on my tech career and started the process of writing the book that is about to be shipped. It was a long two year process of incorporating to become a self publisher, locating photos, completing the manuscript, getting editors (Mike Edison, Courtney Lee Adams), a musicologist (Tim Smolko), and a designer (Tilman Reitzle) and others to take the journey with me.

One of the best aspects of the effort was the nearly two years I spent looking for photographs and memorabilia to illuminate the manuscript. I searched through thousands of slides in the basement of a photo agency in London, housed in the same building that was a workhouse, which inspired Charles Dickens’ portrayal of David Copperfield. I trolled websites figuring out how to find photographers from the day, Neal Preston, Richard E. Aaron, Neil Zlowzower, Lisa Tanner, some purely by accident, some who had photos already placed inside album sleeves and music magazines, others carried by agencies like Getty and Rex Features.

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Neal Preston

I will never forget the 2 hours Neal Preston spent with me on the phone talking about his experiences in the day following Led Zeppelin, The Who, and so many classic bands around the country as part of their posse and at times with best friend Cameron Crowe. He had never met me, but nonetheless was generous and enthusiastic on the phone. Also, I was lucky to find and connect with Italian photojournalist Armando Gallo, someone whose work I revere back to the days when his shots

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Armando Gallo

were the only way to see what Peter Gabriel-era Genesis was all about. I never expected the chance to visit both of these artists at their home studios, working together to pick out slides for this book, so many of which are theirs. 

Working with the fine purveyors of rare rock photography at the San Francisco Art Exchange, I was able to connect with many photographers, and one of their special clients Roger Dean, the artist who painted so many Yes album covers among many other achievements. Through this connection, it came to pass that Roger invited my wife and I over to his studios in Essex England while we were in London on vacation. Visiting this studio and meeting Roger and his brother Martyn (who worked with me to select his shots of Yes on tour in 1976) is now a cherished memory.

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Doug with Roger Dean

To top that off, I was able to work directly with musical heroes of mine from Ambrosia and Happy The Man to unearth ’70s photographs from their private collections. This we did, and I was also able to interview band members and document their fantastic stories. For Ambrosia, we focused on their classic Somewhere I Never Travelled, https://diegospadeproductions.com/2016/01/28/ambrosias-early-travels/

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and for Happy the Man, their famous Arista releases, the self titled debut, and the followup Crafty Hands https://diegospadeproductions.com/2016/04/02/happy-the-man/

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Another somewhat tougher climb, the five-month, seven-person introduction effort it took to find one photo of Camel in concert on the night they recorded The Snow Goose live with the London Symphony Orchestra. Oh, elusive photo….

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I could go on, but should stop here. It’s been a terrific ride, and here’s hoping that everyone who comes across this book sees the devotion that went into it, and loves what they see and read… Doug

Rockin’ the City of Angels…Why?

Click here to buy Rockin’ the City of Angels, the new book now available at Amazon.com

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My first book, Rockin’ the City of Angels, is off the presses and at the warehouse. It will be shipping starting Tuesday, December 27!

Yesterday I was asked why I wrote the book…it’s worth a moment of reflection:

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Freddie Mercury of Queen, the stunning photo (c) Lisa Tanner

When I was a teenager (way way back in the 1970s), I was lucky to be able to attend dozens of rock concerts staged in Los Angeles, the City of Angels. Rock music had become increasingly relevant to my life, and I was drawn to complex works and the challenging, sometimes fantastical elements of the genre known as “progressive rock.” My collection of records and collection of concert cite stubs grew to include prog-rock bands like Genesis, Yes, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and Pink Floyd, along with some of the more creative harder rocking contemporaries like Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, and Queen, as well as bands from North America like Kansas, Styx, and Heart. My youthful fascination grew into a lifelong passion for music in general, and for progressive or classical rock music in particular. My enthusiasm was stoked by seeing these bands live in concert, where increasingly elaborate theatrical productions dramatized the themes of many of these concept albums. These concerts were almost religion to my growing list of fellow concertgoers.

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Yes Relayer/Solos Tour

I wrote this book as homage to rock music of the ‘70s—in concert and on film. It tells the story of three-dozen key concert performances from this era; illuminating the genius of the best progressive and classical rock acts whose concerts I attended. I spent two years tracking down a selection of iconic photographs from those unforgettable events, taking me to agency basements, file drawers brimming with slides, to band member and photographers homes, to collections both organized, and out of control! In the process, I’ve been fortunate to meet many of the talented photojournalists of the era, including Neal Preston, Armando Gallo, Jorgen Angel, Neil Zlozower, Lisa Tanner, Jim Summaria, and many others. Many thanks go out to these artists, who captured these consummate rock musicians in their prime, frozen in time in arresting images.

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David Bowie; Station to Station Tour – One of my favorite photos in the book!

In addition, I’ve combed through more than 100 rock films from the decade, all part of my private collection. TV appearances, professionally filmed 35mm movies—even celluloid left in the can for years, sometimes decades after light hit the film—are finally getting
home video or streaming media release. I remember going to see many of these films that cooperalice_dvdcover_3x4_72dpifeatured Led Zeppelin, Yes, AC/DC, Alice Cooper, Paul McCartney and Wings at the local cinema, flicking lighters and hollering at the screen. Now, just about every major band of the era can be seen performing live in one format or another, thanks to the dedicated teams at Eagle Rock Entertainment, Warner Home Video, and others who are helping to keep their legacies alive and to introduce the power and majesty of this adventurous music to new generations.

Although some of these bands are still touring, their time is waning, and soon these films will be the only way to recapture their extraordinary live performances. I believe these films are important documents of rock music performance in our life times. Those of us who were there found more than just good times at these concerts. Those shows brought us together to share profound, even life-changing experiences that bonded us forever.

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Fleetwood Mac’s incomparable Stevie Nicks

That’s what led me to write this book, and work for months on end with my designer Tilman Reitzle to render these photos and my recollections into a stunning tome. Check it out…. as we would have said… it’s bitchin’

Rockin’ the City of Angels: What?

Click here to buy Rockin’ the City of Angels, the new book now available at Amazon.com

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Titled Rockin’ the City of Angels, the book was a 2 year labor of love for this long time rock fanatic. I described it on the back cover in this way:

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STROBE FLASHES PIERCE THE DARK STAGE to reveal a NYC street punk as he faces the other half of his fractured self. A father’s WWII fighter plane crashes into a wall, temporarily slowing its ascent around his son’s troubled heart. A fiend clad in a white tuxedo steps out from the frame of a graveyard scene onto a haunted stage welcoming all to his many nightmares. A woman, weapon drawn, tells the story of James and his very cold gun. The top drummer from the top 70s rock band in the world pounds out the opening beat that tells us it’s been a long time since he rock ‘n’ rolled . . . a long lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely lonely time.

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David Bowie photo (c) Neil Zlowzower / Atlas Icons

THESE IMAGES ARE SEARED into my memory from the rock concerts I witnessed in Los Angeles, the “City of Angels” in the 1970s, a time when rock bands were making expansive concept records with sweeping themes. Rock albums at the time promised “theater of the mind,” and their creators were inspired to mount elaborate stage shows that brought these dreams to life. These artists used every available piece of stagecraft—lights, projections, backdrops, props, and costumes—to create awesome spectacles for arenas packed with adoring fans— fans like you and me.

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This book celebrates more than thirty of these incredible performances including key tours by bands such as Led Zeppelin, Queen, David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, Genesis, Heart, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, The Who and Yes. We’ll share memories of those legendary concerts and my reviews of the best video documents of the era, each band illuminated by a hand-picked collection of brilliant images—some never-before seen—by the best photo- journalists of that time including Richard E. Aaron, Jorgen Angel, Fin Costello, Armando Gallo, Neal Preston, Jim Summaria, Lisa Tanner and Neil Zlowzower along with many others.

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Who photo (c) Neal Preston

This coffee-table book is nearly the size of an LP album cover, 396 pages, over 500 images, written by Douglas Harr, designed by Tilman Reitzle. Forword by Armando Gallo.

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The bands, order by category, then the date of their key performance in L.A.

CRUISE TO THE EDGE OF TIME

CTTE_Poster_72dpiWhew, I did it again. Year number two taking a cruise out of Miami, something I thought I would never do. Once again the third annual Cruise To The Edge featured Yes along with performances by over 15 old and new progressive rock bands. It was another chance to rock to the jagged beat of prog, pop seasickness pills, collect some new t-shirts, and catch God knows what in the process.

Part of what drives me to these shows is the desire to see some of these artists while they are still gigging. At this point, several bands from the 1970’s continue on with just one or two original members, restocking the ranks with new recruits. While decried in some circles, this continued perseverance still results in some spectacular concerts. I prefer to liken it to the fact that symphonies all over the world still play the music of Bach, long after his death. I’m coming away from the experience with a renewed interest in some older acts, along with a few new bands to add to the collection. By all accounts, cruisers had a good time, and the event was again a success. The following is a summary of all the bands we witnessed over the 5 days, in alphabetical order:

Anglagard

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These Swedish prog-rockers topped the bill for this voyager, featuring their brand of moody, atmospheric tunes that take their cue from early King Crimson while remaining uniquely their own, steeped in the strong musical scene of the Netherlands. At center stage, Anna Holmgren leads or colors the mostly instrumental pieces with warm expressive flute, saxophone, and other wind and percussion instruments, with bursts of Mellotron for good measure. Founding bassist Johan Brand is a focal point, putting muscle into the mix via his Rickenbacker bass guitar and towering stage presence. Founding guitarist Tord Lindman also provided vocals on two tracks. Jonas Engdegard (guitars,) Linus Kase (keyboards) and Erik Hammarstrom (drums) round out the group. The band comes across as a very integrated, tight unit, giving voice to each musician in kind. At times their studio recordings can sound a bit cold and distant – not so when performed live – all the nuance and beauty of the pieces shine, balanced favorably against ample dissonance. I’ll do a whole article on this wonderful band in the coming weeks.

Martin Barre

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This long time Jethro Tull guitarist led his crack band of blues-rockers through a roots-oriented show on Saturday’s pre-cruise concert, focusing on new songs from his latest solo album, the excellent return to form Back To Steel. A follow-up Monday morning gig featured more Tull classics including a very condensed version of a Tull epic they called “Thin As A Brick” after which Martin expressed the desire to carry on indefinitely, threatening to play the 1973 opus A Passion Play backwards! On the new album and in concert, vocalist and second guitarist Dan Crisp shines, bringing his own style to the new tracks, and the older Tull songs. It’s refreshing to hear cuts like “To Cry You A Song” and “Minstrel In The Gallery” interpreted anew and sung once more with passion and punch. Clearly, all members of the band, which included skilled drummer George Lindsay and veteran bassist Alan Thomson were in fine form. Martin looked happy and relaxed, joking that it was the first gig they played on coffee, and announcing, “Thank you for choosing us over porridge…were going to be the best breakfast you ever had!” Truer words…

Caravan

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For one reason or another in the past I’ve never been able to catch this veteran act, one that was at the heart of the Canterbury scene back in the day. Instead, I’ve only seen individual members play live, as they came and went from fellow prog band Camel’s lineup. This was righted last week as Caravan’s founding member Pye Hastings (vocals, guitar) joined long time members Geoffrey Richardson (vocals, flute, violin, spoons) and Jan Schelhaas (keyboards) with Jim Leverton (bass) and Mark Walker (drums) for a set that touched on the band’s work over these last 45 years. The highlights for this fan were “Nine Feet Underground” from In The Land of Grey and Pink and the long song “For Richard” both demonstrating the enduring talent of this long standing group.

Haken

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Haken impressed with the raw power of their performances, at once rough yet often refined, particularly as their long form songs lead them to interludes that feature contrapuntal instrumentals and vocal madrigals. Lead singer Ross Jennings keeps the energy up, showcasing clean vocals and confident stagecraft.

Lifesigns

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This was the first band up on Saturday, the pre-cruise show, followed by a gig on the ship itself. They weren’t my cup of tea, but friends on the cruise reported loving their sets. It might be cause for repeated listening in order to “get it.”

Marillion

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Wisely, this band changed up their set list this year. Singer Steve Hogarth wrings emotional depth from song-stories that cover a variety of themes as he crisscrosses the stage to punctuate their delivery. The talented band hit many highpoints with the title track of their last album Sounds That Can’t Be Made, “Man Of A Thousand Faces” and a song about the vagrancies of fame, accompanied by film clips of departed artists from Marilyn Monroe to Elvis, John Lennon, Jim Morrison and many others who shone brightly but were taken too soon. Encore “The Invisible Man” was a spectacular way to close out the cruise on its final evening.

Moon Safari

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No relations to the French band Air, this Swedish outfit ended up being my wife’s favorite, and it was easy to see why as this young band plays a slightly less angular, and definitely more accessible brand of progressive music than many of their peers. The musical chops are there, with solid bass and drums supporting excellent leads on guitar and synthesizers. But the real strength of this band are their vocals, presented live in energetic performances that find the front line alternating leads and harmonizing beautifully throughout, ending the show with a 5 part a’capella capper that had the audience on their feet.

Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM)

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Another band that brought me back for a second year, Italy’s PFM lit up the poolside stage on two successive days playing a set list heavy on selections from their masterpiece Photos of Ghosts (1973), and other 70’s favorites. Two more recent tracks from their ode to Mozart “Pfm in Classic – Da Mozart a Celebration” rocked discerning attendees. The set list was nearly the same as last year, but the musicians delivered two fun, energetic hours of fresh-baked Italian prog gems. Founding guitarist and vocalist Franco Mussida retired earlier this year, and was replaced for this tour by two excellent musicians, one of whom sings Franco’s vocal parts, and both of whom play acoustic and electric guitars respectively. On Wednesday a bit of bad luck hit, as accomplished drummer, vocalist and band leader Franz Di Cioccio missed the second day’s show due to illness, leaving power-bassist Patrick Djivas to lead the show, which he did with aplomb, though reporting at one point that it was definitely strange to play without Franz.

Saga

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This Canadian ensemble played an evening set on the last day of the cruise, taking the audience through a collection of their upbeat tunes, marked by the hit “On The Loose” finding vocalist Michael Sadler and band in top form.

Three Friends (Minus Two!)

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Last year Three Friends played the complex, thrilling music of Gentle Giant led by two original band members, guitarist Gary Green, and drummer Malcolm Mortimore, down from three after the departure of original master keyboardist Kerry Minnear. The band was a second major reason for me to return to the cruise, and the news that Gary Green suffered a heart attack a few days before the launch was disappointing, though fortunately by all accounts he is recovering swiftly. Instead of cancelling, the band played on, led by Malcolm front and center on drums, joined by vocalist Pierre Valentin, winds and violin player Charlotte Glasson, bassist Jonathan Noyce, and keyboard wizard Neil Angilley. While Gary was clearly missed, their gigs on pre-cruise Saturday and again on the ship demonstrated their chops, and in fact allowed for a bit of additional focus on the keyboard parts, so ably interpreted and augmented by Neil’s talented, percussive playing. The set list was not greatly changed from the last voyage, but a standout track was added from the album Octopus, as “Think of Me With Kindness”, pulled at audience heartstrings with a beautiful vocal rendition from Pierre. Also, the inclusion of “Mobile” from Free Hand, gave Charlotte a chance to step up on violin. The show was great, and all hands on deck wished Gary a quick recovery and a return to the stage, while we enjoyed Three-Friends-Minus-Two!

Yes

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I wasn’t certain what to expect from Yes this time out. Original bassist Chris Squire passed away earlier this year, having named Billy Sherwood his successor for a summer tour headlining with Toto. The tour found the band focusing on some of their more popular songs, and most of that set list remained for this show. It’s somewhat unfortunate, as long-time opener “Siberian Khatru,” and closer “Starship Trooper” were in place once again, as well as “Don’t Kill The Whale,” “Your Move,” “Time and a Word,” “Tempus Fugit” and other familiar choices. Given this a Yes cruise, packed with avid Yes fans, it would make more sense for the band to alter the set, prepare a list of rare cuts and make the event more unique and special. Also the band continues to slow the pace of their pieces for live performance. While ensuring maestro Howe hits every note on the original records, it robs the proceedings of immediacy and leaves drummer Alan White to keep a steady beat that never seems to change during the show.

Having said all that, the performance was otherwise strong, and a new track from Heaven and Earth, along with a couple of rarely played songs made it onto the set list, namely “White Car” from Drama, and the beautiful masterwork “Soon” from Relayer. The latter in particular demonstrated the care and skill brought to bass leads by Billy Sherwood, with runs that defined the track alongside Howe’s slide guitar in equal measure. It reminded me of how unique and wonderful Squire’s playing was, and I rooted for Billy along with the rest of the audience, as he not only did justice to Squire’s legacy both on bass and vocals, but also was able to inject a new energy and a unique personal style to the proceedings. In addition, Jon Davison at this point sounds like Jon Davison, not an echo of Mr. Anderson. It seems this has been true from his second outing on, but we really noticed this time how Davison brings his own personality and voice to the evening, along with his heartfelt, uplifting stagecraft.

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Honorable mention goes out to artists we missed this time out at sea. As always it’s impossible to get to every single band on a cruise that is essentially a moving festival with multiple stages, as there are bound to be scheduling conflicts. This time out we missed Jolly, Thinking Scientists, Spock’s Beard/Neal Morse, and IO Earth to name a few, each of which landed positive reviews from the other cruisers that attended their sets. I didn’t talk to anyone who caught Alan Holdsworth’s sets, so can’t report on that, though rumor was he almost bailed on the cruise before it’s launch.

As to the collection of bands this year, it was a great, if not exceptional lineup for those who have attended in the past. Circumstantially, several acts such as PFM, and Three Friends staged shows that were very similar to last year, and the absence of marquee names to replace Steve Hackett and U.K. was unfortunate. Still, Marillion changed it up quite a bit with a very different set and a performance that continues to draw us into their circle. Plus, Martin Barre, Anglagard and Caravan were all excellent, and the cruise overall must be deemed a success.

No doubt master-of-ceremonies Jon Kirkman has already received countless suggestions as to bands that might be invited next year. It would seem that another headliner is in order, such as Rush or a similar major act that would change things up a bit. I for one would also vote for adding quality jazz-fusion acts, such as Zappa Plays Zappa, Al DiMeola or Simon Phillips for example. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that this year’s fusion axeman Alan Holdsworth drew many attendees. Also prog from North America is under represented, and organizers could include Oblivion Sun (former members of Happy The Man) or even Kansas or Styx, as both bands have staged strong tours this past year. Possibly the Dixie Dregs could be reunited? It’s got to be increasingly hard to assemble enough veteran acts to join the neo-proggers, so hat’s off to Jon and the organizers of this event for delivering the goods!

This was definitely a memorable event, well run, on a well-appointed cruise ship from Norwegian Cruise Lines. The organizers of the Cruise To The Edge floating festival threw a lifeline to old and new progressive rock acts alike.

Martin Barre’s Real Steel

Barre_BTS_CoverMartin Barre is the legendary guitarist who graced every Jethro Tull album after the very first, beginning in 1969. He’s been building an increasingly successful solo career for years now, and has a new album this month, appropriately titled Back To Steel. The album is a return to form for Barre, a finely honed collection of guitar-driven blues-rock. Two Tull tracks, “Skating Away” and “Slow Marching Band” are re-imagined – the former highlighting Martin’s intricate melodies on the mandolin backed by his lyrical fat guitar chords. Even better, Martin leads his band through powerful new original tracks, which highlight his unique style of blues and hard-edged rock chops. It’s available in the shop on his official website.

After a few recent dates in the U.K. Barre continues this year’s tour with several gigs in France and Germany, followed by a series of nights on the east coast of the U.S., beginning with a voyage on Cruise To The Edge in November. Check here for dates and tickets.

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I had a rare chance to talk to Martin this month about his excellent new album and tour:

Martin, how has your band and approach changed on the new album Back To Steel?

I’ve had my own band for 4 years now, and it’s changed here and there, and developed into the current four-piece band. Occasionally we have backup singers join us. When we go out as a four piece it’s sounding really powerful. I like the space and the dynamics. The new album is pretty well summing up what I’ve been trying to do for four years, writing my own music – a little blues, prog and rock music – its really a statement of where I’m at in the moment and a pointer to where I want to be in the next few years.

The set list for the last tour included covers of Bobby Parker, Beatles, Robert Johnson, BB King, Howlin’ Wolf songs along with Jethro Tull classics. How will the set list differ in your upcoming shows?

The set list is changing as the new album is just coming out. We’ve been playing the new tracks here in the U.K. and they are going down well. It’s a good feeling, because audiences haven’t heard the new album and are coming in cold, and we’re getting a great reaction. I still like doing some Bobby Parker stuff and some Robert Johnson and I enjoy playing them. We have more music to play then we have time to do – if the venue says we have an hour and a half, we are disappointed, as we want to do at least two hours. I struggle with decisions as what not to play rather than the other way around.

Barre_FocusedHow do you pick the Tull tunes for this show? Do you still feel that songs like “Aqualung” or “Locomotive Breath” are musts?

We have probably ten Tull tracks, a good selection, that we like to do. When we played in Scotland last weekend, it was the first time with my band. We started playing “To Cry You A Song” and there was a gasp in the audience, not of horror but of anticipation – it was really nice, as they had no idea what was coming. It’s really good fun to play the Tull stuff.

I do have my favorites but I pick things I think will work well with the band and our sound, our current program. I probably have Tull songs I like better, but wouldn’t work with the band. There are some really great songs that are less well known. That’s why I play “Slow Marching Band” for instance on the new album. Back in the day with Tull, I wrote out the playlist for the concerts. But later with Ian’s new vocal range my input diminished. I like arranging set lists with production ideas – everything to do with the band. Now I’m able to do that and have lots of ideas – I’ve got a big catalog to draw from. I’m less interested in a verbatim version of any song – I like to project something new – a different arrangement. On “Sweet Dream” for instance I changed the riff to the downbeat. I like doing that, making it more biased to a guitar quartet.

Where did you find your excellent vocalist Dan Crisp? He sounds just right for this music, with a nice vibrato and strong mid range register.

He’s a little treasure, our Dan. He’s the son of a friend of mine. We became friends, based on our mutual like of music. We did some shows as a three piece in the south of England and it was really good fun. It developed from there. He was so close to home but at first I didn’t see it. I finally suggested bringing him on and it was the start of a really great period in the band. He’s developed into a very strong front man – really come into his own.

Barre_GuitarOn Back To Steel, there are no keyboards or wind instruments – will these be added for the tour?

We are trying out different things. The original band had six members, including flutes, saxophones, and whistles. It was an intense amount of music put out by the band – really at the end of it I didn’t have enough room, and I really like space in the music – times when there is nothing going on – maybe just one instrument. So I’m taking it down to the basic bones. I tried it live and on the first night it felt ridiculously empty, but by the end second gig it was great – it was exactly what I wanted.

I quite like the idea of adding back the Hammond organ at some point. I want it to be flexible and exciting for the band.

What is your take on the Steven Wilson re-masters of the Jethro Tull albums?

This might shock you, but I haven’t heard anything from these releases. These albums are a reference for me. If I were looking to add “Back Door Angels” to my set list for instance I would probably just listen to that song a couple of times as a reference musically. For most of my life I was with involved in Jethro Tull and I respect it and I owe a lot to it, but its not music that I am playing recreationally. If I were going to see new music on my time off, I’d see Snarky Puppy!

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Any update on the tour and your upcoming date with Cruise to the Edge?

I’m really looking forward to Cruise To The Edge – that’s going to be quite fun. We have a series of dates planned on the east coast of the U.S. after the cruise. The plan is to do central and west coast dates in the states next year if all goes to plan.

Catch Martin Barre at one of these upcoming shows – given the mix of new songs, and Tull classics, delivered by his crack new band, they promise to be excellent!

On a personal note:

I’ve had a life long passion for all things Jethro Tull. This superb band, led by Anderson/Barre, released 20ish 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. These along with a number of collections, live albums, and a Christmas album from 2003 represent one of the great catalogs in rock music history.

One of the first two proper rock albums I ever owned was Tull’s breakthrough record Aqualung. Not only did the album sport amazing vocals, acoustic guitars and flute from Anderson, but also Barre’s searing hard rock riffs dominated most songs. The opening chords alone are instantly recognizable, establishing the album as one of the top classic rock album for the ages.

Barre_ActionMy interest in Tull reached a fever pitch in 1973 when they released the album A Passion Play, followed by 1974’s Warchild. The musicianship on these records is off the hook. Anderson’s vocals were never better – something he recently called “chamber rock” style – and Barre laid down some of the most complex lead guitar work on record. The tour for A Passion Play was one of Tull’s most theatrical. The show began with an extended “Lifebeats” prelude – a long series of electronic beats like the quickening pulse of a heart, along with films depicting a ballerina rising then later plunging through a mirror. The interlude, “The Story of the Hare Who Lost His Spectacles,” was presented with a surrealistic film featuring animal costumes, and a type of maypole dance. Both Anderson and Barre punctuated the intricate music by leaping about the stage demonstrating showmanship and aplomb. During our interview Martin confided that he probably only played the ever-changing piece all the way through without mistake once over the long tour that followed.

In interviews, there has been some distancing from this album, noting the critics were critical, and the band probably went too far. Barre told me there was quite a bit of humor, with many references to the type of silly comedy made popular by Monty Python. But for fans of this artistic piece, the composition is one of their most serious and enduring works, questioning nothing less than the nature of death and the afterlife, of heaven and hell. “Geared toward the exceptional rather than the average” as Gerald would say.

Even though Tull has been retired by Anderson, it’s a pleasure now to be able to go hear Martin playing a combination of his own material and that of his former band, and we are all the better for it.

Back To Steel: A rocking new album from Martin Barre featuring 12 original songs and 2 Tull classic tracks re-worked in Martin’s unique style.

The musicians:

Martin Barre – Guitars
Dan Crisp – Vocals
George Lindsay – Drums
Alan Thomson – Bass
Alex Hart and Elani Andrea – Backing Vocals
Plus guests.

Track List:

Back to Steel
It’s Getting Better
I’m A Bad Man
Skating Away
Chasing Shadows
Hammer
You And I
Moment Of Madness
Calafel
Eleanor Rigby
Peace And Quiet
Sea Of Vanity
Smokestack
Without Me
Slow Marching Band

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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