Tag Archives: prog rock

Rockin’ the City of Angels: What?

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

_______________________________________________

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:

genesis_lambitboth_72dpi

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.

rtcoa_bowiepage_144dpi
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.

rtcoa_yesbookopeningpage_144dpi

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.

rtcoa_who1spread_144dpi
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.

rtcoa_toc_144
The bands, order by category, then the date of their key performance in L.A.

A PFM Classic

mozart2The progressive rock band Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM) is considered rightly to be the premier band of it’s kind from Italy.  They’ve released more than 15 studio albums and almost as many live recordings since 1972, and maintain their place as one of the finest and most prolific artists in the genre.

Last year they recorded a double album which some fans of the prog rock form many have missed – the wonderful PFM In Classic – Da Mozart A Celebration.  The main CD is a collection of seven works by Mozart re-imagined with symphony and rock instrumentation combined.  Patrick Djivas (bass) explained their approach to linking the two forms in a recent interview – “We wanted to do something totally different [with this recording] –  we thought, what if Mozart had guitar, bass, and drums – what would he have added to his compositions?”

The result is a compelling mix of rock and classical motifs played side by side – at times alternating and at others intertwined – ending up being bolder and more rewarding than the typical rock+symphony excursion.  Any fan of Mozart’s work, or the prog rock form will find much to enjoy in this release.  Highlights include the grand overture to “Il Flauto Magico,” with Patrick’s opening bass lines dancing about the main theme  – the expressive, precise guitar solo played by Franco Mussida that drives “Danza Slava No 1” – or their playful take on the theme to Romeo and Juliet which ends in a crescendo of drums from Franz Di Cioccio.

The second CD contains some of PFM’s own compositions performed in the same manner – some with extended symphonic interpretations within the original work.  Of these, “La Luna Nuova” and “Impressioni Di Settembre” are the most interesting in this format, whereas a couple of the early tracks were so representative of symphonic rock as to be just as good in their original format.  For a stunning finish the band rip through versions of “Celebration” along with a bit of Mendelssohn for good measure, followed by a live recording of Rossini’s “William Tell Overture.”  A perfect way to end this set, as both tracks are played assertively, precisely, and joyfully – a loveable trait of this seminal band.
Highly recommended.

A Very Earthly Connection

photoRick Wakeman Live At The Maltings captures the caped wizard at his finest in a show taped in 1976 in Farnham, England.  It’s available now as an individual disk, or better yet as part of the “Video Vault” collection.  The concert was in support of Rick’s progressive rock masterpiece from 1976, No Earthly Connection.  This thematic album one reviewer described as a “metaphysical exploration of the musical essence of mankind’s soul” divided listeners in the day, coming on the heels of Journey to the Center of the Earth and The Myths & Legends of King Arthur & the Knights of the Round Table yet without the orchestra and choir from those releases.  For this listener, and many prog fans, the more stripped down approach to this ensemble, the focus on Ashley Holt as the lead singer, and addition of a horn section comprised of Martyn Shields (trumpet, flugelhorn, french horn) and Reg Brooks (trombone, bass trombone) lent a kind of funk and soul to this very progressive release.  Rick employs his usual array of keys, some of his best Moog leads, lots of clavinet, electric harpsichord and a host of studio recording techniques to add a space-age sheen to the sound.  This was also the debut of Tony Fernandez (drums) and John Dunsterville (guitar), who both added tightness and drive to the work.

NoEarthlyConnectionAs performed live, captured on this DVD, the tracks from No Earthly Connection are spectacular.  While it would have been wonderful to see the whole album played live, the three core tracks are included on the video.  It’s worth the price of the release, or the whole box set, to see great shots capturing Rick hitting all the notes, Ashley belting out his lines in runs that finally seemed meant just for him, and everyone caught up in making the show a display of immense talents.  On the older tracks from Journey and Arthur the horns really add to the mix such that it’s hard to miss the full orchestral treatment afforded the two prior tours.  To top it off, Rick shows his personality during interludes joking about other TV shows that were likely available concurrently, along with other witty observations.

A great release available from Gonzo Multimedia, this is my favorite among the first three Rick Wakeman tours so thankfully filmed back in the day, and highly recommended.

Rick’s Journey to Gloucester

At the early age of 12 years, I went to the record store to buy my first two albums.  One was “Journey to the Center of the Earth” by Rick Wakeman.  This began a lifelong appreciation for all the works by this brilliant keyboard wizard.  Journey and it’s followup, “The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table” were pure magic to my ears. Deftly blending rock, classical, and theater, these albums fueled my young imagination and continue to provoke wonder today.  I played these same records for my own kids, and one of my son’s early first purchases was Rick’s “Return to the Center of the Earth” which sported the exhilarating “Dance of 1,000 Lights.”

Last weekend after a prolonged period making the arrangements, Rick played most of these masterworks on two nights in Cheltenham at the Centaur. The night before these, he gave an intimate performance with three of his children, now young adults, Oliver, Jemma, and Adam Wakeman.  I took my son, now 19 out from California to Britain to see these shows – they were everything we hoped and more.

The first more intimate show held at Black Friars club in Gloucester, part of a restored Dominican Friary, allowed each Wakeman to play a few of their own compositions or covers they enjoy.  Rick played his Nursery Rhymes, Beatles covers, and one from Rhapsodies.  Most notably the guys all played “Jemma” from “The Family Album” teasing Jemma about her bedtime ritual, ultimately ending with Rick reading a modified, sweet and humorous bedtime story. Many who read this will know of Adam and Oliver’s work – what was a surprise to us is how talented Jemma is – great keys, guitar and beautiful voice.  The family shared stories and quite a few barbs at Dad on that Father’s day eve, for his many marriages and other foibles.  Heart warming, endearing, and a rare glimpse into the private life of these amazing artists.

The next night was the full concert with orchestra and choir.  Though “The Six Wives of Henry the VIII” has been played with orchestra and choir several years prior, the Journey and Arthur material had not been played with proper accompaniment in the northern hemisphere for almost 40 years.  The opportunity was taken, and the set list, and performances were spectacular.  After an opening jig, the first notes of Arthur sent shivers as Rick and conductor Guy Protheroe led the ensemble through almost all of that album, with Merlin being played as part of the second set.  After the bulk of Arthur, followed by “Gone but not Forgotten” and “Catherine Howard” Rick performed a special version of Cat Steven’s “Morning has Broken” with a beautiful arrangement for orchestra and choir. His rendition of Help/Eleanor Rigby ended the first half.

The second half began with a thrilling performance of “Dance of 1,000 Lights”.  That this might have been in the playlist was a wonderful surprise particularly for my son, and the pace of this rendition was lightening fast, improving on the original.  Merlin, After the Ball, and a faithful version of “Jane Seymour” followed.  Excerpts from Journey closed the second set.  The band touched on the highlights of Journey, including several vocal segments, though without narration.  To these ears, the Arthur material was superior, possibly just due to it’s absence from Rick’s set lists for so many years, but this sampling of Journey whet the appetite for Rick to return and perform the complete newly expanded recording of the story – it’s absolutely meant to be heard with the orchestra and choir as we heard it that night, and surely will include the narration at his promised upcoming performances.

Ashley HoltThe encore was Starship Trooper, a nice chance for the rock band including Dave Colquhoun (guitar), Lee Pomeroy (bass) and Tony Fernandez (drums) all accomplished musicians in their own right, to stretch out a bit.  The real pleasure for me in this whole experience was Rick himself, ever the orator, with an ability to hit all his marks at the speed of light, and one who still respects the sounds and techniques he used to build all these works in the first place.  Topping that off was Ashley Holt’s vocal performance.  How it’s possible for him to actually sound better at this point in life than ever before is amazing – his pitch and delivery were perfect and reminded us all how appropriate he has always been for Rick’s blend of classical, theater, and rock. Here’s hoping for some “Earthly Connection” from him, as the next encore!  Worth every effort to attend – a pair of evenings that will not be forgotten.