2013 – the journey continues

John Young at the controls for LifesignsWell, how was it for you? It was pretty good from where I have been standing in various venues up and down the country (including Bristol  -twice, and Leicester) and of course on record – CD as opposed to coloured vinyl. As the prog year draws to a close, I can only stare in awe at the great leaps and bounds again made in creating new music, the sounds that theoretically can’t be made. But thanks to the wonders of modern recording studio technology, file-sharing and production techniques, they can.

Again, as we stand on the cusp of another new year, as a fan, I can only marvel at highlights from  the soundtrack that has defined 2012. Some might still argue that 2011 was when it hit its most recent highest peak but there is no disputing that some extremely fine albums have been made and by the “old” school in particular.

Wearing my heart on my prog sleeve is not hard to do when there has been so much released that went so much further than presenting itself simply as an enjoyable hour’s listen on the car CD or a once heard then back in the box offering.

My yardstick goes a great deal further now and has led me to review my policy of listening to music for the first time in the car as my top three albums of the year all testify in their own right! Okay, I remember my “first” time for all three, funnily enough. Map of the Past I first listened to when I was on my way to a funeral but as I arrived at the church with a smile on my face, it was job done.

Getting through Clockwork Angels took a couple of attempts as my car journeys were not long enough and I kept missing the final masterpiece, The Garden, which was the one I was advised to pull into a lay-by and listen to. In the end, it proved to be an excellent tip.

Where do I start with English Electric Pt 1? Presented in person by the producer,  I somehow got lost in my very own neighbourhood then started sobbing , which in themselves, are pretty good indicators that parts not normally permeated were indeed being reached.

I guess that begs the question of how each of us listens to music? I suppose the answer is all differently as I could never hear it with either the ear of a musician nor a studio techie.  I do not listen to which instrument is doing what or try to work out which make of instrument was used in the execution.

No, I have always heard music pieces as an inner journey and that stems back to when I first was exposed to Pink Floyd’s Echoes when I was 13. Around that time, I was grappling with a few early spiritual concepts such as astral projection so all of my efforts went into composing a very long prose poem based on that particular classic, involving a stricken submarine and a captain who decided the only way out was to try a bit of the old astral travelling to see if he could touch base with a higher being or two to find a way of of the craft and crew’s predicament. It all sounds a bit far-fetched now and I so wish I had kept the original, all scrawled in pencil at the time.

So I suppose this is where Yes scored so highly early on because Close to the Edge was the ultimate prog journey prompted of course by Roger Dean’s evocative artwork. Earlier still, I was carried along the River Thames by Curved Air’s Piece of Mind, based on T S Eliot’s The Wasteland.

So fast forwarding to this year, all three of these albums did come complete with their own built-in journeys, MOTP starting with the man in the photograph then carrying forward his spirit through war, peace-time, love and death.

CA was a journey through a parallel world populated by strange mechanical devices, control freaks, anarchists, shipwreck plunderers, treasure seekers and circus hands – all of them symbolising many of the trials and tribulations of life.

And EE Pt 1 was above all a journey through both the built and natural landscapes of England – and also into the world of art forgery and ultimately, hell itself.

So soon it will be time to ring out the old and ring in the new, and already, some interesting journeys are appearing on the immediate prog horizon. One will be into space courtesy of Robin Armstrong whose Cosmograf project will be giving us The Man Left In Space, an allegorical look at success and achievement while the John Young/Nick Beggs/Frosty Beadle triumvirate are taking us on a journey through human existence itself with Lifesigns.

Then beyond them will appear the eagerly awaited Le Sacre du Travail from the newly reconfigured The Tangent featuring Gavin Harrison of Porcupine Tree and David Longdon of Big Big Train…. talking of whom will be releasing English Electric Pt 2 in early March. How they can possibly better Pt 1 remains to be seen and eagerly heard.

Also, coming is Also Eden’s follow-up to Think of the Children, [REDACTED], which represents a shift in direction for them while the future sound of prog, Maschine, have been hard at work on their debut album. And there is a new one coming from Magenta – always cause for celebration, plus Pallas (how can they better XXV), Pendragon and Frost*. And of course, Steven Wilson’s new solo album, The Raven that Refused to Sing (and other stories) will also be with us shortly. I am getting the box of tissues ready!

So, let the new prog journeys begin and see where they all take us this time.  These links are a good a place as any to start:

Also Eden – Endless Silence

The Tangent website

Big Big Train website

Steven Wilson website

The Dowager of Prog Awards for 2012

While many lists will be written about the top albums of the year (and I am guilty of compiling one which was a  Steve Wilson-free zone), it is time to take a more offbeat look at those prog bands and artists – and various other notable beings, who were  rocking this particular quadrant the prog world in 2012.

Fortunately, we managed to get together a distinguished collection of sponsors to offer an array of awards to those whose contributions caught the dowagerly ear, heart or simply deserved to be mentioned in dispatches.

So here are (drum roll) the recipients of the 2012 Dowager of Prog Awards.

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The Winchester Tourist Office’s King Alfred Statuette for Album of the Year goes to Big Big Train for English Electric Pt 1 with particular reference to the song, Winchester From St Giles’ Hill.

Judges’ note: “Because of this song,  Big Big Train Facebook page members are now offered unofficial guided tours of the ancient capital during which places mentioned in the song are visited or gesticulated at, together with a voluntary pitstop halfway around at the pub named after the Winchester Diver.”

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2) The Imperial War Museum’s Ceremonial Sword for runner-up Album of the Year is awarded to It Bites for Map Of the Past.

Judges’ note: “A spiffing collection of top-hole prog pop songs,  linked by the man in the photograph (in World War One Army uniform), full of big melodies,  melodrama and huge themes, all immaculately produced and packaged.”

3) The Morecambe and Wise “Bring Me Sunshine” Award for the UK duet of the year goes to Twang and Geoff Banks (Chairman) for bringing us Celebr8, undoubtedly the best event of 2012 in terms of the music and the camaraderie between the bands who played and the fans who attended.

4) The Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In International Duet of the Year Award  goes to Kerry Kompost and Matt Brown, who brought their own brand of Californian sunshine and laughter to Celebr8 after Mars Hollow’s untimely split shortly before the festival. The acoustic stage was created so they, along with other great musicians could appear;  and as a result, we all fell in love with them and their spirit of the occasion.

Mark Spencer

5) The Mormon Award for Multiple Musical Marriages is given to the many talents of Mark Spencer who appeared with Alan Reed, Galahad, the Cryptic Clues and finally Twelfth Night this year, fulfilling a different musical role within each.

Runners-up: Nick Beggs, Lee Pomeroy, John Mitchell and Dean Baker.

6) The Kew Gardens Botanical Song of the Year goes to joint winners – Hedgerow from Big Big Train’s English Electric Pt 1 and The Garden from Rush’s Clockwork Angels.

Runner-up: Return of the Giant Hogweed – Neal Morse, Roine Stolt,  Steve Hackett etc, Genesis Revisited II

7) The Riverdance Award for the song with the best Celtic vibe again goes to joint winners – Kingdom of the Blind by Alan Reed from First In A Field of One and Mercy of the Sea from Kompendium’s Beneath the Waves.

8) The Kleenex Golden Tissue Box for tearjerker of the year goes to The Last Escape from It Bites’ Map of the Past.

Runner-up: Can’t Stop The Rain – Squackett’s A Life Within A Day

9) The Steven Wilson Challenge Cup is awarded to Steven Wilson for being Steven Wilson.

10) The Eric Bristow Double Tops Golden Arrow Award goes to Galahad for releasing two stonking great albums, Battle Scars and Beyond The Realms of Euphoria.

11) The Quantas/British Airways Global Village Concept Award for the most travelled prog fan goes to Anne Corris who bestrides continents like a colossus to get to all the top gigs (and usually the best front row seats)!

12) The National Express Award for the most permanently visible UK prog fan goes to Roger Marsh who has been seen nodding along  right up the front at practically every domestic gig this year. Paul Mackie of Pallas is probably still having nightmares as a result!

13) The Nick Beggs Teenybop Idol Turned Prog Demigod Award is given to Nik Kershaw for his amazing version of The Lamia, the highlight of Genesis Revisited II.

14) The Englebert Humperdinck Eurovision Winning Live Performance Award goes to The Tangent for Celebr8.

Luke Machin

The judges noted: “This performance confounded the beard stroking faction of the audience by starting with a rip roaring version of Kool and the Gang’s Celebration followed by the most incredible, dynamic display of virtuosity from Prog Wizard Andy Tillison, his sidekick Funkytoe Latham and two apprentices, Luke Machin and Dan Mash.

“Such was the intensity and beauty of their playing, many tears were shed unashamedly by members of the audience. This alas was their last gig together but stands out as one of the finest sets many of us have ever had the pleasure  to witness.”

Runner-up: Kerry Kompost’s contribution to Touchstone’s Mad World at Celebr8.

15) The Shamen Award for the best free-standing live gig of the year goes to Galahad supported by Alan Reed at the Peel in September.

Judges’ note: “The nearest thing ever to a prog rave,  Galahad played a selection of their  trancey new songs from Battle Scars which nearly led to an outbreak of dancing among the 10o- strong crowd.”

Runner-up: Steve Hackett at the Brook, Southampton in February. The maestro in top form as always.

16) The One Direction Award for Best Boy Prog Band goes to Indigo Child, the opening band at Danfest, who showed some early promise, their set including an ambitious Wakemanesque keyboard solo by 17-year-old Ollie Eastwood.

17) The Marmite Award for the either you love it or you hate it album of the year goes to Storm Corrosion.

18) The Phil Collins/Live Aid Award goes to John Mitchell, who played Loreley with Arena on the Saturday then Celebr8 with It Bites on the Sunday, then repeated the manoeuvre but on a much smaller and more localised scale during Frost*Bites at the Scala.

19) The Twitter Ye Not Award for the most enjoyably bonkers social network groups goes to Facebook joint winners The Foolish Boys (membership by invitation only) and The Rush Atlantic Connection (TRAC), both of whom have their own bespoke tee-shirt. The former introduced the concept of prog curries and Buffoon of the Month while the latter provided a most entertaining weekend in York which included a ghost walk led by a Rutger Hauer lookalike and a live interview on BBC Radio York.

And finally:

20) The Dowager’s Special Awards  

For the most outstanding contribution to prog in 2012 goes to, wait for it – Jon Patrick (Twang), the people’s champion, loved by bands and fans alike for putting on an endless series of “must be there” gigs, concerts and festivals.

For the best all-round contribution by a band to Galahad, who despite losing their bass player Neil Pepper to cancer last autumn (2011),  they literally came bouncing back with two terrific albums and a series of  lively and fun-packed gigs which embodied the occasionally not so serious side of prog.  And they are all lovely blokes too.

Prog on!