220.127.116.11.15 (Mayan Long Count)
My first post of the new Gregorian calendar year. I hope you all enjoyed your holiday season. I've got lots of stuff to get to. First, though, my mate Singing Bear hipped me to the scene over on BBC4. Seems there's a week-long celebration of UK progressive rock, which started last Friday night.
The main docu, called Prog Rock Britannia - An Observation In Three Parts (how's that for a title?!), runs about an hour and a half and contains some great footage and interviews. My only (slight) complaints would be that the focus was too much on 'The Big 4' (Yes, Genesis, ELP & King Crimson) and the last section, which purports to cover from 1978 through to 2008, just peters out after the punk explosion. There's a bit of footage of 80s Yes and some mentions of Genesis' transformation into chart-toppers, but that's it. As far as prog's 70s heyday, Henry Cow and the 'RIO' scene don't get a look-in, neither does the medieval-folk prog of Gryphon, nor Third Ear Band's acoustic drone-prog. Perhaps the latter two didn't 'rock' enough for the docu-maker's tastes..but the Cow definitely did a bit of rockin', i.m.h.o. The 80s prog-rock scene of Marillion, IQ, It Bites, Twelfth Night & Pendragon aren't given any air time and the 90s are equally ignored (leaving out Ultramarine's prog-rock techno experiments with Robert Wyatt & Kevin Ayers seems a shame). Wyatt features in some of the most entertaining interviews, though Richard Coughlan, drummer of Caravan, has a great moment lamenting that Caravan's audience were "all chaps". Robert Fripp is once again conspicuous in his absence, but he's never made any secret of his disdain for the term 'progressive rock' and never liked seeing Crimso lumped in with the other prog-rock bands. Despite the 'skimming the surface' nature of "Prog Rock Britannia", it's still worth checking out. You can watch it here, but only for the next three days (unless the BBC release a DVD version, or you've got a DVD recorder).
There was also a one-hour prog special on Time Shift (unfortunately not available to view on the iPlayer). It covers a lot of the same ground as "Prog Rock Britannia", only it has interviews with members of Gentle Giant and Steve Hackett (of Genesis)..along with 'music-journo-talking-head-for-rent' Charles Shaar Murray and 'Whispering' Bob Harris, host of The Old Grey Whistle Test. Decent viewing, but not really essential, especially when Murray trotted out the tired story about Greg Lake's Persian carpet as an example of prog's excess...oh yeah, that and Rick Wakeman's "King Arthur On Ice" show. I'm surprised no-one ever mentions Mike Oldfield's decision to employ 30 nubile young women as a choir on his 1979 tour, but I guess that reeks of sex and so doesn't fit in with the media's image of progressive rock. Stuart Maconie, host of the excellent Freak Zone radio show on BBC6 Music, was also on-hand to half-heartedly defend prog's virtues--as a sort-of counter-balance to Murray's smarmy commentary. The night I tuned in, the 'Time Shift' episode was followed by an 'Old Grey Whistle Test' programme from 1973, showing a film of ELP's European tour of that year.
BBC4 are broadcasting one-off specials during the week as well. They've showed a docu about Genesis' 2007 reunion tour and an interview with Phil Collins (I skipped those), a docu about Pink Floyd called Which One's Pink? (available for the next week on the iPlayer) and a collection of live clips entitled Prog On The BBC. I've watched a bit of "Prog On The BBC" and it looks pretty good--I've seen The Nice playing America (a black and white clip from 1968) and The Moody Blues playing Question (in colour from 1970). Just tonight was a 1974 film of Oldfield's Tubular Bells being played live in the studio. Hopefully that will be made available as well.
There you have it--soak it up while you may. I'm not sure when this will happen again. I hope this doesn't mean prog is becoming fashionable. I doubt it, though I did read that one of the characters on the deplorable Sex & The City was wearing a Yes T-shirt in one of the episodes. For the love of all that is good...