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Monday, 10 January 2011

The House That Dripped Prog: Sheena was a Prug Pronk Rocker

Welcome to an occasional series which gets on the Prog horse and rides into the centre of the mire.
Well I'll admit it, I once lived in a house that did indeed.... drip Prog.
Just a brief-ish personal  account really, anyway that house actually dripped all manner of audio and visual curiosities, thanks to my older brother and sister- I remember looking at the sleeve of The Who's "My Generation" LP and thinking how great it looked, that group photo on the front was just incredible, simple yet so powerful to my young mind, a bunch of lads ready for anything and all four of them looking up with blank but sussed and all-knowing stares into the camera, where every other LP cover featuring a group shot showed them all sweetly smiling. The way those steel drum containers are also in the photo, made it more like it spoke to me, as we lived just near the local council yard that was full of such things. But that was in the middle of the 1960s, where music, art and all manner of pop culture merged into the secure nostalgia base that you can't ever ignore, even if you tried to.  As the sixties merged into the early seventies, the Velvet Underground's debut and 'White Light/White Heat' and Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew" got a regular airing, again thanks to the siblings, all different strains and true to the real terms of 'progressive music'. Also, at the time I was wrapping my young lobes around the emerging early Glam stuff from Bowie, Bolan and Roxy Music (my very own discoveries!), all that 'intelligent' or off the wall stuff was for when I was a bit older I thought, although any young glam savage could spot the connection from Bowie back to the Velvets via the scrawled sleevnotes  on the back cover of the "Hunky Dory" album, plus the bristling vigour of a track like "Queen Bitch", but for the moment, all that glittered was in fact gold to my young frame. It's also hard to put into words the first time I chanced upon the various different musics that really leapt out to me such as the classic Tyrannosaurus Rex 45- "King Of The Rumbling Spires" whilst 'secretly' listening to the radio one night (probably the great 'Top Gear' show).

For those too young to remember, there were quite a few houses in the UK that dripped Prog in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
We're talking about that strange hit and miss and now 'forbidden fruit' hybrid genre- 'Progessive Rock' or 'Progressive Music" as it was termed, depending on the snobbery.
Actually, that term back in the day (1969-1975) covered and included all what is termed 'Krautrock' nowaydays too, though some muso-journos from that time termed it 'German Progressive'.
Also, it's only relatively recently at this time of writing that various players in the punk and post-punk scenes of the late seventies and early eighties have 'come out' and admitted being under the spell of that genre of music that everyone is supposed to laugh at in secret, due to lots of muso-journos re-writing history since the late seventies.
Although that said, Sniffin' Glue/ATV veteran Mark P seemed to be the only one at the time, who was never afraid to mention his past as a prog fan, in fact, the NME once had a small sporadic feature during the late seventies named 'Blackmail Corner' and they once reprinted a reader's letter which was first sent to them in 1972 which raved about Emerson, Lake & Palmer and which was signed of 'Mark Perry, London (was it a joke or was it the real deal)? He has in fact revealed himself to worship at the altar of the great beast Tarkus.
Another aside, a young Joe Strummer once caught the original King Crimson line up at the time of their debut LP in 1969 and proclaimed them fantastic, albeit after the safe watershed of X amount of years after 1977 which was revealed in the labyrinthine DGM website concerning all things Fripp and co.
Oh and let's not bring up the revelations in that Sid Vicious book that reveals a young Mr. Ritchie, a young Mr. Wardle and one J. Lydon of course, sometimes verging into (whispers) "jazz-rock" territory during their pre-fame years.
As for my own dealings, it all started when my elder siblings started blasting Pink Floyd's "Piper At The Gates Of Dawn"- (good ol' Syd eh) and an outfit I listened to up until their DSOTM LP. Although it must be said, that the track "On The Run" was pure electronic gold- some twisted parallel future tardis-generated time slip of 4 years, it could have been Throbbing Gristle collaborating with Boyd Rice albeit produced by George Martin!

Anywho, back amongst the Beatles, Who, Stones, plus a dash of early Beefheart and Zappa, came an album full of mystery to a young noggin soaking up info, which was housed in a fearsome and eye-popping LP cover, yet a cover that to some young folk of today will howl with laughter when they see it, whether they know of it's contents or not but to my 9/10 year old senses, it was a whole new world to escape into.... when of course, I was actually given permssion and allowed to play it, ususally with the supervision of one of my elder siblings.
I'm of course talking about the album that shifted lots of peoples' minds into other terrains- "In The Court Of The Crimson King" by King Crimson. The LP opened with  manic but structured playing and at the end of that opening track ("21st Century Schizoid Man")- transforms into manic free-form noise which desecrates the grinding electric guitars and electric saxophones to a final exhausted halt, which then eases you into a warm bath of a folk song with flutes and woodwinds, then there is the after-song dream sequence of "Moonchild", all drowsy vibraphone sprinkles and hums, muted drums and illustrated guitar lines-
oh well, let's leave it there for now. That mysterious 'transparent' 1st offering by Faust also showed up in the house one day, not to mention Can's 'Monster Movie'- all thrilling stuff of course.

Well yeah, some of the Prog stuff out there was utter cack at times, especially beyond 1975 (in my humble opinion of course!), some of it being embedded in my grey matter at the time as 'good' by default (Fruupp anyone?),  but there was a lot doing the rounds that held surprising influences in store for future operating music folk.

You see, between late 1976 and ooooh for about 10 years after that, such was the 'code of conduct' within the music weeklies and all the journos and muso folk alike, they just did not bring up the 'p' word unless they were with a really trusted friend. The subject certainly didn't crop up in a positive tone in the ruling music weeklies of the time, in fact, it wasn't until the 1990s that various players let out a few corking 'secrets', well.... not really secrets, just people being honest and not pandering to the hipster stance.

Ol' John Lydon has been documented enough with his youthful forays onto planet Prog, but here is a real scorcher.......(let's wheel it out again for anyone who hasn't heard it or indeed any old er... 'punk'...who won't accept it!).......
Did you know that original PiL guitarist and synth mangler, the brilliant Keith Levene was once a 15 year old roadie for Prog overlords Yes?  He was a massive admirer of guitarist Steve Howe and he has waxed lyrical in an interview about how he used to think that Howe was god! Also, in the same interview he came out with such revelations like the deftly picked descending  guitar refrain on PiL's "Poptones" was inspired by Mr. Howe's opening guitar line on the the Yes track "Starship Trooper"- .......oh how I smirked.

Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley have also teasiingly let out that there were King Crimson and Yes LPs playing on a regular basis in their pre-punk youth. I've even heard a few snippets that could have influenced Magazine and others from those Bo Hansson albums too ("Magician's Hat" and "Attic Thoughts").
Nah, it wasn't all Stooges, Velvets and the Dolls on a lot of turntables as many punk-hype journos and players would have us believe in those late 70s music weeklies, unless you were an early-70s Bowie-Bolan-Roxy head of course.
Still, if you listen to Mr. Eno's track- "Needle In The Camel's Eye" on headphones, you can experience yet another of those -twisted parallel future tardis-generated time slips- as when those parrot-farfisa synth-generated plonks surface within the track, it sounds like a polished hybrid apparition of Una Baines/Yvonne Pawlett from an early seance by The Fall.

Which brings me to a very good example of the Dark Side of Prog (and I'm not talking about the Floyd that is Pink either), I'm talking about the great beast that was Van Der Graaf Generator.
Below is a great clip of them from 1970 and running through "What Ever Would Robert Have Said?" from their LP of that year entitled- "The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other", a good year or so before they brought out their tour-de-force that was "Pawn Hearts", their best work ever to my ears.
Aspiring researchers may note that when vocaliser Peter Hammill isn't reaching his often hysterical heights i.e. when he sings in a more tame and tempered manner, you can almost imagine Howard Devoto singing some of those lines, oh yeah you can, just close your eyes. There is also a fleeting bit of Bowie at times circa 1970/71 in there too, or did our Dave pillage Mr. Hammill's voice box? One of those chicken and egg situations. I won't be yet another smart arse to drag up Hammill's pre-punk "Nadir's Big Chance" album either, so we'll stop there and just enjoy the clip.... close your eyes and it really does sound like Magazine

Also, I thought I'd put up a great little tune from german innovators Amon Duul II. They're not really obscure to many underground music explorers these days, whatever the age-group.
Anyway, it's more to do with the realms of your imagination as I once read a line that went something like-
'the best song that John Lydon never sang'....
.....pah!, I wish I'd have said that and you can really get an audio picture in your mind of him doing a cover of it.
The other-worldly vocals were by their female force-field that is Renate Knaup.

Amon Duul II - "Archangels Thunderbird" from their fantastic "Yeti" LP from 1970.

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