Chronicle of a Progressive Woman Pt1–Alison Henderson

[Ed. note–I’m thrilled beyond words to share webspace and writing space with Alison.  She’s been one of my favorite prog writers for a long time, and I’ve found through correspondence she’s as spunky and witty as she is kind.  So, thank you for joining us, Lady Alison.  The pleasure is all ours.]


It never ceases to amaze me to this day how very few ladies love prog. Even in these “enlightened” times, it still seems as though we continue to be an endangered species but well worth preserving.

Though there is a thriving private Ladies of Prog Facebook group, here in the UK, the physical and spiritual home of prog, there is a relatively small group that make up the Sisterhood of the Prog. We all know each other, we get on really well together and we all share a passion for a very diverse range of bands.  From conversations I have had with fellow lady proggers, it seems that IQ and its offshoots are a particular favourite along with Frost*, It Bites, Steve Hackett and of course Rush (though the debate still rages on as to whether they truly are a prog band).

My  long standing joke is that there is never a queue for the ladies’ washroom at concerts: in fact at the classic Transatlantic concert at the Shepherds Bush Empire in London two years ago, I would guess there were less than 100 lady attendees among the 2,000 strong audience.

So I can only go by my own personal experiences of prog which started longer back than I care to mention and can be traced to a chance meeting with an older man on a family holiday in Majorca. I was 12: he was 15 for the record. He was  a huge fan of Curved Air who had just announced their arrival through their debut sensation Air Conditioning and on the strength of that, my first record purchase was Curved Air 2 from the proceeds of six weeks’s baby sitting. It was simply the whole package which appealed – that classic edgy sound with Darryl Way’s haunting violin and Sonja Kristina’s sultry singing being the real appeal.

So while my school friends getting steamed up over David Cassidy and assorted Osmondpersons, my prog world became full of astonishingly beautiful men with long hair and languid features who played just as spectacularly as they looked.  I also had a platonic male friend into prog who played me Meddle by Pink Floyd after which I wrote a very long prose poem based on Echoes involving a stranded submarine and astral projection. How I wish I had kept hold of it.

Along came Fragile and suddenly, life made perfect sense. Here was the music on which to build the soundtrack of your life. So I  retreated to my bedroom for the best part of three years to listen and learn from this extraordinary music, and tuning in every Saturday afternoon to Radio One for the weekly gospel of prog according to the Rev “Fluff” Freeman. He even wrote me a letter starting “Dear lovely Alison”  after I sent him an essay about the virtues of Patrick Moraz joining Yes.

So the foundations were set in prog stone in an early age, crystallised by going to see Yes for the first time on the Relayer tour and the subsequent seven or eight times in the various permutations. They will always be my prog torchbearers because of the way they have fused so many styles and influences to produce something totally original and memorable, well, at least until before June last year but that is another story.

There have been some long intermissions since because life does have a habit of getting in the way but the prog ideology within was always there, albeit temporarily snuffed out by circumstance.  However, Yes have always been there when the going got tough. I do remember listening to The More We Live/Let Go from Yes’s Union album and crying for the first few times I heard it because it reminded me of where I wanted to be rather than being in a very destructive marriage. And when that marriage broke up, Jon Anderson was there with In The City of Angels to tell me it was all going to be okay through Top of the World, For You and Hurry Home.

So prog has saved my life, restored my sanity and informed my reality every step of the way since.

In conclusion, how do I explain this eternal love of prog? Easy, really. The best music takes you on a journey and offers an experience which is both personal and profound. It lets you decide what you want it to be and every definition you give is right, because there is no wrong. It is all down to perception and interpretation, and the wonderful musicians who provide it never tell you how you should think or feel while listening to it. That makes all prog fans free thinkers who find their own level in the music and then celebrate it with other aficianados. It is a totally unifying force of expression.

And there is so much more. Without Sonja Kristina, I could never have had an early perception of what it means to be a liberated, independent and creative female. Without Jon Anderson, I could never have understood and interpreted the wonders of life then re-arranged them into a lifelong philosophy. In his words  and part of my mantra, “I count my blessings, I can see what I mean”.  And in Keith Emerson, and I shall keep it clean, I got to appreciate the more physical side of prog – and at last I finally got to see him with Lake and Palmer two years ago. That is now more or less the full prog set seen live.

Prog has been my life, my philosophy, my fun and my passion. That I can write about it now is a dream come true and also getting the chance to finally meet some of the legends that make it. It has been so influential in shaping who I am and the way I think. And so far as I am concerned, prog rock chicks will always like it over 20 minutes long with a three weird key changes, an undanceable time signature  and an organ solo. My case rests!


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