Supper’s Off?

Almost a couple of months ago, Brad wrote about L’Étagère Du Travail, the long-awaited companion disc to the wonderful Le Sacre Du Travail. With uncharacteristic restraint, I chose not to listen to the proffered download of this, preferring to wait instead for my physical CD. But it finally arrived last week – hence these words.

I won’t attempt to duplicate Brad’s eloquent review, but I thought his favourite track, Supper’s Off, deserved some deeper analysis, since it struck me also as a particularly noteworthy piece.

I’ll say right up front that I regard Andy Tillison as a major figure in prog, not just because of the sublime music that he creates, but because he has something important to say, too. In a genre where oblique lyrics and obscure concepts are considered almost a virtue in some quarters, his style is admirably direct and unusually relevant. Le Sacre‘s critique of the rat race certainly put one or two noses out of joint, and the pointed observations he makes here may have a similar effect.

Critics will no doubt latch on to the Genesis reference in the track’s title, as well as the lyric

We tried to change the world
But the world won’t take the hint.
They go running off back to Genesis,
and all the other bands are skint.

But this is not a dig at Genesis fans in particular. Tillison writes in the sleeve notes that “Genesis were great. I don’t mean to offend either them or their fans. Just the non-inquisitive attitude of people who will never listen to the myriad of bands who offer an equally adventurous experience to their heroes of the 1970s and who don’t necessarily have blood line with them.”

Other lyrics, spoken over the music, deliver the crux of his argument with laser-like precision:

And of the thousands of people who watched Yes at QPR in 76, only a few hundred will turn up to watch their descendants on a whole tour.

Yet if The Who were to plan some kind of comeback, they’d sell tickets for 90 quid to hundreds of thousands of people my age all over the world, who’ll turn up in posh cars and 4x4s, because I am talking about my generation…

There are some important and interesting questions at the root of all this. Is it not true that people retain a great fondness for the music they fell in love with during their formative years? And if this is the case, why don’t they make the connection to contemporary artists doing the same kind of thing? Do people form allegiances to bands rather than to styles of music? Do they prefer nostalgia to the joy of discovering new music? I could go on…

Those who would rush to condemn Tillison for his abrasiveness should think first about how difficult it is to make music for a niche audience these days. The digital revolution has been a double-edged sword, democratising production whilst simultaneously devaluing the product in the eyes of the general public. David Byrne argued cogently in UK newspaper The Guardian recently about the particular threat to creativity posed by streaming, for example.

I’ve never heard a prog artist put money up at the top of their agenda, but there’s no denying that artists need some kind of income from their music if they are to continue as artists. Besides the fact that it is a deserved reward for an artist’s efforts, money buys them time and space, the freedom to make good art – and we all benefit as a result.

So here’s my plea (I guess I’m preaching to the converted here, but what the hell):

By all means, go see the rock legends in the big arenas, but don’t forget about the little guys. Buy their albums. Go see them if they are playing anywhere near your home town, however pokey the venue is. And if you have to choose between tickets for a comeback tour by dinosaurs looking to put an extra couple of Ferraris in the garage or for a band still writing exciting new music whilst trying to make ends meet… Well, you know what the right thing to do is!

13 thoughts on “Supper’s Off?

  1. carleolson

    Great post, Nick. The Who? Who? Booooooring. I own 60,000+ songs and not one by The Who. Or the Rolling Stones. Or the Doors. All seriously, seriously overrated bands. I completely understand how people are nostalgic for the music of their youth. I really do. But there is a lot of that such music, speaking for myself, that I’ve had to cut loose, recognizing that it is simply not worth listening to anymore. In the meantime, there is an abundance of intriguing and often exceptional new music that deserves to be heard. One needs to have a steady eye on the past and a restless eye on the present.

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    1. Nick

      “One needs to have a steady eye on the past and a restless eye on the present.” is a very good way of putting it!

      I’ve not really cut loose from the old stuff that I grew up with, but my relationship with it has certainly changed over the years as other kinds of music came into my life. I listened to the old classics of the 70s hardly at all during the late 80s and 90s, and returning to them in recent years has brought the particular joy of rediscovery.

      These days, I like to strike a balance between the likes of The Fierce & The Dead, Knifeworld, District 97, Haken, Maschine, etc and the classics. The former are what excite me, whereas the latter are ‘comfort food’.

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  2. John Deasey

    Nick, I so agree with these sentiments. My favourite concerts are supporting the likes of Enochian Theory, The Pineapple Thief etc. in small Northern Quarter-type venues.
    One of the worst gigs I went to in recent times was at the MEN (Manchester Evening News Arena) to see Bad Company – all the old ‘fans of rock’ had come out of the woodwork, all with Who, Zep, Floyd and Genesis badges pinned to their sadly now ill-fitting denim – and I bet not one of them knew anything about BBT, Haken, Maschine …..

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    1. Nick

      It is sad. I think that many people have an overly nostalgic view which skews their perspective. Although I (still) love many old bands, I’d soon get bored if that was all I could listen to. Knifeworld, TFATD, Thumpermonkey, etc, are taking the genre in fascinating new directions And then you have the likes of BBT, who manage to put a modern slant on the classic prog sound and marry it with a unique perspective of our history and culture. So much great new stuff.

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  3. Well said, Nick! This is, for me, the stand-out track on what is another great Tangent album, and I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments you express. One of my great delights last year was going to see my eldest son support Mike & the Mechanics at Holmfirth and seeing people who’d never heard or heard of him engaging with his music (which isn’t by any means ‘prog’ (but are M&tM ‘prog’?)) and really appreciating the effort he put in to writing and performing his music. Others, though, used the unknown support act as an excuse to prop up the bar… Their loss 🙂

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    1. Nick

      Must be great to see your offspring up there on stage!

      It’s a shame that so many gig-goers shun support acts. If you’ve seen them many times before then fair enough – but if they are unknown then why not get your money’s worth and pay attention?

      At gigs, I’m always curious about what an unknown support act sounds like. I may end up not liking them, but on the other hand, I may end up discovering my new favourite band!

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  4. Tillison lament is that we live in a world where we play it safe. Musically speaking we are far from a time where innovation and talent are obscured by manufactured wholesale music and that applies to the classic bands of the past as much as the TV developed products.
    It’s the same in Cinema and art and other creative areas in life.
    I understand his Genesis connection relates to the comeback hits tour and the subsequent hovering up that year (2007) of money for the concerts, the DVDs etc that came from that when in fact they hadn’t releases an new album in more than 10 years.
    It’s not sour grapes and was written during some very bleak times where the continuation of his band in the studio and Live was very much on a precipice.

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  5. Sorry for the bad grammar, a rushed response…
    We are not far from a time, we are far from a time of innovation and talent and these things are obscured by manufactured wholesale music…

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  6. Nick
    I prefer small ‘pokey’ venues and seem to go nowhere else!
    But seriously music, like any other art form, dies unless it moves on and it’s the bands you mention that are the life blood of music. Most true ‘progressive’ music fans have this wired into their DNA.
    And as for financial support, my mantra is ‘pay more not less’. When given the choice to pay for digital downloads or CDs on say, Bandcamp, I frequently pay more than the minimum. So for the new TFATD album pre-order I paid a tenner ( i think a fiver was the starting price). When I think of all the effort and cost of producing music well a tenner is nothing.
    Ian

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  7. Frankur

    Nick I used to be bummed at the Rosfest line-ups when they didn’t get the bigger prog acts but I now totally appreciate seeing 11 bands, some old, some new, in one weekend, and the older bands-this year being Clepsydra, Caravan and Collage, draw enough of a crowd to support bands like Fright Pig (exceptional musicians), Thank You Scientists, Red Sand and Elepants of Scotland being the opening bands on Saturday and Sunday. The newer bands continue to surprise and delight and they get so pumped as they win the crowd over it is a great collective musical experience.

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  8. In a way I understand the meaning behind Andy Tillison’s lyrics in that today’s Prog Rock bands find it hard to even make enough money to eat, never mind be able to be a bit more comfortable for all the hard work they put into keeping such great music alive.

    But one must also remember that back in the days that Genesis were doing Prog Rock music, they was far from well off themselves. They only made more money when there was only 3 of the band left, and they started to make Pop albums which gave them way more success than they ever had in their entire career.

    So Tillison’s theory here is not that quite right at all I am afraid.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lee, my apologies. I’ve had the flu, and I’ve not checked comments in a couple of days. I didn’t mean to leave your comment sitting in the wait box for 48 hours! Glad to have you here. Thanks for the comment. Yours, Brad

      Liked by 1 person

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