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!