Well, as tomorrow is Advent and the beginning of the Christian New Year, it seems as good a day as any (or better, frankly) to list my “best of 2013.”
Before I get to my own choices, however, I want to extend a huge, gargantuan, ginormous thanks to my fellow progarchists and to all of you who have supported us over our mere 14 months of existence. I’m proud of us. Extremely proud. A good pride, I hope—not the kind that goeth before the fall.
As with almost every one we write about (in fact, most musicians in all forms and genres of music), we each have full-time jobs and many of us have big families as well. We write for progarchy because, as I assume is obvious, we love music. So, again, a major thanks to all who have contributed through their time and talents. Even after 14 months, progarchy.com still boasts some of the best writing and analysts in the blogosphere. Indeed, I would gladly hold up our writers against any group of writers. We don’t agree on religion, politics, and a billion other subjects. But, we each believe the reviewer must attempt to write as art, at a level commensurate with what is being reviewed.
Though our intention in the first few days of our existence was to be a kind of Dutch Progressive Rock Page/ “European Perspective” (our models and favorites) for North America, we realized pretty quickly (after a week or so), that there’s room for some thing larger than just the music scene in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, also recognizing how intimately connected we each are, one to another, across this increasingly small globe. As I often remind my students in the history of western civilization, modern technology allows us to know of events in the world often much faster than large news agencies and governmental bureaucracies. How different from the six to eight weeks it once took to cross the Atlantic. One of my favorite moments over the last several years was receiving a demo copy of a song from Greg Spawton. I commented in real time as I listened to the music, and I think Greg and I both sighed in awe at our ability to communicate instantly, though separated by 4,500 miles. May we never take such things for granted.
The same is true with music. The internet has allowed us to form communities that geography once prevented. We can interact with the artists (should they be willing, and most are) in ways that were impossible 20 years ago. I’m sure this puts a certain strain on the artist, but it also has to be satisfying as well. We can react to songs, lyrics, and artwork in a truly satisfying manner. T.S. Eliot once argued that no poet can write in a vacuum, in pure originality, as art is always a communal experience, building upon the past and reaching out to those of one immediate family, kin group, and society.
I especially want to thank (in no particular order): Greg Spawton, Leah McHenry, David Longdon, Andy Tillison, Giancarlo Erra, Arjen Lucassen, Matt Stevens, Matt Cohen, Steve Babb, Robert Pashman, John Bassett, Sam Healy, Jim Trainer, and Jerry Ewing. Each of these men answered every question I asked them, usually very quickly and without any justified “why are you bugging me, Birzer?!?!”
An equally important thanks goes out to all of you who have trusted us with your art, your music, and your ideas. I hope you feel we’ve treated it with respect, a sacred trust.
Progarchy is also a way of saying thanks to the musicians and artists we love and who have inspired us. I’m rather happy to say that I’ve been listening to prog—in some form—since 1971, the year I turned four. Having two older brothers, I found the music of Yes, Jethro Tull, and Kansas immediately inviting. Even before 1971, I was rather obsessed with the theme song to the Banana Splits, often putting it on the turntable, blasting it, and waking the entire family at around 3 in the morning. My mother can verify this. She and my brothers would come down the stairs in our duplex in Great Bend, Kansas, to find 2-year old me dancing like a madman.
At the risk of my friend and fellow progarchist, Eric Perry, calling me out as “hyperbolic,” I state this with gusto and conviction. 2013 has the best year for music in my lifetime. I know of no other year that has been so filled with such innovation, harmony, varied time signature, and lyric quality. And, this is saying a lot. There have been a lot of great years for rock over the last five decades. From my perspective, third-wave prog is now in the position jazz was between about 1955 and 1975. This is OUR golden era, building up the brilliance of 40 years ago without imitating, mocking, or denigrating it. Whatever small part progarchy has done to contribute to this, amen. Again, I say, AMEN!
Preliminary Awards, 2013
Last year, I began December by offering a few “awards” to some amazing folks who are not themselves out front as musicians. This year, I’d like to do the same, especially as I offer the “best all around progger” award. This is the person who makes what so many others do possible. I have to split it this year, between an American and a Brit. For me, the American has been Billy James, president extraordinaire of Glass Onyon PR. This guy not only loves the genre of prog, he serves the indispensable role of promoting our genre in every venue possible, and he always does it with grace, class, and enthusiasm. Billy has been as kind and helpful as he has been informative.
Our Brit “all around progger” is none other than Sally Collyer. Sally contacted me about a year ago, saying, “I’ve seen your name and your ideas, and I think we have a lot in common.” Absolutely. Not only have we bonded on prog, but we have on the unlikely subject of horses as well! Progressive equines. Or, something like this. Again, a brilliant person, Sally answers everything, helps with everything, and continues to offer a brilliant support. We also all know she’s an absolute mainstay in the British prog community and an equally lovely person. The significant other of Andy Tillison, Sally keeps brightness, purpose, as well as levity, in the prog community.
So, to Billy and Sally: thank you, thank you, thank you.
Audiophile Award. This one, again, goes to Rob Aubrey. I know there’s a famous guy out there, now even more famous for his 5.1 mixes. But, for my money, the best man in the business is Aubrey. One only has to listen to his work this year for Big Big Train and Cosmograf to realize what an ear and mind he possesses. Exact, precise, yet imaginative. A hard combination to beat. He is our generation’s Phill Brown.
Best emergence of an artist/group. Fractal Mirror. Combining the talents of several spectacular musicians, including the drum work of Frank Urbaniak, the keyboard and bass playing of Ed Van Haagen, the artwork of Brian Watson, the haunting goth vocals of Leo Koperdraat, and the advice of a number of major figures in the scene, including Giancarlo Erra, what more could we want? I wish them all the well-deserved success in the world as they begin their journey as a group.
Best single song. Big Big Train, The Permanent Way. From the opening notes, David’s vocals move us into the twilight realms of quiet nostalgic, but without reason. The first few times I heard this, I couldn’t quite figure out what was happening? Was Aubrey cutting him out. Then, I realized, David is a gentleman artist. The voice of the song is John Betjeman. David, rather impressively was deferring to this great poet. From there, David build, flows, lulls, and, then, of course, rocks.
Best Packaging. What’s not to love about a cd or two accompanied by explanations, lyrics, and photos. This year, the award goes to the ninety six page booklet that comes with Big Big Train English Electric Full Power. The photos are gorgeous, the notes are meaningful, and the tributes to past and present allies of the band is heart warming, to say the least.
More to come. . . .
4 thoughts on “The Permanent Way: Preliminary Awards, 2013”
Thanks Brad for the wonderful mention. We hope that Fractal Mirror 2, Orbital View, supports your kind words and belief in our potential as a band.
To add an extra point about the packaging reward, an extra thanks to BBT for releasing it as a PDF for those of us that bought through downloads. I’ll have more to say about this topic in the near future.
We are truly humbled and honoured that you mentioned us!! Thank you very much.
Thanks, Leo! You’ve done an amazing thing, and we need to let the world know! Also, you should be able to comment at the site anytime you want. At least, if I got the settings right.