Is Prog Rock Really Progressive?

[Warning: I ramble a lot in this. My third (out of 4) semester of grad school just ended, and I needed to write something about prog.]

What does it really mean for rock music to be progressive? This question has risen in my mind over the last few days as I have been at my job at my university’s archives working on processing some records from the 1970s related to the university’s radio station. There is a lot of talk in the records about the station and many others in Chicago playing progressive rock. I’ve come across lists of the most popular music to play in radio stations across the country, and I was a little surprised to see names like Yes and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer present.

Other documents from the time loosely defined progressive rock as a genre of music that was forward looking. It also appears that there were whole radio stations in Chicago, on both AM and FM bands, dedicated to playing “progressive” rock. Today there are none. Earlier this year, Chicago lost one of it’s two remaining “classic rock” stations, which were known to occasionally play prog such as Rush, Pink Floyd, and even Yes. The “oldies” station (WLS FM) is playing more music from the 70s these days too.

The fact that there were multiple stations whose explicit purpose was playing “progressive” music suggests that the genre was popular. But just how popular was it? If we go by best-selling albums between the years 1969-1979, then we would have to assume that it wasn’t very popular at all. [This analysis would be a lot more fair if I delved deeper into the charts and looked at top 40 from that time span too, but stick with me anyways.] In that time frame, over 140 different albums topped the charts. Of that number, only 9.5% of them could be called “progressive” rock. That’s only 14 albums, which I shall list in chronological order: Continue reading “Is Prog Rock Really Progressive?”

RAINBURN’s Vats Iyengar Talks New Album “Insignify”

Rainburn4

Indian prog rockers Rainburn return on November 7th with the release of a new album “Insignify” (read our review here). In an interview for Progarchy, singer and guitarist Vats Iyengar tells us about the meaning behind the band’s name, their working process, new songs, and more.

Hello! Thanks for responding to this interview. How have you guys been lately?

Thank you for hosting us! We’ve been good. Gearing up for the album release, and also starting rehearsals for the tour soon.

How might you introduce yourselves to new potential listeners?

I’d say our music covers a lot of ground and touches upon many different styles without sounding forced or gimmicky. We also have a nice mix of the old and the new, some modern music and some classic influences. If you like emotionally-heavy music that is creative and diverse, you should check us out.

What inspired the name of the band — Rainburn?

We wanted an oxymoron, to suggest that we cover a wide spectrum of music, from soft to heavy, moments of light and darkness – and everything in-between – in our music, so we went with this name. Our drummer, Praveen, came up with the name. It’s a pretty established tradition as far as band names go. Like Black Sabbath, for example.

How did Rainburn initially form as a creative unit?

We had a keyboard player in the beginning and only one guitarist (me). It was actually his idea that we form a band together. We added a bassist and a drummer soon after, played quite a few gigs with that lineup, even recorded a couple of demos. But as we started finding our sound, we decided two guitars worked better.

Insignify

You are about to release a new album titled “Insignify.” Where did the inspiration for it come from and how did you go about the whole process of writing and recording it?

‘Insignify’ has been a two-and-a-half-year labour of love that started as a seed in my head. It took a long time to take shape and form fully but once it did, the music was created very quickly, because the concept was so clear and detailed. I think it’d take a few listens, at least, to fully digest and “get” the album. The record was mixed by Thejus Nair, a brilliant young engineer who operates Eleven Gauge Recordings in Bangalore, our hometown. Mastering was done by Tony Lindgren at Sweden’s Fascination Street Studios, where so much good progressive music comes out of these days.

What can be expected from the upcoming album? Would you say the released singles (“Suicide Note” and “Mirrors”) are accurate samples?

They’re fairly good samplers but as to whether they’re completely representative of the album – not by a long way. Apart from what’s in those songs, we have moments of funk, fusion, a bit of jazz, even a vocal fugue on the record. No two songs really sound alike.

What’s your songwriting process like?

It’s usually me writing and making demos at home that I then present to the band, and they tailor or modify their parts according to their style. But for some stuff, we changed the formula. Like, ‘Someone New’ started with Praveen composing an entire drum track that I then wrote riffs and melodies over. That was a very interesting way to write!

What are your ultimate hopes for Rainburn as a band?

To be an internationally touring band, to make some great records so we can leave a musical legacy behind and – the holy grail – to be able to sustain ourselves, financially, with our music.

Do you have any bigger plans for the future?

Well, we’ll be going on a national tour early next year – our second one. And hope to play some gigs outside India next year as well.

The last words are yours.

To your readers – If you’ve somehow managed to read this far, I hope you’ll check out our album when it’s out (November 7th). Listen to the two singles for a taste, and also to the snippets we’ve been posting on our Facebook page of various songs from the record.

To Progarchy – thank you for supporting our music.

For more info visit Rainburn.com, and follow the band on Facebook and Instagram.

Gandals Fist – Universal Wanderings revisited

frontcover-wanderer-reissue

Well, not content with upping the ante last year with their triple disc magnum opus The Clockwork Fable (which to be honest is one of the finest albums ever made) and triumphantly headlining their own Fistival, the boys are giving us a bonus remastered Fisting with their remaster and re-tooling of their 2013 album A Day in the Life of a Universal Wanderer.

However, the Fist being the Fist never do things by half, so this see’s the album remastered, parts re-recorded, new linking narratives from Paddington’s Santa, Mark Benton (who also played a memorable part in The Clockwork Fable – oh, and Doctor Who) and the new track The Stowaway and the Fable, which according to the band, brings this release in line with the sonic template of 2014’s A Forest of Fey, and 2016’s a Clockwork Fable.

Now, for some artists chucking out a quick sneaky remaster of an album, scant years after it’s initial release could be seen as lazy, however having seen the care and attention the ‘Fist boys put into their work, this is more a case of taking that classic old car that’s been off the road for a year or two, putting in the hard yards and getting it race ready again.

The main difference between the original release (which I’ve not heard) and this new vision, is that since this was released drummer Stefan Hepe and bassist Chris Ewen were recruited to join the nucleus of the band Dean Marsh (guitars/keys/vocals) and Luke Severn (vocals/keys) and made their recorded debuts on the phenomenal A Forest of Fey (which was my first fisting).

It seems appropriate then to have the drum parts for Universal Wanderer re-recorded, with Stefan adding a his teutonic precision, giving it that mighty full Fist band sound that makes their latest releases so epic.

With Mark Benton providing linking narration, this pulls it right into the Fist family, and the mix of harder edged rock, full on epic space ballads, powerful epics, and tight coherent narrative this has all the hallmarks of a Fist classic.

Listening to the music here, and the plotting and way the songs lead the narrative, this could almost have been a dry run for The Clockwork Fable (and I have no doubt that somewhere in the fertile imagination of those Fist boys, this ties in somewhere with that and Forest of Fey).

They do like their harder edged sounds and epic tracks like the Nine Billion Names of God, and the new epic that has snuck it’s way here, or indeed like a pigeon found it’s way home ‘The Stowaway and the Endless Night, features some of their heavier sounds, impressive guitar riffing and a fab hard edge.

This subtle blend of light and dark works with tracks like Orphans of the Sky, and long term Fist associate Melissa Hollick provides superb vocals on here and forms part of that mighty Fist sound.

The concept here is around The Universal Wanderer a 26th Century mythical figure who has wandered the Universe since the dawn of time, I wonder if he’s ever bumped into someone similar who happens to fly round in a blue Police Box, I bet they have plenty of things to chat about at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

And having wandered the Universe the Fist have certainly got plenty of diverse musical sounds that they weave together to create a coherent whole, the wonderful Battle for Tannhauser Gate with William Stewarts violin duelling with the guitars, is a fab slice of folk rock prog, with another superb duet and pulls more strands of the story together.

In fact the album is as much as rich musical tapestry with the diverse genres and sounds, pulled together like a well made jumper, bringing the strands together to create a coherent whole, and one that is worth losing yourself in for an afternoon.

The closing The Wanderer Goes is the stitch that pulls those threads together, reprising the opening Nine Billion names of God, with a fantastically epic closing section, worthy of the name, bringing the album back full circle.

If you’ve never heard of Gandalfs Fist then it’s time you got fisted, and if you are familiar with them, and think you already have this album, according to the guys this is as different from the original as could be, reworked, retooled, remastered and reissued to give it a bigger place in the Universe.

Whatever you think of the bands name (and it has been described in certain quarters as a maarmite name, and  I like it) Gandalfs Fist certainly are some of the most ambitious musicians when it comes for big concept albums and mighty sounds, and what is gratifying is that they have the musical chops and storytelling nous to pull it off with style and aplomb.

I look forward to where their fertile imagination plans on taking us next musically, whilst they ponder that in their secret Fist bunker where plots are plotted and albums are hatched, let us enjoy this story of a Universal wanderer and see where he takes us.

A day in the Life of a Universal Wanderer (Special Edition) is available now from

https://www.gandalfsfist.com/store

Big Big Train–What’s Next? I Have No Idea.

bbt_railway_logoI would assume that almost every reader of progarchy was surprised today by the announcement that Big Big Train would be releasing a new album in less than 48 hours. The band rightly offered PROG magazine an exclusive announcement as well as a link to one of the songs.

I’ve only criticized PROG once and that was when the magazine featured Steven Wilson on the cover rather than BBT. I think. In fact, I might have a few details mixed up in my head. This would’ve been back in 2013 when ENGLISH ELECTRIC FULL POWER came out. I was convinced then–and remain so–that EEFP was NOT just a “game changer” in the music world, but a defining point for all of rock. I thought that Ewing and PROG had lost a great opportunity to make history by placing BBT on the cover.

Well. . . I guess I was being a bit goofy at the time. After all, it’s Jerry’s magazine, not mine! After that criticism, I decided never to criticize the magazine publicly. After all, I’m writing for fun, not to keep afloat a magazine and a business. Hail, Jerry!

Continue reading “Big Big Train–What’s Next? I Have No Idea.”

Tim Bowness Lost in the Ghost Light

Years ago, when I was 16 I found an organization that helped with my curiosity about progressive rock, it was called the Classic Rock Society, they were based in Rotherham (a short bus ride away from the small village I lived in at the time) and they met on a Wednesday night in a pub. Beer and prog, all within a short distance from my front door, what was not to like?

One night at the pub talking about prog music in 1995 a friend lent me an album by a band I’d never heard of called No-Man, the album was Flowermouth, and it’s mix of shifting sounds and emotive vocals was my first introduction to the works of Mr Steven Wilson and Mr Tim Bowness, and I was hooked.

Luckily I got to see Porcupine Tree not so longer afterwards, but despite following No-Man and Tim Bowness solo work, it took me slightly longer (nearly 20 years in fact) to see Tim live, with Henry Fool at Eppyfest in 2014, followed quickly by seeing him at the Louisiana in Bristol in 2015.

Continue reading “Tim Bowness Lost in the Ghost Light”