Traveller: Agent of the Imperium (Book and RPG)

Yes, I know this is a site dedicated to the beauty of music in all its forms.  But, I also know that, like most music fans, I’m interested in a whole variety of things, especially if they’re done with excellence.  My love of prog has always coincided with my love of science fiction.  After all, whatever Ray Bradbury wrote, Roger Dean drew.   Well, not exactly, but close enough.

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My original box set from 1980 and the latest Steve Hackett (2017).  They have nothing do with each other. . . except that I love both!

How many hours did I stare at the world imagined on the gatefold of YESSONGS or ELO’s OUT OF THE BLUE?  Too many to count.

Anyway, I’m guessing there are a number of other sci-fi/prog fans out there as well.

Back in 1980, I first got involved (obsessed would be more accurate) in RPGs.  I started (and continued) with Dungeons and Dragons, but I also really got into Traveller.  I still proudly have my Traveller GDW 301 Box, complete with the original booklets 1-5 as well as two adventures.  All purchased before 90125 ever came out!  Recently, I upgraded to Traveller 5–now, for better or worse, on CD-ROM.  Not as attractive, perhaps, but still very nice.

The point of this post, however, is this.  If you like sci-fi at all, make sure you pick up a copy of AGENT OF THE IMPERIUM, a novel by the founder of Traveller, Marc Miller.  I found it not only engaging, but I also found it one of the most inventive science-fiction novels I’ve read in a long time.  I have no idea if Miller is a progger, but, as I thoroughly enjoyed his novel, I couldn’t help but think of “Starship Trooper” and a number of other prog classics.

The Rev. John Simms! Progarchy Radio Episode 11

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Jude Simms, Brad, and John Simms. . . Hillsdale College, near the Churchill statue.

But, this one goes to 11.

A very (yes, VERY) special Progarchy Radio in which John Simms and I sit in the same room and talk prog.  Prog today, prog yesterday, prog tomorrow.  A wonderful way to spend some time. . . with great music and even better friends.  Thank you, John.

We talk The Tangent, Big Big Train, Kansas, Genesis, Yes, Steven Wilson, Roger Dean, Jim Trainer, and more.

P.S.  Give it nearly 30 seconds or so to load–even to begin.  A huge file.

 

Relayer: A Brief Retrospective

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A visually stunning album cover. Profound and thought-provoking lyrics. Epic instrumentation and vocals. I could be describing almost any progressive rock album of note, but I am specifically referring to the underrated Yes album Relayer in this case. I say underrated because this album, featuring only three songs, all of which are worthy of the designation “progressive,” ended up wedged in between the controversial Tales from Topographic Oceans and the (relatively) lackluster Yes albums of the late 1970s/early 1980s.

First a brief comment on the sleeve design. Roger Dean is an integral part of Yes’ image, and his design for Relayer only bolsters the importance of his role. Inspired by images of war and the Knights Templar, Dean draws the viewer in to a world of fantastical images and drama, as the knights on horseback arrive to do battle with the twin snakes. Before one even listens to the album, he can already grasp its focus and themes: war and peace, victory and hope. Dean can capture in an image what Anderson, Squire, and Howe can capture in music.templar

The three songs are not only well-written, but they are also well-performed. This may seem like an understatement in regards to Yes, but this cannot be said about every song they released. The epic opener Gates of Delirium, inspired by Tolstoy’s even longer epic War and Peace, and featuring superb work on keys and synths from Patrick Moraz on his only Yes album, was best described by Jon Anderson: it is a “war song,” but not one that seeks to explain or denounce war, but rather a song that explores war’s aspects: there is a “prelude, a charge, a victory tune, and peace at the end, with hope for the future.” Sound Chaser, a frenetically paced tune featuring a true guitar solo from Steve Howe, solid drumming courtesy of Alan White, and a sizzling performance on bass guitar from the late, great Chris Squire, allows Yes to explore their jazzier side. The final tune, To Be Over, moves at a more relaxed pace, anchored by Howe’s electric sitar. It is a beautifully straightforward song, and it provides the perfect final touch on a visually and acoustically stunning album.

In sum, Relayer may not be the most renowned album in Yes’ extensive catalogue, but in this reviewer’s humble opinion, it is one of their finest works overall, and one that deserves more attention and respect.

The Art of Rush, Hugh Syme: Serving a Life Sentence

Review of ART OF RUSH, HUGH SYME: SERVING A LIFE SENTENCE, written by Stephen Humphries (2112 Books, 2015), with a brief essay by Neil Peart.

The first book by Stephen Humphries.
The first book by Stephen Humphries.

In a week, my family and I move back to Michigan.  It’s been an incredible year in Colorado, and we’ll be very sad to leave this rather textured slice of heaven.  The year went by all too quickly.  As you can imagine, the house is in chaos, and, at many levels, so is my life.  Books here, cds there, my brain across the street, six kids and one cat feeling the “unsettlement” of the moment.

This is a long and convoluted way of writing. . . .

I should’ve reviewed THE ART OF RUSH a month ago.  It’s written by a truly gifted music journalist and critic, Stephen Humphries (a graduate of Hillsdale College in Michigan).  I have nothing but respect for Humphries, and the more I read him, the more I like him.  He’s opened my eyes to my own biases against certain artists, and he’s more than once made me rethink some dogma I’d already decided and locked away, presumably (at least at the moment of decision) forever.  THE ART OF RUSH, amazingly enough, is his first book, though he’s been publishing articles and reviews for almost two decades.

And, of course, it’s designed and illustrated by one of the most gifts men in the visual arts today, Hugh Syme.

I certainly don’t want to get into an us vs. them situation, but let’s say that where Roger Dean is beautiful, Syme is diverse and eclectic.  Dean has spent a lifetime exploring consistency in his art, while Syme has worked with and in every artistic endeavor and genre imaginable.  Dean is classic, and Syme is romantic.  Dean is a perfectionist, and Syme is an explorer.

Everyone recognizes a Roger Dean painting anywhere–whether it’s residing on a Yes album or stolen by a major Hollywood producer.  Probably only James Marsh (Talk Talk) is as distinctive as Dean, though Dean is better known.

THE ART OF RUSH shows exactly why Syme is not as distinctive as a Dean or a Marsh.  He’s too (damn!) interesting to be distinctive.  Whether it’s a font, an image, or an idea, Syme tries anything.  And, crazily enough, it always works!

As is well known, Syme’s first cover for Rush was 1975’s CARESS OF STEEL.  Peart liked and appreciated Syme so much, Syme has designed very album (inside and out) since.  This means he’s been a part of Rush only a year less than Peart himself.  And, the two men get along famously.  Syme possesses the wonderful and uncanny ability to make the ideas of Peart–a radical individualist, perfectionist, and explorer in his own right–visual and successfully so.

The book, produced by 2112 Books, comes in three versions: tall, grande, and venti.  Just joking–with apologies to Starbucks.  No, it did come in three versions when released in May, but the Rush Backstage website only lists the cheapest one now.  A $99/272 page hardback, coffee table style.  Believe me, it’s well worth the $99.

I could be wrong, but I think it’s ONLY available at the Rush Backstage website.  Amazon.com comes up with nothing when I searched for it there.

THE ART OF RUSH is as beautifully crafted (and as heavy!) as you’d expect from Syme.  The binding, the pages, the design. . . all perfect.  Peart provides a short but kind introduction, and Humphries provides all the words thereafter.

My version also came with an LP size card-stock poster celebrating forty years of Rush.  Whether this is normal or not, I’m not sure.  But, I am sure that the ART OF RUSH is a glorious thing to own and to linger over.  It is a piece of perfection, in and of itself.

Me, struggling to lift this thing.  It must weigh the same as at least 4 MacBooks.
Me, struggling to lift this thing. It must weigh the same as at least 4 MacBooks.

The Best Prog Bands You’ve Never Heard Of (Part Nine): Gotic

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The ninth band featured in this series hails from the land of monstrous windmills, otherwise known as Spain.  Gotic, the brainchild of Catalonian flautist Jep Nuix, released one album, the instrumental Escenes, in 1977.  Escenes benefits from a wonderful mix of keys and flute, which drive all of the songs.  The pastoral cover of the album reminds me of the fantasy landscapes of Roger Dean.  The album is not very long: there are seven songs, all of which but one are under 6 minutes in length.  There are four that I find especially pleasing to the ear:

Imprompt 1: the second song is up-tempo compared to most of the other pieces, with solid, fast paced drumming and a brief guitar solo.

La Revolucio: the fourth song is probably the heaviest piece (the songs are no heavier than any of Camel’s works) with solid bass throughout and, about halfway through, a brief fife and drum duet.

I tu que ho vienes tot tan facil: the sixth song and probably the best; features acoustic guitar, more fantastic flute work, and even some synth.

Historia d’Una Gota d’Agua: the final song on the album and also the longest (about 10 minutes in length); opens with beautiful classical guitar and flute which, combined with piano, make this song a relaxing listen.

Escenes is most certainly worth a listen, especially if you enjoy softer prog with a jazz feel to it. You won’t regret it.

Here is La Revolucio:

The Best Prog Bands You’ve Never Heard Of (Part Three): Osibisa

Osibisa

The third band I’d like to review has been around since the early 1970s and is active today.  They are not exactly progressive rock, but they certainly have a creative aspect that many prog bands share.  This band is Osibisa.  The original line up consisted of four African and three Caribbean musicians.  They have quite a unique sound, blending pop and Caribbean reggae with traditional African music.

Founded by Teddy Osei, a native of Ghana, Osibisa consists of seven versatile musicians.  The standard guitar, bass, drums and keyboards are present in the band’s sound, but so are flutes, saxophones, trumpets, cowbells and congas.  This synthesis of traditional and modern rock instruments created a distinct sound and put Osibisa on the map as one of the first “world music” groups.  Again, they are not a typical prog group: their lyrics are fun and simple, they do not perform in complex and diverse time signatures, and their songs are generally under seven minutes long.  Nonetheless, their versatility and dynamic live performances place them somewhere between prog and Afro-pop.  Furthermore, Roger Dean, the famed prog artist, designed Osibisa’s logo and their first two album covers.

Although this is not the standard prog that most of us listen to, Osibisa provides us with some fun music (with an experimental and improvisational touch).  Look past the Afro-pop label and give them a shot.  They are too good to ignore forever.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-RbQjI3g-A

Tales of the Edge

by Alison Henderson

Tucked away along the endless leafy lanes of south east England lies a little prog oasis not many people know about. The elegant Grade II Listed façade of the period home of Trading Boundaries in deepest East Sussex gives away no clues that it is currently the location of an exhibition of probably the most famous prog artist in the world who has been joined in the celebrations this weekend by a special “old friend” of his.

The name Roger Dean is synonymous with the iconic album covers of chiefly Yes, but also other great prog rock bands such as Asia, Uriah Heep, Greenslade and now the legendary Dutch band, Focus.

Yet Dean considers himself to be nothing more than a landscape artist. That is some diminution of his role in creating the entire backdrop for a generation of prog rock lovers and perhaps being a huge influence on a very successful contemporary film but that is another story.

Living close by in the Ashdown Forest area of East Sussex, this is the third time Roger has exhibited his vast collection of work at Trading Boundaries.  And here in this shopping emporium among imported Indian wooden cabinets and wardrobes, soft furnishings and desirable trinkets are currently hung some of the most iconic examples of his work.

So around every corner currently, there is another Roger Dean masterpiece to lose yourself in ranging from the huge swirling blue inner landscape he developed for Rick Wakeman’s Return to the Centre of the Earth to the intensely intricate design for Asia’s Alpha which the artist explains brought out his inherent skills as a draughtsman.

There are also the suites of logos for Yes, including the more recent dragonfly designs, and for Asia, both of which demonstrate how important it is for a band to have its own identifiable branding especially when so beautifully conceived and crafted by Dean.

Of all the works, it is the cover of Tales From Topographic  Oceans which still draws the eye the most. That whole universe captured in one panorama throws up so many visual questions. Is it all meant to be beneath the sea – hence fish – or how can it be when there is a waterfall running through it – and what about the distant pyramid and the blueness of the heavens above? Like the contents of the album, the image is a mystery, a conundrum and above all else, a journey.

Oh yes, and did I mention earlier on that an old friend joined him? That would have been one and only Mr Wakeman who has supported him both evenings this weekend in Trading Boundaries’ intimate and atmospheric Elephant Cafė, (Carl Palmer, John Wetton and Steve Hackett have also played there recently), to reflect and reminisce on the past as well as contributing  three musical interludes.

Well, the stories and laughs flowed thick and fast, most of them worthy of a separate post once I have deciphered the shorthand hieroglyphics  I took down at speed in virtual darkness, so allow me some time to translate and share them with you some other time.

However, I can tell you this. Despite christening it Toby’s Graphic Go-Kart, Rick rates TFTO is his favourite Yes album cover whereas the artist has gone for Relayer which he said looks as though it has been painted “with dirty water”.

Also, the first time Roger showed the band an example of his work to use, Rick was admiring it and said how nice it was until the artist told him he was holding it upside down.

What came over loud and clear however was the tremendous mutual admiration and respect between the pair throughout this impromptu chat, conducted on a couple of easy chairs with the emporium’s dog occasionally wandering onto the stage and stealing the show.

And yes, Rick played – though only just when he was presented with the resident “school” piano, which in his own inimitable way, made it sound like a Steinway.

To a backdrop of even more of Roger Dean’s incomparable works, Rick played “And You And I” using some of the original chord sequences. Well, need I tell you how absolutely sublime it sounded and still as hypnotic as the version which we all now have in our collections. Then he just made us all melt with The Meeting, that gorgeous prog hymn from Anderson Bruford Wakeman and Howe (ABWH). Rick explained he and Jon had been at George Martin’s studio in Monserrat before the volcanic eruption where they recorded the album. Both liked the idea of trying to create instant music so the melody line was what they came up with and the very first take was what appeared on the album. He made it all sound so simple, of course.

Finally, to end on a more light-hearted note, he decided to play The Nursery Rhyme Concerto using the style of the great composers such as Mozart for Baa Baa Black Sheep and Ravel’s Hickory Dickory Dock.  British readers will be particularly interested to learn that Twinkle Twinkle Little Star was performed in the style of Dawson, Les Dawson. Note to American readers, Google Les Dawson piano – you’ll get the general idea!

Well, that was certainly an evening you never imagined would happen. And it does not end there either.  As part of the exhibition events, both top tribute band Yessongs Italy and also Focus will be playing live there in the next three weeks. What a wonderful way to celebrate a man who drew on his own unique imagination to inspire ours and also that of the music which shaped our lives.

For more information, go to: http://online.tradingboundaries.com/rdex2012