TIMELESS WAVELENGTHS – Paul Quinton’s take on the world of Progressive Rock

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Written by Paul Quinton

The new Royal Hunt album is on the Death Deck, a bottle of Hobgoblin is providing its own individual form of inspiration and I’m looking at a blank Word document, so I think we’re about ready.

Greetings, and a warm welcome to ‘Timeless Wavelengths’ (yes, of course it’s a Rush reference, what did you expect!), what I hope will become a regular column for Midlands Rocks covering the world of Progressive Rock, or as it’s more commonly known these days, ‘Prog’. One thing I would like to say at the very start is that if you’re hoping or expecting to read endless discussions and speculation about the likes of Genesis and Pink Floyd, you’re probably going to be disappointed. As wonderful as those bands were in their day, unless they emerge from wherever they are and actually do something, I’d much rather cover the highly active scene we have in the UK at the moment, with any number of bands and artists writing, recording and performing some excellent and fascinating music, and on that basis, I’d much rather look to the future. Of course, I do exempt Roger Waters and Steve Hackett from that generalisation, as they, Hackett especially, are still out there playing shows.

As a genre, prog in the UK is currently probably in its healthiest state, at least artistically and in terms of public attention, than at any time since the mid to late 80s, when bands like Marillion, IQ and Twelfth Night brought about a whole new wave in the music. That’s not to say there aren’t serious issues, the state of the economy in particular is having a terrible effect on gig attendances and the effect of illegal downloading is now becoming so bad, there are working musicians who are actively debating whether they can afford to continue recording when they can’t even earn enough to cover their recording costs, much less earn a living, even though thousands download their stuff via illegal Torrent sites. Obviously, prog is not the only type of music badly affected by these factors, but oddly, it’s one genre where CD sales have held up, comparatively, as it seems most of us still want something tangible when we buy our music. But look at the obvious commercial successes like Dream Theater and Porcupine Tree, not to mention Radiohead and The Mars Volta, who can protest all they like, but they are so Prog, and look at bands like Opeth, releasing an overtly Prog album, the mighty ‘Heritage,’ although to be fair, they’ve always acknowledged their influences. Consider newer bands like Touchstone, who caused a considerable stir in Prog circles when they signed a deal with SPV for their fine new album ‘The City Sleeps’, and even as I began putting this column together the news came that Cherry Red Records had signed the mighty Reasoning and the excellent Panic Room to their new Esoteric Antenna label. Good times, indeed.

Prog is currently where it’s at, man, and there’s an awful lot prog fans can look forward to in the coming months. In 2012, we’ll probably have new albums from Saga, Threshold, Tool, Marillion, Epica, Anathema (their show at The Slade Rooms last February was awe-inspiring), The Reasoning, Magenta, who are talking about a very rapid follow-up to ‘Chameleon’ and who played at The Robin recently, Panic Room (ditto), Karnataka, Storm Corrosion, which is a mouthwatering collaboration between Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree and Opeth supremo Mikel Akerfeldt, not to mention a new Rush album, their first since 2007’s ‘Vapor Trails’. That’s enough on its own to make your pulse race, but when the band are openly talking about a concept for the album and lengthy, epic tracks, you’d be excused for feeling quite light headed at the prospect. Not only that, in an interview with Billboard, His Geddyness even said he’d quite like to do the whole of ‘2112’, the album, on a future tour. I think I need a lie down!

And regardless of what I said at the start, there’s also the ongoing Floyd reissue programme to consider, with a SEVEN-disc, ‘Immersion’ edition of their grand opus ‘The Wall’ due in February. Painstaking completism or overkill, it’s your choice, not to mention your eighty-odd quid, but with this following similar exhaustive editions of ‘Dark Side Of the Moon’ and ‘Wish You Were Here’, it will be interesting to see if they continue the process with ‘Animals’ and subsequent albums, although as far as ‘The Final Cut’ is concerned, perhaps not.

And on the subject of the Floyd, one of the most persistent rumours going around the Progosphere at the moment is that the surviving members will be invited to reform to play during the opening or closing ceremonies of the Olympics this Summer. I have to say I was sceptical about this. Not only do I think that Messrs Gilmour, Waters and Mason would be quite reluctant to perform as Pink Floyd without the late and much-missed Richard Wright, but Waters’ tour with the live version of ‘the Wall’ is still ongoing, with an itinerary that takes in South America in the Spring, then the USA and Canada in May, June and July, leaving little time to rehearse, not just as a band, but also in conjunction with the Olympic organisers and performers. I think it’s best to believe this one if and when it happens and not before, particularly as Gilmour has already publically rubbished the rumours.

Moving into the live sphere, we’re fantastically lucky in the Midlands to have one of the very best venues of its type anywhere, in The Robin in Bilston. The Peel in Kingston on Thames might bill itself as the ‘Home of Prog’, but having been to both venues, I honestly have to say it’s not a patch on The Robin, in any way you can suggest: sound, facilities, beer, whatever. The Peel’s big advantage, of course, is that it’s in London, but Mike Hamblett and his team do a fantastic job in attracting bands to the venue. As far as Prog goes, in February alone, there are shows from Argent (Feb 2nd), Pain Of Salvation (12th), Karnataka (19th), Steve Hackett (25th) and Pallas (26th). Hackett is also appearing at in Buxton on the 19th and The Assembly in Leamington on the 24th, promoting his rather superb new album ‘Beyond the Shrouded Horizon’. Guitar playing at its best.

And in conclusion for this month, if you really want to read something about Genesis, you may be interested to know that the German Genesis fan site ‘It’ are planning to release music by the band Mike Rutherford and Anthony Phillips were in prior to Genesis, The Anon. Read all about it here.

Finally, the most important thing I want to say in this first column is that I don’t want it to be just a soapbox for my opinions. If you’re involved in the Prog scene at all, whether you’ve an album to promote, gigs somewhere in the Midlands to plug, an announcement that your bass player has joined a Mariachi band and you’re looking for a replacement, I want to hear from you. Get in touch via Midlands Rocks, or find us on Facebook, and as The Professor so wisely said ‘Spin a thread of glorious contact, Squeeze in all that you can find’.

This first edition of Timeless Wavelengths is respectfully dedicated to the memory of Nicole Bogner, former lead singer of Visions of Atlantis, who died recently at the tragically early age of 27. Our thoughts are with her family and friends.