A somewhat special release

By Frans Verweij

Posted 091218

This single release was a hit for Bryan Ferry in 1977 and taken from the album "In Your Mind" and features John Wetton on bass and Mel Collins on sax. What makes this record special is that the B-side never made it to the album, and that makes the song "As The World Turns"  not only special, also the fact that none other than Eddie Jobson and Robert Fripp show their skills on it.

Offshore Radio together with a certain record store in The Hague and Prog

By Frans Verweij

Posted 091118

It was when Radio Veronica was forced to close down on that dreadful day Saturday the 31st of August 1974 when there was only one station left to listen to: Radio Caroline. The public radio services didn't meet my requirements by any stretch of form. And although my heart was a Veronica heart, I took great pleasure in listening to Caroline, especially night times when they played long tracks one after another with only once in a while a deejay announcing what we have just been served. I liked that! I particularly liked Simon Barrett, he played quite a lot of symphonic rock in his program. So my musical taste has been very much influenced by that one deejay. Some years earlier (1972*) infected by the Radio virus a couple of school friends and me started our own "offline" radio station called Radio Fiasco, named after a comic figure drawn by René van den Abeelen (Frederic Fiasco). It was more a hobby thing but a couple of guys took it very seriously, and so did René and I. When Veronica and Radio Northsea International where taken off the air we decided to go to Slikkerveer (near Rotterdam) since the Mebo II of Northsea was docked there, and we wanted to have a closer look. When we were there, and now comes the second part of the story, we met Hans, he was there with his father with the same intention as ours. We got acquainted and it turned out he came from the Hague as well. We stayed in touch after that and he introduced me to Peter van Dijk who ran Radio Loosduinen (a local pirate radio station in the Hague). We both had a couple of years making programs until it was taken off the air. Hans was working at a local record store called "Moonlight Records", owned by  Bob (Pythagoras) de Jong (  7-12-2011). Moonlight records had a stack of symphonic records in store, of bands I had never heard before. So Radio Caroline and Moonlight Records both had a big influence on my musical pallet, and it's still there. :-)  

* our first recording/broadcast (I wouldn't call it a radio show, but then again) was made on the 2nd of February 1972 on a Fairmate cassette recorder

The Royal Albert Hall: In a league of its own

By Alex Driessen

posted 131018

Thanks to a good friend and fellow prog-fan, living in the beautiful English county of Surrey, I have already had the pleasure of attending some concerts at that world-famous majestic domed hall, the Royal Albert Hall.

The Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences, the theatre’s official name, is a large concert hall in South Kensington in the British capital of London, which was opened by Queen Victoria on 29 March 1871 and named after her husband Prince Albert. The building and hall have the round shape of an amphitheatre from the Classics and were designed by Francis Fowke and Henry Young Darracott Scott. It soon became apparent that the hall’s acoustics were actually unsuitable for classical music. By placing elliptical reflectors, the reverberation is within acceptable limits. A large concert organ is dominantly present in the hall. The Royal Albert Hall is best known worldwide for the Proms, an annual series of summer concerts for the general public. Between 1996 and 2004 the hall was thoroughly renovated and restored to its former glory. Thus Wikipedia.

My first acquaintance was a few years ago, a home game for Yes, for the first time after the death of bassist Chris Squire. And I was immediately sold, it was love at first sight. I had been looking around for a long time, and believe me, there was more than enough to see. The enormous size and grandeur just grabs you. Strange though, in the past forty years I have seen many hundreds of shows in many, many theatres throughout the Netherlands and beyond. But nowhere was I as impressed as with this hall of halls.

Later that same year I was allowed to witness from the balcony on the third floor a performance by David Gilmour and recently I could see the closing gig of Camel’s during their Moonmadness tour from a good seat in the first ring, right of stage. And every time I was full of respect and admiration for the beautiful building with its rich history. That starts with traveling. The theatre is located in the South Kensington district, close to the centre of London. Parking is nearly impossible in this metropolis, as everyone knows, so trains and subways, buses or taxis are the best means of transport. The closer you get to the music temple, the more tension increases. You can already see the first fellow visitors, often recognizable by the obligatory T-shirt. Then you have to walk the last stretch from the subway station, as if you are on your way with your fellow supporters to a football match of Arsenal’s or Tottenham Hotspur’s, that's how it feels. The large, in fact elliptical, building is imposing to say the least, a dome room, built in the typically English red brick style, with tall windows and adorned with a beautiful mosaic wall decoration on the outside. Tall as well, with 41 meters to the glass roof. Right in front of the building is Kensington Gardens, with a gigantic monument, The Albert Memorial, in honour of the prince consort who died in 1861. One seeks the right entrance in an almost respectful and silent way, there are many. Along the foyer with the bar to the corridor leading to the inner sanctum. From every seat you have an excellent view of the stage. The ringside seats are fitted with swivel chairs enabling you to sit optimally in relation to the stage.

I prefer to go to my seat as quickly as possible, to look around and to breathe the atmosphere. In the meantime, taking in the hall and absorbing all those other visitors, as if you were sitting at a terrace. Everyone seems infected by the benign virus that RAH, the unofficial abbreviation, seems to be. When it is sold out it can hold just over 5,300 guests, mostly seats but there are also a few stands, in the gallery high up at the ridge of the venue. The atmosphere is always positive, electrically charged sometimes, but always respectful and polite, the English way. The acoustics is a story in itself. How on earth can you provide such a special building with good acoustics, especially the height seems to present a huge challenge. It is partly solved by some kind of huge mushroom-shaped panels, which seem to sprout from the domed roof like fungus. In general, the acoustics can be deemed excellent.

And then there’s the history. Here the great ones of the earth have stood, literally. The list is too long to mention, the official website has even devoted an original quiz to it. I would like to make one exception: Eric Clapton has played over 200 performances here since 1964, an absolute record. If you also have the pleasure to dine in one of the various restaurants, for example the Elgar Room, reserve well in advance, you will get a touch of its history in the form of life-size pictures of the Beatles, Hendrix, Sinatra and the bright red concert piano Big Red from Sir Elton John. The musical history is just dripping from the walls, a wonderfully warm bath for musicians and fans. And talking about fans, progressive rock fans more precisely, the hall has been voted ‘Prog Venue of the Year’ for several consecutive years by leading magazine PROG. I am already looking forward to visiting this world-famous venue again next time. Because no matter how much I like Dutch venues like De Boerderij, Paard, 013 or Vredenburg, this is the Champions League of popular music, the Royal Albert Hall is one of a kind. In a league of its own.

Thanks to Wikipedia


Shut up!!!

by Alex Driessen

posted: 150818

Increasingly, we are confronted with an extremely disturbing phenomenon: people talking loudly at a concert while you yourself want to enjoy your favourite artist in peace and quiet. Haven’t we all experienced this at one time or another: a noisy group who, whether or not under the influence of alcohol, take the opportunity to discuss the day/week/month amongst each other during a show. A casual look in their direction does not really help, an angry facial expression certainly doesn’t do the trick. And the last resort, addressing the person(s) in question on his/their behaviour, may sometimes even end up in an awkward situation, with even aggressive behaviour as highly annoying expression. In any case, your evening is down the drain, next time you think twice before you interfere. Now I myself don’t scare easily, at almost two meters and at nearly one hundred kilos, this is usually enough to inspire sufficient awe. However, most of the bystanders are no longer responding, afraid of the consequences or already adapted an attitude of 'not my problem'. All very understandable, you prefer not to look for situations like these and certainly not on your evening off.

However, it is currently spreading out, despite the fact that a number of venues already have some sort of warning on the wall in which visitors are kindly but urgently requested to continue their conversations elsewhere in the building. Apart from the inconvenience caused to other visitors, it is also a blatant lack of respect for the performing artist. Quiet or loud passages, it does not really matter: with an attitude like 'I have paid to be here, mind your own business' everyone is being terrorized, up to and including the performing musicians on stage. Unfortunately, it is a social phenomenon, no different than in traffic, on the football field or in the work environment.

That is why the initiative of a number of theatres is so positive, in any case it deserves to be followed and supported. It started with the Paard in The Hague where the aforementioned behaviour was to such an extent that they started a playful action: the 'no bullshit-lollypop'. By means of free sweets, management and employees want to bring the problem to the attention in a friendly manner and make it open for discussion. This excellent initiative has recently been followed by Cultuurpodium de Boerderij in Zoetermeer. Under the slogan 'Enjoy the music in the hall, catch up at the café', a true campaign has started to suppress the unwanted behaviour, which they call 'Dutch Disease'. By means of life-sized banners at the entrance of the venue and posters above the bar, one hopes to indicate in a friendly but clear manner that this kind of behaviour is not appreciated. The initiative of the Paard has recently taken an even greater flight: 22 pop venues throughout the country have embraced the idea. It remains to be seen how the reaction will be, the venues have insufficient experience up till now, but the response from the majority of the audience is extremely positive. Hopefully we will soon be freed from this misery, in any case it’s an excellent start to help putting an end to this annoying phenomenon. In slightly less polite terms: shut up and listen to the music !!




Progressive rock versus conservative audience

by Alex Driessen

posted: 040418

I have been amazed for quite some time now: the fact that we, as fans of progressive music, are so damned conservative. In this case, I specifically focus on the fact that new bands, with their own authentic sound, seem to be less popular than the old familiar veterans. Well, not a problem in itself, quality never goes out of style and nostalgia knows no bounds. It gets more challenging when even the growing number of cover- and especially tribute bands seem to be gaining in popularity at the expense of new(ish) bands.

It is an unstoppable phenomenon: tribute bands that focus on one group and, with the help of experienced musicians and original instruments, try to get as close to the original as possible. And often with success, if you only look at the number of bands that followed in the footsteps of Pink Floyd's music. Pink Project, Pink Floyd Project, Infloyd, Absolutely Floyd, The Pink Floyd Sound, The Australian Pink Floyd Show or Brit Floyd, one is even more professional than the other. Sometimes even with the help of the original slide show and people from the staff of the iconic British band.

The party element also plays an increasingly important role, the feast of recognition I mean. After the success of Symfo Classics, with well-known artists with a prog (read: Kayak) past who play the hits and other well-known songs of the great bands from the past, more and more bands follow suit and master the trick, drawing sold-out venues and theatres. Always nice to listen to the umpteenth version of Money, Owner or a Lonely Heart or Carpet Crawlers in a comfy chair. I certainly do not want to give the impression that what’s on offer is not good enough, on the contrary. If the original is not available, then there is nothing wrong with 'the next best thing'. Like The Musical Box have been doing for years and, very surprisingly, Dutch band Yesshows only recently proved.

But what is most unfortunate, and in the long term even harmful, is the fact that this seems to be at the expense of (relatively) new, original bands with their own, unique sound. In the past year, for example, I had to watch with a heavy heart bands like Lazuli, and more recently Tiger Moth Tales with the great talent Pete Jones, hardly attract any public. At the same time Genesis tribute band Carpet Crawlers and Marillion epigones StillMarillion attract considerable numbers of visitors. And when bands such as The Watch and artists like Ray Wilson are more or less forced to integrate the music of Genesis as a permanent part of their show, despite their excellent self-penned repertoire, then something is definitely wrong.

Not only will it become increasingly difficult for talented starting bands to obtain gigs (it already is), theatre managers will more often decide, with one eye on the box office, to choose the less risky option of the tribute band. Apart from some notable exceptions (Cultuurpodium Boerderij). Our favourite type of music will die a slow death if we are not careful. So come on fellow prog fans, choose for Barock Project, Bjorn Riis or, even better, the Progdreams Festival. Ultimately, that is the future of our beloved genre.

2017: a moderately successful year in prog?

By Alex Driessen

A frequently heard comment in recent times was 'moderately successful year in prog'. Often, for the sake of convenience, the link with Steven Wilson’s latest album, deemed ‘disappointing’ (read: commercial) is added. Fortunately, others have already expressed their enthusiasm and support for the latter, I fully agree with them, but that aside. Personally, I would like to briefly touch upon the first aspect.

I completely disagree.

First of all, you actually have to determine the standard, do you compare this year with previous years? Or do you measure it along your own, completely subjective, standard?

I actually thought it was not that bad, had no trouble at all this year to compile my personal top ten for the year. With ease I could have produced a top fifteen or even top twenty. Some of my favourite albums had to be stricken from the list on the way to the final compilation. There was even a late arrival that completely upset my painstakingly compiled list. But of course, that is the beauty of it, it is a dynamic event.

I am thinking, among other things, about the recent dialogue about an album that came out technically in 2016, of which a colleague of mine argued that the late release date should not cause the album to be ignored. A valid argument, many 'late arrivals' therefore fall between two stools. Unfortunately, because sometimes there are small gems among them.

If I then look at the various charts that have been submitted and published by myself and my colleagues on various websites, it is immediately obvious that there is no such thing as unity of mind. At least not within the ranks of the prog scene. There are lists that do not include any of the 10 top albums I have selected. That is not surprising in itself: so many heads, so many minds. Having said that, you nevertheless subconsciously think that, within a relatively narrow pocket in the world of music, which is really what our beloved prog scene is, you would imagine more similarities in taste. However, the published charts prove quite the opposite.

In the past year, I deliberately chose to strengthen the inner man during the performance of a specific unnamed band during the Progdreams VI festival, while a colleague of mine would have easily been prepared to change the date of his holiday, for the very same band.

But in the end, this quote by the Greek philosopher Plato, paraphrased by a 19th century Irish writer, is still closest to the truth: 'Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder', (very) loosely translated: it all depends on how you look at it. And that’s exactly what it is.

Publised 010318

Fifteen seconds of fame

By Alex Driessen

Didn’t any of us experience this before at one time or another: you are watching a live DVD of a concert you were attending and unconsciously you are scanning the audience, searching for the location in the venue where you supposedly were standing. And then that recognition and moment of mild euphoria when you actually discover yourself amongst the crowd, even if only for a split-second. At that moment we all become a bit of a rock-star, like the artist on stage. Because that is really what we want in our heart of hearts, at least a large part of us.

I am not too proud to admit that at least this is true for me, I am searching for myself on most recent videos of, among others, IQ, Neal Morse, Unitopia, Flower Kings, Steve Hackett and others. And sometimes I even manage to spot, too. The trick is to stop the image just at the right time and enjoy that ultra-short moment. That’s what human being is, even for a critic.

Of course I knew, I had even said it in my own announcement that night: "please no mobiles, too many lights". I am talking about the performance of the Canadian band Mystery, as closing act of the fifth edition of the Progdreams Festival at the Boerderij in Zoetermeer, in April 2016. I had received the honourable invitation to act as presenter on behalf of Progwereld. In my case that meant introducing the bands, underlining the household rules and warning for the lit lights of that parked Volvo. For three days I had an excellent time, a look behind the scenes, sharing dinner with Thijs van Leer and chatting with John Mitchell and Heather Findlay. Returning to the Canadians, they had asked the team of John Vis to manufacture a video production of their performance, stage and hall were littered with expensive recording equipment while a host of cameramen and -women provided the necessary action shots. I didn’t hear much from it later on, sometimes such projects are never completed, for whatever reason.

Still, I was somewhat surprised when I was alerted to the just-released live DVD "Second Home" from the band. It started with the music CD, the guys had decided to include a part of my enthusiastic introduction, prior to the opening song Delusion Rain. Suddenly I hear myself announce the band in a skimmed voice, wow what a sensation. But that is nothing compared to what happened when I watched the DVD, for review purposes, I actually read my own name between the credits: presentator Alex Driessen, I could see it with my own eyes. And then I also found myself in the picture, waiting for my turn for the announcement with a microphone in my hand, while the drummer of Mystery addressed, unprepared, an emotional word of thanks to the audience. For a brief moment in the spotlight, it felt good.

Andy Warhol already said it in 1968: "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes". More than true, even if only for (less than) fifteen seconds in a tiny (Prog) world.

Alex Driessen © 2017