My first encounter with Prog Rock was not a happy one. I must have been about 12, as yet unaware of a whole world of heavy rock that was soon to reveal its charms, yet still conscious that something rocktastic was afoot out there. After all, the last two bands I’d had a real crush on were Slade and Queen. I still remember butchering the sleeve of Queen’s ‘Somebody To Love’ so that I could send the logo off in the post for some company or other to make me an oversized Queen badge. Ah, happy days!
Prog entered my world via my older brother’s schoolbag. Adidas, natch. He piled in through the front door one evening after school and deposited a bunch of bizarre-looking objects on the living room floor. “Look what I’ve got off Andrew Hollingham,” he proudly announced. The portents did not look good. First there was some sort of armadillo-cum-First World War tank artwork affair staring out of one sleeve. And then there was a skull that looked like it had been made into an Egyptian sarcophagus challenging me from another. This was weird. This was definitely not ‘Mama Weer All Crayzee Now’ and sticking your fist with ‘Slade’ scribbled on into the camera.
I remember my brother setting the needle down on one of the pieces of vinyl. I remember my head spinning and a distinct feeling of nausea. This was possibly not the reaction Messrs Emerson, Lake and Palmer were looking for. Then again, though, contrary bastards that they were, maybe they would’ve been delighted to have made a 12-year-old come over all queasy. Keyboards whirled, drums flailed, tunes hid themselves in a cupboard.
“It’s prog,” said my brother. “It’s shit,” I replied trying to be hard, but desperately hoping our mum didn’t hear. Progressive Rock and I had barely shaken hands and already we’d parted on bad terms.
Two years later, though, and things were very different. Trying to introduce someone to prog via ELP is like giving someone absinthe instead of lager for their first drink. Once I’d assimilated Rush, Zeppelin, Genesis, Yes and Purple – the more rocking, the more comprehensible end of the prog spectrum – then it was possible to sample the harder stuff; the ELPs, the Gongs and the Van Der Graaf Generators of this world. Prog and secondary school bum fluff seemed to go together well enough. And actually, I could dig that vibe, dude.
Of course the advent of punk in the UK did tend to put the mockers on hardcore prog. While Zep and Rush managed to avoid some of the fallout because they had the riffs, ELP and Yes were absolutely slaughtered, suddenly labelled as outmoded and irrelevant by people who were telling us X-Ray Spex were the future of rock! Those ‘Tarkus’ and ‘Brain Salad Surgery’ albums went into hiding as far as most of the British music press was concerned… until now!
Jerry Ewing, a legendary figure on the UK rock writing scene, has just edited his first issue of a new Prog magazine from the makers of Classic Rock, where he champions all that is complex of structure, heavy of intent and unashamedly demanding. Prog has been brought back into the light, blinking at how bright it all is! The days of ridicule are over. It’s time to feel the love in the room! Jerry’s done a great job and you should all buy a copy of his magazine, because if you can’t plug your mate’s product in your own blog, where can you plug it?! But regardless of all that, it’s great to see prog getting some profile, because it’s a music that has so many hidden treasures. I for one firmly believe that Rush’s ‘The Temples Of Syrinx’ should feature as part of every 14 year old’s English coursework. Why? Because it’s sheer bloody poetry, that’s why!
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HoJo rocked as a top journalist on legendary UK metal magazine
Kerrang! and now runs a way-cool rock T-shirt site at www.saltyrockz.com.