It was twenty years ago today...
Actually, it’s closer to twenty-three, but hey, that far back is all a blur anyway.
I was once part of what was given the delightful monicker of the New Wave of British Progressive Rock in the 80s. NWOBPR really has a ring to it, no? The brief spate of optimistic bands encompassed everything from Marillion’s Genesis-esque musical stylings, through to us (Lahost) who were a sort of poppy, punky version of prog. There were bands with names like Pendragon, Solstice, Gothique, Pallas (who did an album all about Atlantis as I vaguely recall), Galahad and the occasionally transcendent Twelfth Night. The movement also coined the term “neo-progressive”, or “neo-prog”. Vile, huh?
As you can probably deduce, this wasn’t exactly hard-rockin’, in-your-face, working-class music from ‘da streetz’ (location unknown). Plus, due to the fiendishly complex time signatures the songs were often written in, you wouldn’t have been able to dance to it unless you had seven or nine legs and were on drugs. The musicians making up this ‘movement’ were generally college boys, middle-class angst-ridden students and those with a worrying desire to be seen in public wearing cheesecloth shirts and kaftans while playing impenetrably complex music to crowds of a similarly knowing demographic.
Lyrics would rarely be about, you know, relationships, because most of those in the bands didn’t have them and wouldn’t know what they were if they were hit in the face by them. Subject matter tended to be lofty, arty, obscure and (here comes that word again) impenetrable. Some examples:
Men of steel who endured the most
The Father The Son and The Holy Ghost
The butterflies of war flying so high
sick as a pig on American pie
The rain auditions at my window, its symphony echoes in my womb
My gaze scans the walls of this apartment
To rectify the confines of my tomb
Contemplating hopes and dreams of a new age
All we leave behind is tainted by tears
Our tomorrows lie ahead there in the stars
Reaching for the stars in seven heavens
Into the haven of the night
Formations flying like Geese, we are free
(suspiciously referring to a Doctor Who story. Hmmm)
Slow in the slowtime, battered by pride
I can feel myself fall in the falling rain
Smoothing the edges with violence
Flesh on the rocks, another tide
And I’m dreaming, I’m dreaming out loud...
(a jolly little ditty about patricide...)
So, we can all have a giggle about lyrical and musical pretensions. Quite a loud belly-laugh in some cases. The thing is, some of the bands were actually terribly good. IQ, for example, are still going, most likely due to the fact that they knock out good music and put on a decent live show. Twelfth Night had a certain something that was indefinably better than many of the other bands on the scene, whether you liked the Geoff Mann or Andy Sears eras (a subject of endless conjecture about the merits of either singer), and many of their tunes, though firmly rooted in the complexity of the prog oeuvre (try as I might, I can’t stop being pretentious around this subject...) are still very listenable today.
As the late eighties moved inexorably toward a financial clusterfuck by the UK government and stock market regulators, some bands called it a day, while others downsized for the long winter during which complicated music just wasn’t wanted. Others, notably Twelfth Night, attempted to shift gears into stadium rock. In their case, with producer John L. Waters (who wouldn’t have known “rock” if it had come up and kicked his head off. Which I would have paid to see), it was a commercial disaster and alienated many of their original fans. The radar for potential cases of ‘selling out’ was always hyper-sensitive around the prog market.
So, all consigned to the rubbish bin of history, yes? Not quite, it would seem.
Twelfth Night are now in possession of their original copyrighted masters and have a healthy fan-base buying up the old LPs (remember them?) on CD, IQ re busy touring Europe where possible, and prog festivals hav sprouted up around the world, featuring new bands as well as “old” ones from the brief flare we experienced in the 80s. Marillion continue to explore new ground, Pendragon have recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of the release of one of their albums.
I have a few pet theories, revolving around bands like Radiohead and Blur who, after the initial commercial success of snappy tunes and ‘easy’ melodies, started to wander off into more complex and demanding territory. Muse are so prog it’s not true, and the continued success of “new kids” Dream Theater (only 15 albums? Pah...) means that there’s still an audience out there for something a little left-field. The Police’s Synchronicity album had liberal slatherings of prog to it - unsurprising really, Stewart Copeland had formerly drummed for Curved Air and both Sting and Andy Summers weren’t averse to a bit of jazz. Now and then. It wasn’t something they couldn’t control though... There is also the consideration of the interweb and its magical removal of the need for niche music to need a ‘record deal’ (see how these terms are becoming obsolete?).
Now even we (Lahost) are kicking around the idea of a new album and seeing how writing together after a billion years away from each other would work. Listening through to our old stuff brought back a whole load of happy memories, as well as a lot of wincing at how little ability I had as a singer back then. Still, I did have a rather fetching selection of haircuts which obviously covered for the lack of a decent voice.
There will eventually be a website up featuring all the nostalgia you can eat, and if we actually get around to any new music, you’ll be the first to know. You unlucky people... ;-)