Sunday, 8 April 2012

THE COME-BACK OF THE NINETIES AND THE PRESENT SCENE

Something changed at the beginning of the nineties and interest for this genre of committed and complex music seemed to emerge again. Since the interest of collectors had increased, some independent labels as Mellow Records and Vinyl Magic were set up and re-released old out of print albums and later also tried to promote some new bands. On the wings of this new and growing interest even some bands that during the seventies had no chance to release an album, as Il Castello di Atlante or Consorzio Acqua Potabile, were able to restart, record their music properly and finally release their debut works. Of course, they didn’t it for the money, what kept them playing was mainly friendship and passion for music. Paolo Ferrarotti, drummer of Il Castello di Atlante: - Il Castello di Atlante is not a band! It’s the virtual place where five young men met way back in 1974 and where they have been growing up till now. Il Castello is the place where we can find peace and stillness, ‘cause we’re friends, nothing else, simply real friends. What binds us is friendship not the music, this is why our line-up has had few changes over the years... [1].



There were some new bands, as Nuova Era, Calliope, Finisterre and Germinale, which tried to deal with the themes and the sonorities of the progressive era with an up to date touch, while some “historic” bands brushed off the rust from their glorious past. Enrico Perrucci, keyboardist of Calliope: - We are fans of the more “traditional” prog but we also like other groups of the so-called New Prog scene of the nineties... We write and arrange our songs as a sequence of different scenes... In this way we use the song duration to form a continuously-evolving musical narration. So we have melodic moments, sometimes minimalist, others more powerful or symphonic featuring choirs, strings, orchestral sounds but we also have rock moments, more rhythmic and hard, with guitars, Hammond and strong rhythmic passages. We love to use as many colours as possible, in this way we hope to capture the interest of the people listening to us but we also enjoy ourselves, or at least we try. As to our lyrics, we don’t draw our inspiration from fantasy, or magicians or goblins. We usually talk about social issues or everyday situations... The songs are a sum of the souls of the musicians who contributed to their writing and execution, so there are moments when the atmosphere and the sounds are close to the 70s, but we do not feel it as a chain. It's a choice we make, where we like, without foreclosing the possibility of using more modern colours and textures [2]. Alessandro Toniolo, flutist and saxophonist of Germinale: - We have always been prog lovers because of its rhythmic and harmonic freedom, because of its violence and sweetness freely blended together. But when this freedom becomes a cliché it’s better to give up... So, for us it’s a natural thing to leave behind the prog form if it’s seen just as a set of rules [3].

Enrico Perrucci

In 1994 I remember going to a wonderful performance of Le Orme promoting their album “Antologia 1970 – 1980”. The theatre was crowded and the public enthusiastic. After three hours of music the members of the band were happily signing autographs and explaining to their fans that they never meant to stop, that they have always wanted to go on playing their music but for many years they couldn’t find any attention from media, labels and managers... Progressive rock suddenly seemed to be born again. I still remember the “Testaccio Village Progressive Festival” in Rome in 1996 with Le Orme, BMS, Osanna, Metamorfosi, Il Balletto di Bronzo and an interesting new band called Divae. Luckily many other prog festivals and concerts have followed in Italy since then, with good success. Andrea Pavoni, keyboardist of Greenwall: - The musical scene in Rome and in Italy in general, seemed to be more stimulating in the last part of the nineties, when Greenwall were formed. There was the opportunity to play live and there was a community of people who were deeply interested in what happened in the “progressive rock” genre in general, who followed the concerts and made comments, on the internet or even live, and there was a network of people we could interact with [4].

Andrea Pavoni

Well, new bands and old “dinosaurs” are still able to release excellent albums, blending new sounds and fresh inspirations with the echoes from the past, and they’re still able to communicate emotions performing concerts with high quality standards. Many historic bands recently re-formed, as Raccomandata con Ricevuta di Ritorno, Alphataurus, Locanda delle Fate, Latte Miele, The Trip, Picchio dal Pozzo... Often behind these reunions there’s nothing but friendship, passion and love for music. Luciano Regoli, singer and guitarist of Raccomandata con Ricevuta di Ritorno, Il Ritratto di Dorian Gray, Samadhi and DGM: - In winter 2008, on the wave of a new blossoming of progressive bands, both in Italy and abroad, I got the idea to reform the old Raccomandata con Ricevuta di Ritorno, also encouraged by friends. I started to make phone calls and I managed to find, after a complete black out of 36 years, all the members of my old beloved band. I was so excited at the idea that one evening we met together for dinner and after so many years we felt as if time had never passed by. Those five boys were still friends. Time had changed life styles and habits but we still like each other. To make my project easier I had already written all the tracks for the future album since I understood that the others couldn’t write anything for obvious reasons as family and work. I did my best to put together the old band but eventually I had to give up. It was in that moment that Matthias Scheller of BTF gave me credit pushing me to go on with the old members that could collaborate as Roberto Gardin, Nanni Civitenga and Walter Martino who had been the drummer of the band for a short period. For the rest we got help from colleagues who had played in other old progressive bands from Rome and Naples in the early seventies. It has been a journey through time, dangerous and tiring but full of professional and human rewards [5].



Pietro Pellegrini, keyboardist of Alphataurus: - The Energy comes from the will to play together still and the challenge is to try to keep that word “progressive” relevant today... For sure we have a “dream”: a new record and, why not, a lot of concerts; the positive approval of people listening to our music is really important for us and we are mainly looking to give everyone the same feelings we gave about 40 years ago!! It’s a dream, we are aware of that but it’s not a forbidden dream, we are following our journey and we will see... We are not pretending to be what we were or trying to do things that we did when we were eighteen years old. We only want to transmit our joy in playing the music we like and we want to share these moments with all the folks that want to listen to our music and we hope that there will be many... And we hope that all the people who don’t agree won’t be angry with us: we can’t satisfy everybody [6]. Furio Chirico, drummer of The Trip and Arti e Mestieri: - There were many requests from friends, some of whom are now our collaborators, which came from Facebook. But the story starts from far away, as far as me and my personal manager are concerned, there was a great desire to give young generations the chance to hear the music of The Trip, especially abroad, in Japan, USA, etc. This is now possible thanks to our Italian management, their collaborators and international promoters. Then we are willing to meet again, not only for the band reunion but also to produce new ideas and projects [7]. Paolo Griguolo, guitarist of Picchio dal Pozzo: - Well, we could say we’re slowly waking up after a long sleep... [8].


Nowadays, Italian Progressive Rock is not a mass, generational phenomenon but diehard fans all around the country seem to be numerous and able to keep it alive. It’s almost impossible for an artist to earn a living out of progressive rock, so many musicians have another “daily” job and album releases are less frequent. Paolo Ferrarotti: - We aren’t professional musicians, the only musician is Roberto who plays in a dance orchestra (sigh!!) and is the owner of a small recording studio. Aldo, Massimo, Dino and I…. are…we are, listen… are you ready for a surprise? We are bank managers!!! You know the ones who are always in a jacket and tie, always serious, always connected to their offices? This is us! But, once a week, we change into a prog band… This for the last thirty-six years. Few colleagues of ours know we’re a prog band who go around the world playing our own music. I remember once I was in Verona, where there is the main branch of my bank, with a colleague of mine, while we were waiting for a meeting we went into a shop, it was Fnac, I found in the Italian CD section our album “L’ippogrifo”, - “This is mine”, I said. – “Yours? What do you mean?”, he asked. – “I recorded this CD”, I replied. – “Ah, ah, ah!”, he laughed loudly. I bought the CD (true!!), I opened it and I showed him the inside pics… He was stunned! [9].



Luckily there are no more riots at the concerts or attacks against the musicians and this is a good point in comparison with the seventies, with a very few exceptions. Walter Pini: - Unfortunately, we had some trouble with politics as well. They couldn’t have been more unjust with us. Once in Florence we couldn’t even play because some people accused us of being a fascist band! For me the people who prevent the musicians from playing on account of politics are more fascist than the musicians, whatever the political idea of the musicians might be... but we as Nuova Era have never practised politics! In the band there were those who sympathized with the right wing and those who, like Alex, came out of extreme left circles.  Now I’m completely apolitical as a person but the band has always been so! We played at some Feste dell’Unità (meetings organized by the Italian Communist Party), we played at gigs organized by Democrazia Proletaria (a party of the extreme left), at gigs organized by the right wing and at gigs organized by the Democrazia Cristiana (the Christian Democratic Party). We wanted nothing but to play... Prog, Yes! Politics, No! [10]. Well, today prog concerts are not as crowded as in the seventies but there’s still a lot of creativity and vitality. Beppe Crovella: - Now, also for many historical reasons, there’s more disillusion and less enthusiasm, and, above all, you have less the idea of a cultural movement. There’s less collective attendance and in comparison with the past there’s more dispersion and a kind of isolation. Nevertheless there’s still a continuous creativity. This effective, visible base is looking confidently into the future. In my opinion there’s a great vitality and many things that are still missing are just waiting to blossom again. Today it’s simpler because there are more ways and means to communicate than in the past but on the other hand there’s an enormous risk of dispersion [11].


Nicola Randone, singer and multi-instrumentalist of Randone: - The 70's were a great era for music, not only for prog but also for many other genres. The problem of prog today, and the difference between the bands of the seventies and recent ones, is that many bands tend to “copy” the past using the same sounds, often even the same already exploited rhythmic patterns. So many Italian prog bands seem to be just the photocopy of this or that, some bands even borrow the name of the group from the most important songs of that era. All this continual digging in the past leads to a decay of the genre that seems to have nothing more to say when, on the contrary, by its very definition, progressive should have no “stylistic” limits for its intrinsic ability to adapt to ever new languages: let’s take, for example, Soft Machine, Area, King Crimson, Genesis, Pink Floyd... There is a great difference between these groups and yet it is always progressive. I’d like us in Italy to dare a little more, let’s take international examples such as Spock’s Beard, and their latest album “X”, or the latest Porcupine Tree, the vein of prog metal with Dream Theater, Fates Warning and Tool at the forefront... Let’s take the latest work of Muse and one of my favourite Italian artists, Franco Battiato, who perhaps do not even know they play prog. Well, the success of all these artists proves that prog is not limited to the seventies but that it can evolve into modernity. Here I can already hear the first objections, that in Italy it is already difficult play classic prog, if then you modernize it you are bound to go broke. I would not deny this reality, and I am the first to suffer its consequences, however, I believe that if the press and the promoters of concerts in Italy stopped to worshipping and pushing the same old things like decrepit old men locked up in their ancient little world, well, the new recruits could also hope for a bit of attention in this beloved / hated world of prog [12].



Anyway today Italian progressive rock is not a “nostalgia” phenomenon. Of course, there are also many tribute bands and cover bands, but most of the new bands are just trying to express their passion for music, even when drawing from past models and sonorities. Michele Epifani, keyboardist of Areknamés: - We like what we do and we firmly believe that, although some stylistic choices may seem out of fashion the substance is always and only what you have to say. And it’s only by choosing the best way to express what you have to say that you are free [13]. Elisa Montaldo, keyboardist of Il Tempio delle Clessidre: - The music we propose is new and fresh even if we know that it’s not so innovative, but this is a choice: one of our aims is to recreate the sounds and atmospheres of ‘70’s progressive rock; nowadays it’s hard to create something completely new in progressive rock, because the music of ’70s has a great influence on this kind of artistic expression, so we wanted to re-create some typical ’70 sound even if it could be seen as a lack of originality. But our music was born spontaneously and without premeditation, we play what we like in the way we like. Obviously, there’s a precise idea we want to express and if you listen to the sounds, the atmospheres and every particular element you can find several musical influences: that’s our music that grew up under our eyes (and ears) without knowing where it would have taken us! [14]

Elisa Montaldo 2015

Today there are many bands that take inspiration from the past but blend progressive with heavy metal or other music genres. So, there are bands that are influenced by P.F.M., B.M.S., Area and by Dream Theater as well, as Abash, Absenthia, Assenzio, Filoritmia, Odessa, Pandora or VIII Strada. Beppe Colombo, keyboardist of Pandora: - Our main inspiration is the progressive music of the seventies, but with a harder touch that comes from our effort to blend it with a more modern approach... [15]. Lorenzo Giovagnoli, vocalist and keyboardist of Odessa: - To us, progressive means freedom to express ourselves, to break the mould without forgetting to communicate something true for the listener. It is not a matter of copying sounds and song-writing from the Seventies’ golden repertoire. As a young kid, I fell deeply in love with Deep Purple. Listening to this band really gave me the incentive to develop as a singer and keyboardist and be able to reproduce those sounds. My second love, at about the age of seventeen, was Demetrio Stratos. I studied these artists so much that I think they became part of my natural sound and song-writing. PFM and Dream Theater are a more generic influence. It’s something like “If you like these, you might like us”. There are many other influences in our style...[16]. 



Pietro Saviano, singer, bassist and flutist of Coral Caves: - We love progressive more than any other rock subgenre, but we do not like to be labelled in any way. We do not write music with the aim of playing progressive, we are just trying to compose music that mirrors our personal taste, without any constraints. We do not believe we “invent” our pieces... In some way it’s like they already exist and we just remember them. For this reason we are not ashamed to write a piece that lasts three minutes or another in a conventional song form, we do not follow canons or rules... All in all progressive was born to break rules, wasn’t it? [17]. Nicola Randone: - I think that the most effective way of expressing human emotions in music is to use a style that has no rules and which is not subject to stylistic compromises. The motions of the human soul know moments of peace or of melancholy in which the music must be quiet, but also furious manifestations of passion which need powerful and relentless passages. I could never have compromised as other musicians have and create words and music simply to please market demands. Composition has always been for me a cathartic function, often it turned into a real exorcism of inner discomfort, I wrote and still write to convey my emotions, and every emotion is always fluctuating, irrational, on the move... My music is the mirror of my emotions, I think that this is one of the most important results which can an artist reach... And whether it sells or not, well, I will continue to earn my living working as a graphic art designer [18].

Vittorio Nocenzi
Although the present Italian progressive scene is alive and kicking, the media and music business seem still to ignore all its potentialities. Vittorio Nocenzi: - They’re trying hard to homologate and globalize the preferences of the public. Well, perhaps these words are a little bit abused but it’s absolutely true; there’s only one model that the music business tries to impose on everyone using medias and market strategies, leaving little room for something that sounds different. I dare say that they try to avoid diversity as a disease and consequently it’s very difficult to produce genres of music different from the mainstream. It’s the same for Jazz, for instance, because it’s a musical language that needs a deeper knowledge and it’s more challenging for the listener; so it’s usually ignored by major record labels and media [19]. However, we could also point the finger at some progressive fans because they’re too “nostalgic” and bound exclusively to the bands and sounds of the golden era. Paolo Griguolo, guitarist of Picchio dal Pozzo: - Speaking about prog, it has become a sort of antique trade with almost no evolution. When you try to go a bit forward, you are automatically considered out of prog; so we could say that prog is a kind of vintage movement. All this of course decided and ruled by music critics [20]. Stefano Onorati, keyboardist of Senza Nome: - We live in an era sadly both as reactionary and individualistic as uninhibited, light years away from the events that gave life to the cultural revolution of the sixties that led to the success of rock music. Forty years have passed since Woodstock and too many things have changed. I’ve always disliked the attitude of people who in 2009 still think that rock means rolling on stage like Hendrix or smashing the amps as The Who did. Such a kind of thing could perhaps mean something in a precise historical context. Flared jeans were also a symbol of a generational protest, but when you see them on a high-fashion parade, signed by the most famous fashion designers, it’s clear that they no longer express their original purpose. In some way this is what happened to rock. If you want to keep an anti-conformist attitude, you have to adapt it to the current establishment. Today, on account of the garbage broadcast by television and because of the level of our politicians it is perhaps more shocking to read Nietzsche on stage than to smash a guitar [21].


Well, it’s a real pity that critics and prog fans don’t pay enough attention to the new bands, as an emerging band, Taproban, remark: -  It’s the world of progressive rock that is indifferent towards itself. So, if there’s a good work to promote it often gets lost in the indifference of the progressive movement itself! Radio and TV are completely indifferent; some managers and promoters are just scoundrels who offer the new bands contracts that resemble nooses; there are people that keep on buying all the re-releases of Genesis or Yes completely ignoring great bands such as Finisterre, Moongarden, La Maschera di Cera, Fonderia and many others. There are things that seem impossible to change while time passes by and the music scene is full of scornful people. To tell you the truth we live on the borders of this world, we love to shut ourselves in our studio and keep on playing just for the pleasure of producing music... like it should always be! [22].



Beppe Colombo: - The present live scene is dramatic. You have to find the money to finance your own tour or you risk playing just for yourself in the rehearsal room. How sad it is, experienced managers telling you that they haven’t got time for emerging bands... We were lucky, we managed to find a record label that gave us credit and let us release the music we wanted to play, but it is very hard to be really creative... Now we hope to have the same chance and to meet a manager who will take us around on tour but it’s very difficult today... Anyway, as we have done until now, with the help of some trusted friends and of a sponsor who believe in our project, we will try anyhow [23]. Daniele Vitalone, bassist and guitarist of Mad Crayon: - Despite the fact that it’s very difficult to find a label that believes in a prog band, or places to play progressive music, in Italy there are many prog fans and many bands that play this music. I think that the potential audience of prog bands in Italy could grow exponentially if these bands could have the right places to play their music. And if you listen to the music of these bands you’ll discover many new ideas and influences, not only a genre looking to the past, to the golden age of the ‘70s. Our goal is to play live as much as we can to reach new listeners, even the younger generation. Otherwise prog music will always be devoted to the same people [24].  


[1] Quote from an interview on the site www.progarchives.com
[2] Quote from an interview on the site www.progarchives.com
[3] Quote from an interview on the site www.rottersclub.net
[4] Quote from an interview on the site www.progarchives.com
[5] Quote taken from the liner notes on the booklet of the album “Il pittore volante” by La Nuova Raccomandata con Ricevuta di Ritorno.
[6] Quote from an interview on the site www.progarchives.com
[7] Quote from an interview on the site www.italianprog.com
[8] Quote from an interview on the site www.progarchives.com
[9] Quote from an interview on the site www.progarchives.com
[10] Quote from an interview on the site www.progarchives.com
[11] Quote from an interview on the site www.movimentiprog.it
[12] Quote from an interview on the site www.progarchives.com
[13] Quote from an interview on the magazine Classix! #28, August/September 2010, pag. 62
[14] Quote from an interview on the site www.progarchives.com
[15] Quote from an interview on the site www.arlequins.it
[16] Quote from an interview on the site www.progarchives.com
[17] Quote from an interview on the site www.progarchives.com
[18] Quote from an interview on the site www.progarchives.com
[19] Quote from an interview on the site www.pagine70.com
[20] Quote from an interview on the site www.progarchives.com
[21] Quote from an interview on the site www.romacastelli.it
[22] Quote from an interview on the site www.arlequins.it
[23] Quote from an interview on the site www.arlequins.it
[24] Quote from an interview on the site www.progarchives.com