Friday, 6 April 2012

ITALIAN PROGRESSIVE ROCK AND POLITICS

The political contraposition in Italy was so strong that the Italian musical scene couldn’t help but be deeply influenced by this atmosphere. The left wing was dominant in the music field, thanks to the organisation of concerts and to the links between some bands and the protest movements of the students. To go to a concert in the Seventies was considered a political act and you had to take precise, resolute positions. Furthermore, there was the tendency to judge the artists not because of the quality of their music but on the basis of ideological criteria and the bands that were not politically involved or whose commitment was not clear or was evanescent were frequently attacked [1]. Among the more committed and militant bands there were Area, Stormy Six and Osanna. Osanna even inserted a fragment of the communist anthem “Bandiera rossa” in the song “Mirror Train” on their debut album.

Osanna

Lino Vairetti: - We were all supporters of the left wing except Elio D’Anna who supported the right. Anyway Elio wasn’t really a political militant so he agreed to insert that anthem in the album since our fans liked it [2]. Area lyrics were extremely politically committed and they also put some revolutionary and disquieting symbols in the art cover of their debut album, a hammer and sickle and a P38. Demetrio Stratos, singer of Area, from an old interview: - I contest many bands as PFM. Nowadays, in a historical moment when they throw bombs in Brescia and there are bomb attacks on trains, I find it rather stupid that they make such a kind of song as “Dolcissima Maria”, it’s absurd! Our music is violent because there’s violence in the streets [3].




For many people political commitment was a must and also artists who weren’t really interested in politics had to face this issue. PFM, for instance, trying to “surf” the wave of the movement in Italy lost the chance to achieve success abroad, especially in the USA where their American management didn’t understand why they took part in a concert pro PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) just before the release of their album “Chocolate Kings” and of a scheduled tour in the USA. Mauro Pagani, multi instrumentalist of Premiata Forneria Marconi: - In Rome in 1975 we took part in a concert in support of the Palestinians. Nothing special, just one of the thousands concerts that were held in Italy in favour of one of many causes that deserved to be supported. But in some way we found ourselves on the front page of Billboard, the entertainment world bible. The headline of the article was “Pfm supports Plo” and they wrote that we organized concerts to buy weapons for the Palestinians who would have used them against Israel. You can imagine the reaction. Our manager for the West Coast was Bill Graham, he called our Italian manager Franco Mamone and just told him – Forget the West Coast![4]. Nevertheless PFM’s political commitment has never been explicit; Mauro Pagani was the member more in touch with the left wing movements and the band took part in many festivals organised by the left wing, but always without being directly linked to extra-parliamentary groups. Because of this indecision, along with the character of their manager Mamone and due to the attention that the band used to pay to market strategies, PFM was not very popular among political militants and didn’t get much support [5].  


It would be wrong, however, to think that the whole Italian scene of the seventies was the expression of just one political party. There were many bands that drifted with the current, without feeling exceedingly involved and just following fashion. Giuseppe “Baffo” Banfi, keyboardist of Biglietto per l’Inferno: - Above all we were interested in playing our music. It’s true, those years were the years of the protest, in the pop festivals there was a left wing imprinting and we used to breathe it too. But we didn’t feel particularly involved on a political basis [6]. Other bands preferred not to openly side at the cost of undergoing ferocious criticism, as Le Orme. Toni Pagliuca: - We never professed any political faith. We never got involved with any political party, although we knew that Italian artists used to have a preference for the left wing and we were near the needs of the people too. For example, in our album “Contrappunti” in the song “Maggio”, we remarked that Christ and Marx were in some way bringer of the “same message”. In our songs we used to deal with prostitution and abortion but I remember that I was accused of “moralism”. Today I have to say that it pleases me, because today there is a total lack of any sense of morality. We were very moralist indeed and I’m still proud of it [7]. Claudio Simonetti, keyboardist of Goblin: - I remember that those years were marked by political issues, by all the after-effects of 1968, although I was never interested in politics for ethical reasons. Many artists used to exploit politics to promote their work and I found this very disturbing. I never had a political tendency. Musicians shouldn’t be just like everyone else and they shouldn’t be “pushed” by politicians [8]



Paolo Ferrarotti, drummer of Il Castello di Atlante: - In 1977 when Area came to play in Vercelli, we met Patrizio Fariselli, their keyboardist. We talked with him for a long time about our music and the possibility of making a record or playing professionally. He gave us the address of their record label (Cramps) and the name of a producer... We met the producer, I don’t remember his name, he listened to our music attentively and, at the end, said - Well, guys, the music is very good but we must work on the lyrics  - Why?, we asked – There are no political topics, he answered. - Political topics??? - Yeah, our label is clearly on the left, we support bands that are on the same side - Ahhh… And we went away. The problem wasn’t left or right, we did not want to “dirty” our music with political topics! [9]. Anyway, the artists who didn’t take a position used to receive harsh criticism from the militant critics, as in the case of Il Volo, a band that collaborated with the singer-songwriter Lucio Battisti and lyricist Mogol who were accused of being supporters of the right wing (though this wasn’t really true). Alberto Radius, guitarist of Formula 3 and Il Volo: - The critics in that period were strongly influenced by political ideologies: Bertoncelli, Massarini, Giaccio were all excellent critics, but militant. According to them Mogol was a fascist and Lucio used to give the Roman salute, so they were constantly criticized. And then they had to expiate their most serious sin according to the militant critics of the left wing: they were to become billionaires [10].




Things got even worse for Museo Rosenbach, a band that was openly accused of fascism and practically forced to quit the scene because of the art cover of their album “Zarathustra” and because of their lyrics inspired by the philosopher Friederich Nietzsche. Alberto Moreno, bassist of Museo Rosenbach: - The seventies were extremely politicized, but these issues were the business of the individual members of the band. Museo Rosenbach, as a group, used to follow only a musical path, bound to English and American pop-rock or Italian bands as PFM and BMS. Area were open sided but they were an exception among the bands. We were aware of their commitment but we never thought to counterpoint their commitment with right wing oriented proposals... The face of Mussolini on the album cover was a choice of the art designer. The references to Nietzsche instead were clear and they were an important part of our message. In the original album jacket we tried to explain that you shouldn’t interpret Nietzsche as one of the inspirers of Nazism as they used to in those years. We read the philosopher in a different and “softer” way, without any forced political interpretation. Unfortunately our explanation wasn’t understood and we realized that sometimes images are more important than words. I admit that the black of the art cover and  the bust of Mussolini didn’t help us. But we have paid for these ingenuities [11].


As I said before, Italian Progressive Rock was one of the voices of a whole generation, not only of the young people that were part of the political movements of the Italian left wing, and thus it was appreciated and practised also by the youth of the right wing and of the Christian movements, though with greater difficulty. Marcello Vento, drummer of Alberomotore and Canzoniere del Lazio: - Once they called us to perform in Turin. As soon as we arrived, we realized that the flags on the stage were of a different colour from those we used to play for. It was a festival organised by the “Fronte della Gioventù” (a youth movement of the right wing), so we turned back and returned to Rome. Perhaps they loved our music too, but we used to be so demanding and at the same time intransigent that we didn’t play [12]. Actually, there were also bands with political tendencies openly for the right wing, as Janus, Acroama or La Compagnia dell’Anello, but they didn’t have any commercial impact at all and they had to operate in almost “clandestine conditions”. Mario Bortoluzzi, singer of La Compagnia dell’Anello: - In 1974 we were overcome by the irrepressible desire to take a guitar in our hands and sing the life of our people that resisted the “red violence” daily at school, in the streets and at their workplaces. Nobody used to sing for those outcasts: we did so, with no financial backing but with rage and joy. Many of the musicians were, then as now, committed to left the wing. They were pushed by the labels. All we needed was a recorder, a basement where to rehearse and record our songs and the product was immediately distributed by a semi clandestine net composed of friends and friends of friends. Our aim was (and still is today), beyond every possibility of commercial use of the product, to give a voice to a common feeling, to the soul of a world that otherwise would be living without somebody expressing in music its wishes, ideals, hopes and dreams. In the beginning our technical means were rather poor although they were supported by an incredible, contagious enthusiasm. As we went on, an increased professionalism and the availability of better means improved the quality of alternative music products. The need to express a spiritual vision of life overdubbed the moment of pure and simple testimony. Since then La Compagnia dell’Anello (and many other bands of the musical movement of the right wing) began to become something that you could listen to also outside the “ghetto”. As time passed by, new members with a solid musicianship joined the original line-up... Our work is supported by three generations of friends that keep on singing our songs all over Italy and all this without any television appearances, pushes or external support [13].



The right wing movements organized their own festivals, called “Campi Hobbit”, and a circuit of concerts for the militants. Mario Ladich, drummer of Janus: - The Janus project was born in Rome in 1976 as an alternative to the overwhelming prominence of the left wing in the artistic field, at least in Italy... In 1977 we took part in the first “Campo Hobbit” in Montesarchio. People were shocked and divided about the possibility to play rock in the right wing milieu... Despite frequent accusations from the left wing, Janus was not a “Nazi-rock” band. One of our songs, “Dresda”, was about the allied bombing of a helpless city during World War II, almost forgotten by official history that instead only remembered the horrible crimes of the enemies. As far as I am concerned, our lyrics were never aggressive, there were no incitements to violence, even in the tragic atmosphere of the “years of lead”. In 1978, after the second Campo Hobbit, our best work was released, “Al maestrale”, in which Celtic, medieval, Mediterranean and hard rock influences were blended in an experimental form of European Rock as close as possible to the traditions of the right wing. Anyway, you can’t compare this album with the “Monsters of Rock”, we were just a non professional band without money and the recordings were made in almost live conditions (we recorded the album in six hours) [14].


Janus

The Christian movements in the seventies developed their alternative musical circuits too and some bands, as Metamorfosi, came out from the ambient of “Messe Beat”, masses where liturgical music was played on rock instruments. In fact, from the sixties, the Catholic Church began to be concerned that many young people were looking for other ways to spiritualism and abandoning the traditional religious habits so the Church tried to attract youngsters by introducing rock music during their services [15]. Davide “Jimmy” Spitaleri, vocalist of Metamorfosi: - Metamorfosi were formed in 1971 when I met I Frammenti, a band that used to play covers and “Messe Beat” a phenomenon very much in fashion in that period. I brought in some original stuff and from that moment we decided to take another way and to play nothing but our own music [16].



On 20th September 1973 Latte e Miele were the first rock band to play in front of the Pope in the Vatican City. Latte e Miele: - We were the first band in rock history to play live in front of the Pope, Paul VI... We were very young and we were not completely aware of the historic importance of being the first rock band in the world to do such a kind of thing. We played the whole album “Passio Secundum Mattheum”. After this performance we were labelled as “Catholic Beat” but we don’t agree with this definition. Some of us are believers while others are not. Everyone thinks in a different way. Many great musicians composed sacred music as, for instance, Bach or Mozart, but this has nothing to do with their personal opinions and faith. The Rolling Stones wrote “Sympathy For The Devil” but not for this reason should they necessarily be considered a “satanic” band... [17].


The extremists of the left wing used to consider the members of Catholic youth associations as Comunione e Liberazione or I Focolari fascists disguised as Christians to fight better their crusade against communism with the result that Christian bands were usually cut out of the main pop festivals [18]. Nonetheless some Christian prog bands as Genfuoco, Messaggio ’73, ATP or Quel Giorno di Uve Rosse were able to release their albums on independent labels linked to the Catholic Church [19]. Cesare Regazzoni, composer and keyboardist of ATP: - The band was born in Parma, at the San Benedetto Salesian institute. I was studying at the conservatory and I was the leading spirit for younger boys. Among them, some were able to sing and play too. So, at the beginning of the seventies, I managed to combine the singers’ and players’ groups in only one group... Slowly the band managed to take shape and trace some distinctive characteristics... At the beginning of 1977 maestro Eugenio Consonni, owner of the record label Eco Music decided to produce our debut album... In many cases the album tracks were recorded in just one take, since our label was small and poor. The rhythm section was recorded in one single day, followed by moog, guitars and vocals... We played concerts for about one year afterwards, not without difficulty due to the members’ commitments of study and work. But on the other hand we were always warmly welcomed by our followers...[20].


Genfuoco had the chance to perform live all around Europe in alternative circuits as Genfest. Genfuoco: - We started in the late sixties playing covers of the international band Gen Rosso re-arranged according to our own taste. Later we began to write original music. Our lyrics came out from personal experiences and were about justice, love, peace, nature, ecology... During the seventies our music turned to progressive rock and in 1979 we released an album, “Dentro l’invisibile”, for the label Città Nuova. On stage we used to set free our creativity, even inviting the public to take part in jam sessions. The people who couldn’t play could express themselves by dancing or painting. In our concerts you could find paper and colours to paint something inspired by the music. We had the chance to play live not only in Italy but also in France, Austria, Germany, Belgium and Spain [21]. Of course, the atmosphere and the public of the Genfest circuit was very different from other pop festivals...


[1] G. CHIRIACO’, Area - Musica e rivoluzione, ed. Stampa Alternativa, Roma, 2005, p. 8
[2] Quote from an interview on the site www.pagine70.com
[3] Quote from D. ZOPPO, Premiata Forneria Marconi, 1971-2006: 35 anni di rock immaginifico, ed. Editori Riuniti, Roma, 2006, p. 96
[4] Quote from M. PAGANI, Foto di gruppo con chitarrista, Rizzoli, Milano, 2009.
[5]  D. ZOPPO, Premiata Forneria Marconi, 1971-2006: 35 anni di rock immaginifico, ed. Editori Riuniti, Roma, 2006, p. 96
[6] Quote from G. CASIRAGHI – M. CAPPON, Un Biglietto per l’Inferno – Un viaggio lungo trent’anni, ed. La Vetraia, Milano, 2004, p. 24.
[7] Quote from G. CASIRAGHI, Anni 70 – Generazione Rock, Ed. Riuniti, Roma, 2005, p. 129.
[8] Quote from an interview on the  site www.pagine70.com
[9] Quote from an interview on the site www.progarchives.com
[10] Quote from an interview on the site  www.deagostiniedicola.it
[11] Quote from an interview on the site www.guidesupereva.com 
[12] Quote from G. CASIRAGHI, Anni 70 – Generazione Rock, Ed. Riuniti, Roma, 2005, p. 166
[13] Quote from an interview on the magazine “Il Borghese” that you can find on the official website of the band.
[14] Quote from the site www.musicalternativa.com. The music of the artists linked to the right wing is usually called “musica alternativa” or “musica identitaria” and is characterized by common political contents while music influences range from folk songs to progressive rock. It can not be associated to Nazi-Rock, a genre that was born in England in the eighties, musically influenced by punk. See C. DI GIORGI – I. E. FERRARIO, Il nostro canto libero. Il neofascismo e la musica alternativa: lotta politica e conflitto generazionale negli anni di piombo, Castelvecchi, Roma, 2010. The book features some interesting interviews with the protagonists of the musical scene of the seventies linked to the right wing. See also C. DI GIORGI, Note alternative - La musica emergente dei giovani di destra, Edizioni Trecento, Roma, 2008 and M. CAPELLO – C. LAZZARO, Ho il cuore nero / Nazirock, book + DVD, Feltrinelli, Milano, 2008
[15] About the phenomenon of the “Messe beat”, see T. TARLI: Beat Italiano – dai capelloni a Bandiera Gialla, 2^ ed., Castelvecchi, Roma, 2007, p. 144-161
[16] Quote from an interview on the site www.pianetarock.it
[17] Quote from an interview from the site www.arlequins.it
[18] See S. CAPPELLINI, Rose e pistole – 1977, Cronache di un anno vissuto con rabbia, Sperling & Kupfer, Milano, 2007, p. 201
[19] See F. MARCHIGNOLI, Pop italiano d’ispirazione cristiana, Cosmorecord, Riccione, 2008. The whole book is about the Italian Christian pop scene.
[20] Quote taken from the liner notes on the booklet of the album “Giobbe, uno degli uomini” by ATP, re-released on the BTF/AMS label.
[21] Quote from the official website of the band