Monday, 2 April 2012

THE ORIGINS OF ITALIAN PROGRESSIVE ROCK


At the end of the Sixties in Italy, besides the classic Italian melodic songs, a kind of “derivative” music was in fashion, where covers of songs already famous abroad used to prevail: “the Italian Beat”. It was an Italian version of the English musical genre called “the Mersey Beat”, completely different from the American Beat Generation phenomenon. In Italy “Beat” means simple, carefree songs, with clear harmony vocals on “beating” rhythms to dance to, songs in their way revolutionary, inspired by the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Yardbirds, Animals and Hollies. To take inspiration here means producing cover versions, transposing foreign songs to make new pieces [1]. The phenomenon of cover versions, the remake of a song with lyrics translated into Italian, has deep roots. It dates back to the ‘30s, a time when Italy had banned foreign languages [2]. To avoid this obstacle and play the great American hits in public, they began to rewrite the lyrics in Italian and in this way many classics of jazz and swing were introduced to Italian audiences. The practice, in time consolidated, had continued in the ‘40s and during the following decade, although foreign languages were not forbidden anymore and American and British songs could be freely played. Covers had many advantages: they allowed musicians to perform songs that had already proved their commercial potential and allowed the orchestras that played in the dance halls to considerably expand their repertoire. During the ‘50s there was a significant increase in this phenomenon since as soon as rock’n’roll arrived the new genre was exploited and younger singers, as Adriano Celentano, jumped headfirst proposing U.S. hits with brand new Italian lyrics. But it was in the ‘60s, along with the advent of beat, that the phenomenon really exploded. At that time it was not easy to find the new releases of British bands, since Italy was still considered a secondary market and only a few recordings crossed the Channel [3].


Franz Di Cioccio

Franz Di Cioccio, drummer of Premiata Forneria Marconi: - Italian beat was also a phenomenon of emulation, often more focused on the look than on the music. If you pick up a record and you copy it as it is it’s not like being The Troggs or The Traffic or The Yardbirds that have in their line-ups three of  the greatest guitarists in rock history (Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page). They used to write their pieces and shape their sound. In our country this phenomenon was typically Italian. Italian song takes in everything and phagocytes it, and it’s a classic. When a phenomenon becomes a phenomenon it is incorporated, it is exploited both from an economic and from a social point of view and everything becomes watered down and diluted. Once you have put your hands on the phenomenon and you have exploited it, you turn to something else. Musicians who believed in their music went on while others were convinced that they could go on just changing look and working without effort [4].

 

Many Italian progressive rock bands of the first wave began their career as “Beat bands”, though sometimes with different names, as, for instance, Le Orme, Premiata Forneria Marconi (I Quelli), Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, I New Trolls, Delirium (I Sagittari), I Giganti, Metamorfosi (Frammenti), Il Balletto di Bronzo, I Califfi, I Dik Dik and many others. “Pop music” at that time in Italy was completely separate from “cultured music”. There were no “modern music” schools and the training of musicians used to be classically oriented. Ivano Fossati, singer and multi instrumentalist of Delirium: - In the Sixties there were just the “assassins” with electric guitars and those who studied at the Conservatory. Two irreconcilable worlds [5]. Then the standard bearers of the new sounds of progressive rock came from Britain (with King Crimson, Yes, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Genesis, Gentle Giant and Van Der Graaf Generator at the forefront) showing a new way, the possibility to blend rock and classical music and produce albums full of meaning: progressive rock is the idea of a cultured music for a cultured people [6]. London became a reference point and a very attractive destination for young Italian musicians and music lovers. Luciano Regoli, singer and guitarist of Raccomandata con Ricevuta di Ritorno, Il Ritratto di Dorian Gray, Samadhi and DGM: - In the little Roman scene at the end of the sixties it was difficult to hear music from England. We could only listen to the latest novelties on the radio. Then, when the boys of that period had the chance to travel to London, they used to bring back with them, among other things, British albums of bands like Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, so the “little Roman scene” started to take interest in this new kind of music [7].

 

Franz Di Cioccio: - There’s no specific date that marks the beginning of the first wave of Italian Progressive Rock in the Seventies. Musical influences were coming from England, a country that traditionally has always sown important seeds for the development of music, while Americans have always been better at finding the “commercial key” [8]. However, critics usually affirm that the beginning of the “Italianprog” movement was the release of Le Orme’s album “Collage”, in the spring of 1971 [9]. The commercial success of this album helped other progressive bands to get more attention from the music business. Toni Pagliuca, keyboardist of Le Orme: - We wanted to put some improvisations between the singing parts and we had to make up our minds about the style to follow... After having been to the Isle of Wight festival, it was clear to all of us that we couldn’t keep on playing the usual songs with verses and refrains [10]. Le Orme’s album had an extraordinary and unexpected success and immediately many other bands followed with other albums in the same style, as Premiata Forneria Marconi, I New Trolls, Delirium, Osanna or Banco del Mutuo Soccorso. Vittorio Nocenzi, keyboardist of Banco del Mutuo Soccorso: - BMS’ project came to life when I was only eighteen, with the first line-up and the will to find a bridge between the “Beat generation” and the need for a new musical synthesis on the paths of classical music where I had already walked... [11].


Il Balletto di Bronzo

The Golden Age of Italian Progressive Rock was rising. Gianni Leone, keyboardist and singer of Il Balletto di Bronzo: - In Italy they began to speak of progressive rock during a pop festival in Novate, near Milan. I remember the meeting with Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, Osanna, PFM, Trip, Nuova Idea, all the most important bands of that period were there. It was just after the summer of 1971 and there was Colosseum too. The National Radio (RAI) was linked up for a broadcast called “Per voi giovani” (For you youngsters). Radio air time was very important for the diffusion of progressive music. At that time the radio was the basic media you had to listen to new music. But it was not like nowadays when as soon as you turn on the radio you can get submerged by a sea of music of all kinds and genres and you can choose. At that time there were some kinds of music that hadn’t any air time at all and if they had any it was just one broadcast on air only once a week. I felt like the Last of the Mohicans while there listening to all those notes, that gold, that golden fluid. It was the only way to defend ourselves from the Italian melodic easy songs that ruled over the music scene. There wasn’t anything else. Radios used to play very commercial music. So, you hadn’t any choice but to tune your radio to the frequencies of foreign radios like Radio Luxembourg or wait for the afternoon of the day when you knew that “Per voi giovani” or some other sporadic programme would have played this kind of music, then reputed completely uncommercial [12].


[1] D. ZOPPO, Premiata Forneria Marconi, 1971-2006: 35 anni di rock immaginifico, ed. Editori Riuniti, Roma, 2006, p. 18.
[2] In 1924 the National Fascist Party ordered that songs in foreign languages had to be translated to be performed in Italy, see G. BORGNA, Storia della canzone italiana, Mondadori, Milano, 1992, p. 106
[3] See R. IURZA, Il Beat... cos’è?, Puleio Press, Milano, 2006, p. 68
[4] Quote from an interview in T. TARLI: Beat Italiano – dai capelloni a Bandiera Gialla, 2^ ed., Castelvecchi, Roma, 2007, pag. 273
[5] M. COTTO, Di acqua e di respiro, Ivano Fossati si racconta a Massimo Cotto, ed. Arcana, Roma, 2005, p. 13.
[6] C. RIZZI, Progressive, ed. Giunti, coll. Atlanti Universali, Firenze, 1999, p. 6
[7] Quote from an interview on the site www.ilpopolodelblues.com
[8] Quote from G. CASIRAGHI,  Anni 70 – Generazione Rock, Ed. Riuniti, Roma, 2005, p. 41.
[9] See for instance M. FORNI, Lungo le vie del prog – Storia del rock progressivo italiano. Personaggi e opere dal 1971 al 2008, Palladino Editore, Campobasso, 2008, p. 22-23.
[10] Quote from G. CASIRAGHI,  Anni 70 – Generazione Rock, Ed. Riuniti, Roma, 2005, p. 128.
[11] Quote from an interview on the site www.pagine70.com.
[12] Quote from F. MIRENZI, Rock Progressivo Italiano - Vol. 2, ed. Castelvecchi, Roma, 1997