I Tugs began life in Livorno in 1978 on the initiative of Pietro Contorno, Nicola Melani, Bruno Rotolo, Michele Lippi, and Claudio Cecconi. They were influenced by Italian prog bands such as Premiata Forneria Marconi, Banco del Mutuo Soccorso and Le Orme and by Italian singer-songwriters as Fabrizio De André and Angelo Branduardi but in the eighties progressive rock was out of fashion and they had no chance to release an album in the early phase of their career. After a long hiatus the band re-formed and started to play live again mixing music and theatre with the contribute of a company of comedians. In 2013 they finally released a début album on the independent label AMS/BTF, Europa Minor, with a line up featuring founder members Pietro Contorno (vocals, guitar), Nicola Melani (guitar) and Bruno Rotolo (bass) along with Marco Susini (keyboards) and Fabio Giannitrapani (drums, percussion). During the recording session they were helped by Claudio Fabiani (flute), Francesco Carmignani (violin), Martina beinfei (cello), Matteo Scarpettini (percussion) and Antonio Ghezzani (guitar, mandola, mandolin) who contributed to enrich the musical fabric with excellent results. According to the liner notes “Europa Minor” is a clandestine collection of literary and musical works, fragments of poetry, tales, scores, drawings and images preserved by a group of travelling artists and on stage all this stuff comes to life thanks to all the musicians and actors involved. Well, in the absence of the comedians, listening to this album we will have to complete the musical tableaux with our imagination.
The opener “Waterloo” is a lively track about the Battle of Waterloo. On a marching beat you can imagine the armies moving with a martial pace. Then the lyrics depict the stench of death soaring from the battlefield while Lady Fortune dances on the fate of the heroes like the wind among the trees. Now she turns her back to the glorious Emperor who once ruled all over Europe, the man whom five years of exile would convert into a martyr, and fifteen of restoration elevate to the rank of a god (1). The country around Waterloo is soaked in blood... “The crops are laughing at the honours of the heroes...”.
“Il re e il poeta” (The king and the poet) is a complex piece divided into two parts. The first part, “La corte” (The court), describes in musics and words the arrival of a poet in the court of the king of an European country. The poet comes from the Middle-East and brings new secrets and magical scrolls. People gather around, they come to the king's hall to listen to the stories of the poet about heroes, wars, demons and death. The poet tells old fairy-tales and unfolds arcane mysteries, then king ask him to predict the future of his kingdom... “The frontiers of my world lie beyond Time / Cries and repentances of men and peoples made this kingdom fit to challenge Time / Now I ask you, poet / To tell us the future of my kingdom / And in your name let's celebrate...”. The second part, “La gloria” (The glory), describes the sardonic answer of the poet... “Time passes by and the veil of a rapidly forgotten age falls down on the memories... As rain that will get lost in time / Your name will be erased / Millennia will bend on you / And your fruit will be consumed / It's the glory...”.
“La brigata dei dottori” (The physicians brigade) is a reflective, bitter-sweet track about real knowledge. What is the secret of the man who hides inside yourself? Science can't answer this question, physicians and eminent people can't give you any useful advice when you are confronted with the mystery of your ego and they could become for you just an awkward bunch of charlatans... “Leave behind you your fire / And read the signs in the sky... And my face broke into a thousand faces / And my hands crushed into a thousand hands...”.
“Pietroburgo 1824” (Petersburg, 1824) takes you on board of an old steam engine train directed to Saint Petersburg, the Imperial capital of Russia founded by the Tsar Peter the Great in 1703. Here Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment was set along with many other novels by Russian writers as Alexander Pushkin and Nikolai Gogol. The music and lyrics depict the city on a windy day in November 1824 with beautiful, evocative musical and poetical colours. “On the roofs and in the streets / That November wind was raging against the men...”.
“Le colline di Ems” (Ems hills) begins with a strummed acoustic guitar. The mood is dreamy but there's a vein of melancholia. In a dark night old memories come back... “He painted his thoughts like the sun / And the memory of the colours of the street gave way to the clear air / And that was his last dream / Then the shadows closed his gaze / Amidst the fogs of dawn...”.
“Il pianto” (The cry) is darker and filled with an exotic sense of mystery. Music and lyrics describe the strange dialogue between a man and his shadow where the borders of reality get blurred. Eventually a desperate cry springs out from broken dreams and deluded hopes.
The following “Il sogno di Jennifer” (Jennifer's dream) is an excellent instrumental featuring a perfectly balanced mix of classical influences and rock. It leads to the committed “Nostra Signora Borghesia” (Our Lady Bourgeoisie) that depicts an old lady with a heart of ice, covered with gold and dressed up in all her vanity. It's a poetical denounce of social injustice and hypocrisy. There's no violence in the music and lyrics but a drum roll towards the end seems to suggest an impending execution... “Dance with us, my old lady...”.
“I bambini d'inverno” (The children in winter) draws the image of a child in a cold house. Outside there's a high wall, cold as a blade, that makes the heart bleeding. There are children in the snowy streets who are playing and moving around like human crumbs in a sea of lights and concrete. They can fly high, over the wall... “The children in winter / Coffee drops in the white sea of this hell...”.
“Canzone per un anno” (Song for a year) is a charming ballad with a slightly Medieval flavour and strong classical influences. It depicts a Northern mountainous landscape. In January barbaric hordes from the forests stormed through the valleys and until April the crying of the women resounded all around, there were no celebration in honour of God Pan and of the elves. In May the snow melted and the corpses of the dead were buried. In June there was a new battle and the invaders were defeated. In September the vineyards gave their fruits and Bacchus was celebrated, then the winter came back. All this events are seen through the eyes of a little girl... “Open your eyes, my little darling / May will come back / Dance peacefully your cheerfulness...”.
The conclusive track, “Nanou”, is set in France in 1943 and tells of a meeting between a desperate, suicidal girl and some partisans who rescue her from the cold water of the river. The meeting is suddenly interrupted by the arrival of the Germans. You can hear the shots... “A thousand air drops are drawing me away from you...”.
On the whole, I think that this is a very good album, a labour of love filled with passion and great musicianship that is really worth listening to.
You can listn in streaming to the complete album HERE
You can listn in streaming to the complete album HERE
Tugs: Europa Minor (2013). Other opinions:
Olav Marin Bjornsen: All in all Tugs very much belated debut album is a fine specimen of it's kind. Symphonic progressive rock with more of an acoustic atmosphere to it and with a fair few details of folk music flavoring the proceedings, creating an elegant and sophisticated breed of timeless but vintage sounding symphonic progressive rock that should have a fairly broad appeal. With those who have a soft spot for Italian bands with vocalists singing in their native tongue as a logical key audience... (read the complete review HERE)
Paul Fowler: It's a remarkably mature piece of work with strong musicianship without going for overly flash, everyone playing their part perfectly. There are moments of bombast with heavier guitar riffing but that's not what Europa Minor is about, rich melodies and tastefully restrained instrumentation weaving together to form an intricate whole being the order of the day... (read the complete review HERE)
(1) This quote is not from the lyrics but from The Count of Monte-Cristo by Alexandre Dumas