Wednesday, 30 July 2014

SPOTLIGHT ON A STRANGE JESTER


Semiramis were one of the many bands of the Italian progressive scene of the early seventies. They came from Rome and the line-up featured Paolo Faenza (drums, percussion and vibraphone), Marcello Reddavide (bass), Giampiero Artegiani (classical and acoustic guitar, synthesizers), Michele Zarrillo (guitars, vocals) and his brother Maurizio Zarrillo (piano, keyboards). Their debut album “Dedicato a Frazz” (Dedicated to Frazz) was released in 1973. It’s a concept album about the dreams and the feelings of an imaginary, strange character, Frazz. Frazz is an acronym made with the initials of the members of the band... During the studio sessions Semiramis managed to shape a very mature sound, blending hard rock, progressive rock and classical influences. The quality of the recordings is not flawless and the music is perhaps not particularly original but the overall result is remarkable, especially if you consider that all the members of the band were very young then. The album was not successful but, as years passed by, it became a “cult album” among prog collectors, not only because of the quality of the music but because of the beautiful art cover as well.


The opener “La bottega del rigattiere” (The second hand dealer’s shop) is disquieting and dreamy. It depicts a strange, magical shop where, behind a two-sided window, fantastic harlequins, puppets and other objects can make you live their sinful odysseys and their sad memories... “Old ice-heartened merchant / You have wiped out all the fairy tales / In your shop I can find only lost hopes... My kite is getting lost in the sky / Dancing on the notes of a waltz by that failed musician / Regretted and dead now...”.

Luna Park” (Amusement park) describes another fantastic bittersweet dream. An innocent theatre allows you to dream an endless play where you can buy even the stars and throw them against the time that passes by... And when the dream is gone you are still searching on the ground for another coin to buy a couple of minutes to remember the lights of that dream...

Semiramis 1973

Uno zoo di vetro” (In a glass zoo) starts with acoustic guitar and percussion, then dark church-like organ notes followed by heavy electric guitar riffs invite you to climb up into the sky from where, in an idyllic, peaceful atmosphere you can look below and see insane breathless shadows, lacking air in a glass zoo...

The complex, agoraphobic “Per una strada affollata” (In a crowded street) features fiery synthesizer passages and a nice classical guitar solo. The lyrics draw the images of dummies looking at the crowd through the windows of the shops while fear flows in the veins of the passers by... “It’s fear that flows in the veins / But it falls over in front of the buildings / Closing the way / And knocking on the door of your home!”.


Next comes “Dietro una porta di carta” (Behind a door of paper), calm and reassuring... “And in the silence around me / I find again the simplicity, my personality, my boldness / I’m back from my sky / I’m alone in my room / I’m burning my tired ideals / In love with a paper / Left on a white box / From where a spider reluctantly goes out...”. The instrumental finale makes the tension take off again...

Frazz” features strummed acoustic guitar and a pastoral mood (every now and again this track reminds me of Felona e Sorona by Le Orme). It’s a reflection about the contrast between dreams and reality... “Sometime ago I was wondering about a winged horse / That used to take you to the moon, around the sky / To a frozen sun among golden clouds...You have many characters in a cartoon world / That smashes you down with its fake stories... In the end, why search for the truth?”.


The last melancholic track, “Clown”, concludes the album describing the thoughts of a jester after the show... “My comedy is coming to an end... About the love of a bearded old man / Who walks slowly with a stick / Resounding in a dark and empty street... Last spotlight on a jester / Alone, in the middle of himself...”.

On the whole a very good album. Well, now if you look at the beautiful inside cover, painted by Gordon Faggeter, an English artist based in Rome, probably you’ll recognize some images taken from the dreams described in the lyrics, like the spider escaping from the white box, the winged horse, the harlequin, the puppets, the glass zoo, the old man, the clown...


It’s very difficult to imagine that it’s really Michele Zarrillo the guitarist and singer of this band. Michele Zarrillo is today one of the best known Italian melodic pop singers while Giampiero Artegiani is a successful melodic song-writer and producer as well... What a waste of talent!

From Rock Progressivo Italiano: an introduction to Italian Progressive Rock

You can listen in streaming to the complete album HERE

By the, way, a reunion is coming soon...