Contrary to popular belief, progressive rock didn’t disappear with the advent of punk, and the lack of media support didn’t prevent new bands from forming and new music being created. It is hard to imagine these days, with everyone being permanently connected, but there was a time not long ago when communication was by word of mouth and letter. With no coverage by much of the media, it was down to fanzines and independent magazines to spread the word of what was happening within the progressive rock scene, what was being released, and who was worth going to see in concert. Most of these magazines survived for just a few issues, while others continued for many years, all having their part to play in spreading the word.
One of the most important during this period was ‘Feedback’. It initially started as the newsletter of Mensa’s Rock Music Special Interest Group in 1988, but when Kev Rowland became secretary in 1990, he determined to turn it into a magazine promoting music which often wasn’t being written about in the mainstream press. ‘Feedback’ soon became one of the key promoters of the underground progressive scene, and Rowland one of the most well-known and popular reviewers. He also became a contributor to ‘Rock ‘n’ Reel’, as well as writing for the Ghostland website in the early days of prog on the web.
Rowland collated all his progressive rock reviews and interviews written between 1991 and 2006 into three volumes which have been described by Record Collector and others as “The Bible” while one reviewer called it the “Encyclopaedia Progressivica”. It was originally intended to be just one book, but with the word count at more than half a million it was too big, so instead, it was decided to break it into easily digestible chunks and also include all the album artwork. The books have been widely acclaimed, and questions were asked of Rowland as to when the next one in the series would be available? Originally there was never any intention to produce any others as these had captured the time when he was running ‘Feedback’. However, even though he moved to the other side of the world and dropped out of the music scene, Rowland did begin writing again in 2008, and was soon as involved as he had previously been in the UK. Also, all his reviews were now saved digitally and did not have to be brought back to life from poorly photocopied fanzines, and he became convinced that it would be worthwhile to continue the series as the music had never stopped.
This brings us to Volume 4, which contains his writings from 2008 to 2013, with all album covers in full colour and cover art again by Martin Springett. Unlike the others in the series, this one-volume contains the complete alphabet, along with some book and DVD reviews, various artists, and a few interviews. The foreword is by the highly respected reviewer Olav M. Björnsen, while the comments on the rear cover are from Thierry Sportouche of the French progzine Acid Dragon (one of the longest-running progressive rock fanzines in the world) and Jerry van Kooten, founder of the highly influential Dutch Progressive Rock Pages (DPRP.Net). Together, these four stalwarts of the prog scene have more than 100 hundred years’ experience of writing about the music they love.
Along with the other three volumes in the series, this book shines a spotlight onto a scene time which is still critically ignored by many and provides information about the music in a constructive manner. It is again possible to discover some great music from wonderful bands, and this should be used as a guide to expand collections and understand that prog-rock really didn’t die, it just went underground.
About the author
Kev Rowland is a self-confessed music addict, who has never really been the same since he heard ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ in 1975. In the Eighties he spent quite a ridiculous amount of money on all things related to Jethro Tull and was asked by David Rees to write a piece on Carmen (the band including John Glascock, not the opera) for the Tull fanzine ‘A New Day’. This simple request was life-changing, although neither realised it at the time.
Kev discovered he enjoyed writing about music and submitted reviews for the inaugural Mensa RockSIG newsletter, before becoming secretary himself in 1990. Over the next 16 years, the newsletter gained a name, and he put out more than 80 issues, many of them doubles, more than 11,000 pages. When he moved to New Zealand in 2006, he retired from the music scene, but was pulled back in – initially kicking and screaming until he accepted his fate. These days he can be found contributing to many magazines and websites and is thoroughly enjoying the amazing music which can be found at the end of the world, saying the gigs remind him so much of what he used to attend 30 years ago.
When he isn’t listening to music, writing about music, or thinking about music, then he can be found on his lifestyle block with his wonderful wife Sara, and their 8 cats, 6 dogs, chickens, sheep, lambs, calves and cattle. Oh, apparently, he has a day job as well.
Containing all of Kev Rowland’s progressive rock reviews and interviews written between 1991 and 2006, the first four volumes of The Progressive Underground are essential for all lovers of the genre, but don’t just take our word for it.
A book that will be quickly referred to as “a bible”.
Daryl Easlea, Record Collector
Rowland is collecting his reviews in three volumes (in alphabetical order): their preservation for posterity is welcome. His writing is informative, intelligent, and generous. It certainly makes interesting reading… As Brian Appleton would put it, thank you Kev for your contribution.
Rychard Carrington, Rock n Reel
The third compilation of reviews from his Feedback fanzine is warm, honest and engaging. It is also, like the best underground writing, unvarnished and unencumbered by any expectations of PR; the reviews in The Progressive Underground Vol 3 are clearly done for no other reason than the love of the genre.
DE, Prog Magazine
This is best treated as a kind of guide to the neo-progressive genre. Thanks to this release, you can rediscover the wonderful albums of great bands and see that progressive rock has never really died, it just went from the mainstream to the underground.
Artur Chachlowski, MLWZ
All I can say is if you are a true proghead this book should be in your library of progressive rock literature. Because it’s a great work. A book to be considered of superior or lasting artistic merit.
Henri Strik, Background Magazine
Chronic well-crafted, short and mostly written in order to develop the subject with ease…Simply relevant information, the essential and useful. Personally, I believe that many current columnists should emulate the writing of Mr. Rowland.
Laying his fan card on the table, Rowland has brought all of these reviews together to create a veritable Encyclopaedia Progressivica in three volumes… the ultimate pan-progressive fanzine.
Recorded in 2009, this album is available in multiple different formats, including swirled vinyl and a CD/DVD set etc. As one may be able to work out from the album title, this is a live run through of one of his most controversial albums, at least when it was first released back in 1973. His previous album, ‘Something/Anything/’ had charted well in multiple countries, and spawned some hit singles, but this saw him undertaking far more inventive paths, something which was exacerbated by his experimentation at the time with psychedelic drugs. Many Todd fans now look back on this very favourably indeed, while I have always felt there is some very strong material contained within but others which are not as good, so a rather inconsistent release.
Needless to say, this means that this album contains the same flaws and strengths as the original, but he has surrounded himself with a strong band and there is no doubt that the crowd in Akron, Ohio, had a great time. Mind you, whether they would say the same about this release would be another matter altogether. Todd has released a great many live albums over the years, both under his own name and Utopia, and I have a few different boxed sets so it can be said I am quite a fan, but what has been done with these recordings is quite unforgiveable. The production is great, as is the performance, but whoever messed with this needs to be sacked. I know that in these days of people using Spotify (I don’t) and shuffling albums (I don’t do that either), there are few of us who like to play an album from beginning to end, but surely when it comes to live albums everyone does? Whoever mutilated this album obviously does not, as what has happened is that each track fades out and then back in again, even though this is taken from a single night performance of a complete album. But worse than that, sometimes as it fades back in, we get a few seconds of the previous song again. Did no-one listen to this? Did Todd sign it off?
The end result is an album which in many ways should be a masterpiece, but instead it is an annoyance, and incredibly frustrating. To me this is a great opportunity ruined – I guess it would be okay if I played it on shuffle, but I can’t bring myself to do so. A real shame. 6/10 Kev Rowland
One of the issues of being known as a reviewer, plus also taking some years out of the scene to concentrate on collating some books, is that material can build up. In the end I decided to keep up to date with the most recent material and delve into the older material when I had time. Due to multiple reasons neither of these approaches have worked, and I now find myself in a position where I still have albums to review which were sent to me years ago as well as being somewhat behind on the more recent albums (although I have committed to reviewing every single album ever sent to me). One way of slowly dealing with this is that when I am sent an album by a band, and I have yet to review the old one, then I do both at once. That is what has happened here, as I am pretty sure keyboard player/singer Mike Visaggio sent this to me nearly 7 years ago but given I have recently received the new live release, I dug this out of the vaults and put it into the pile, which led me to discover this is a real delight and I definitely should have played it sooner!
This was the debut album from the quartet, released in 2009, and as well as Mike features Todd Russell (guitars), Tony D’Amato (bass) and Michael Murray (drums, backing vocals). There have been quite a few changes in the band over the years since then, and only Mike and Michael are still involved. I have no idea why there was a six-year gap between this and the second album, ‘Travelog’, but during that period a decision was made for Mike to drop lead vocals and concentrate on keyboards, which to my mind is a shame as vocally he is very strong indeed. This album is built around the keyboards, and I found myself having internal debates as to whether this section or that sounded more like Keith Emerson or Rick Wakeman, as his use of Mellotron is reminiscent of both. There are times when the music does sounds as if could have come from the Seventies, that is mostly due to the keyboard sounds being deployed, and for the most part this is a very modern sounding album indeed. The keyboards and use of piano are indeed evocative of Procol Harum, yet there are also plenty of others when it is more like 3 or a fresher Flower Kings.
Melodic and incredibly accessible, this is progressive music which has much in common with classical in the way some of the keyboard string arrangements are set, and one can imagine songs such as “Peace of Mind, Peace of Heart” having a major live presence, building from an emotional keyboard-led vocal into something far funkier and more dynamic. Overall, this is an incredibly polished and enjoyable progressive rock album which just gets better the more it is played.
Any review of Manna/Mirage is going to look back to The Muffins, the Canterbury influenced quartet founded by Dave Newhouse (keyboards, reeds), Billy Swan (bass) and Michael Zentner (guitar, violin) all the way back in 1973. Named after The Muffins’ debut album, Manna/Mirage released their debut in 2015 with Dave being joined by Billy and Paul Sears from the line-up which released 2012’s ‘Mother Tongue’. However, for the 2018 ‘Rest of the World’ it was now just Dave with additional musicians, many of whom have continued through to this their third album.
Dave provides keyboards, woodwinds, and saxophones on this release, and apart from the final song everything on the album is instrumental. Dave is renowned for providing Canterbury-influenced progressive rock for well over 40 years and he is showing no sign at all of changing now. He can also be found working in The Moon Men with Jerry King, who is one of the returning musicians, providing bass and other instruments. Musically this sounds like a mix of Henry Cow, Caravan, Soft Machine, Zappa and even Can, heading deep into the avant-garde to create something where there may be repeated melody, or there may not. It may contain delicate keyboards, or it may not. The woodwind may be taking the lead, or guess what? It may not. The result is a musical journey where one is never quite sure where the end is going to be, but it is always way more interesting to follow a road less travelled than the highway everyone else uses. It may take longer, but in the end, it is always more fulfilling, and life is all about the journey. This is an album which should only be played when the listener really has the time to fully immerse themselves, to focus intently on the music, preferably by playing it on headphones.
It is hard to pick a favourite, as each song is as intriguing as the next, but I am glad that “Fly Away” is at the end of the album as it is so very different indeed to what has gone before, with swirling piano and delicate vocals. In many ways it is out of place with what has gone before, which also makes it a perfect ending, as it is this lack of conformity throughout the album which makes it such a delight. This conforms most strongly with numbers which could be viewed as commercial, and therefore is a massive contrast to everything else, so therefore fits the overall rationale of the album, if that makes sense. This is something which all lovers of Canterbury-style Prog need to discover at once, if not sooner.
Maryen has something of a wanderlust, so although some people will always associate her with albums released in Australia, while others will think of her times with Fish and others in the UK progressive scene in the UK, it may surprise those who have not been following her travels to hear that she days she lives in Guernsey, moving there from Australia a few years ago. She was looking into the folk history of the island and heard about a lane where bodies had been thrown over the cliffs, screams could be heard at night, and there was even an exorcism performed! This intrigued her further, so she decided to find out where it was, only to discover it was a lane she regularly walked, which made her feel a little uncomfortable, and the song followed soon afterwards.
Most of this was recorded at home, with additional instrumentation added remotely, before Chris Kimsey produced, mixed, and mastered it front home. I have always enjoyed Maryen’s voice, ever since I first came across her music nearly 30 years ago, and here the combination of that with repeated piano chords and staccato bass runs creates a very other worldly and weird presence. She has really managed to capture the feeling of spookiness, and one can imagine this fitting in well with a remake of “Casper” or movie of similar ilk. Even the scraper percussion adds an additional element, so it all combines together to create something which is fresh, folky, yet also with a rather strange edge which can only make one think of ghosts even before paying attention to the lyrics. Let us hope it is not too long until Maryen graces us with a full album, but until then this single is highly recommended.
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