Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius moved camp to the idyllic rural setting of Forst, in Weserbergland, Lower Saxony. Michael Rother came to visit the duo, ostensibly looking to expand Neu!’s lineup for live shows, yet ended up staying and forming the trio Harmonia.
Here, their electronic noises start to take shape, and form, roughly, songs. Backed by a drum machine, “Watussi” plods along happily over its six minutes. The ambient texture of “Sehr komisch” is indeed very cosmic, while “Sonnenschein” kicks over its brisk beat. Rhythmically, the tracks tend to follow a blueprint of being build from a drum pattern and short sequences, with longer sweeping electronic and guitar passages over the top. “Dino” and Veterano” have that motorik beat, but “Ohrwurm” harks back to the Cluster of old. “Ahoi!” follows a minimal piano line, while the closing “Hausmuzik” ebbs and tides over large washes of sound. Certainly improvisational, Harmonia signal another progression in the music of Roedelius and Moebius.
Although released as a Cluster album, Zuckerzeit was recorded between Harmonia albums and featured Rother as producer, drawing some similarity stylistically. Their second album, Deluxe, released again on Brain in 1975 was more substantial, with Mani Neumeier of Guru Guru providing drums and vocals introduced for the first time. It’s a rousing, even rocking album at times. Yet with the arrival of Brian Eno in late 1976 in Forst, another chapter in the history of Cluster and Rother would soon be written.
Story has it that after hearing Jade Warrior's music, Steve Winwood convinced Chris Blackwell to sign the band to his Island Records label. Now reduced to the core of Tony Duhig and Jon Field, the duo left most of their previous musical past behind as well, including vocals and any trace of psychedelia. On Floating World, each track is presented as wide and cinematic in sound as it is descriptive in title. After the introductory "Clouds", "Mountain of Fruit and Flowers" emerges with a stirring bass line. "Waterfall" flows like a river, before descending into a cataclysm of conga drums. Then seemingly out of nowhere "Red Lotus" erupts with Duhig's heavily distorted guitar! The second side tracks about the same as the first. "Rain Flower" is a gentle guitar number, while the jazzy "Easty" adds rhythm underneath. "Monkey Chant" features Duhig's brother Dave on lead guitar and is another improbable (but welcomed) heavy number. The plaintive "Memories Of A Distant Sea" closes, briefly reprised on "Quba". Full of dynamics and world influences, Jade Warrior use their instruments like paintbrushes, yet never really fill the canvas. And like the oriental-flavored album art, their music is both restive and contemplative and generally avoids all clichés but their own. The band presaged the instrumental "fourth world" or new age genre that would rise to some commercial prominence in the 1980s. Jade Warrior would release another three albums of much similar effect for Island before splitting up in 1979; however little would be heard of either musician during the '80s.
Tales From Topographic Oceans has the dubious distinction of being either the mother lode or motherf&#ker of all prog rock albums. The initial idea for the grandiose album came to Jon Anderson in a footnote regarding Shastric scriptures in Paramahansa Yogananda's "Autobiography of a Yogi". Evidently this was the grand concept he'd been searching for, allowing his lyrics to blossom into full-blown biblical verse. Together with Steve Howe, they put most of the initial musical ideas down during the same tours of 1973 that generated the triple album Yessongs. Actualizing those ideas in the studio was of course more difficult, even wooden cows and accompanying foliage was reduced to compost by the end of the sessions. However, drummer Alan White's performance was nothing short of excellent in his studio debut with Yes. Previously with Lennon's Plastic Ono band and most recently with Joe Cocker's touring band, he got the nod days before the band's US tour in 1972. Spanning four sides of vinyl, the album epitomized the prog rock axiom of "more is more". The question, however, is does it work? The first side "The Revealing Science of God" and to a lesser extent "The Remembering" on the second side certainly do. They're classic Yes music: melodic and inviting, chock full of ideas and inventive playing. The rest of the trip however turns more experimental, but equally arduous. The acoustic number "Leaves Of Green" ends the third side; of course the fifteen minutes spent getting there does little except introduce us to the names of some ancient Atlantean peoples. The final side "Ritual" suffers a similar fate. "Nous Somus Du Soleil's" beautiful main melody in edited form would rival anything off of Yes' prior albums; yet at twenty-plus minutes, it simply goes on and on and on... But what Yes fan wouldn't want a double-album of new material, full of everything they like about the band? Well, Rick Wakeman for one. He made his exit quickly after the album's promotional tour. Critically, the album was universally slaughtered; however, it topped the UK charts at No. 1 and rose to No. 6 in the US. So back to my original supposition: you decide.
Before the turn of the decade, former Zombie Rod Argent and his bassist cousin Jim Rodford drafted drummer Bob Henrit and guitarist Russ Ballard from the pop band Unit 4 + 2 to form Argent. The band clearly centered on the keyboard talents of its namesake, but also had gifted songwriters in Ballard and ex-Zombie Chris White. “Lothlorien” and the second side of 1971's Rings of Fire pointed to the progressive, but it would take the band a few more albums before they consummated that direction. Argent scored a massive hit with "Hold Your Head Up" in 1972, reaching No. 5 on both sides of the Atlantic. The accompanying album All Together Now also charted well, as did its follow up 1973's In Deep. Undoubtedly Argent was a master of the Hammond organ, and both albums were chock full of “classic rock”, albeit more on the blues-inspired end of heavy rock, with one foot in the 60s. Thus, it wasn't until 1974's Nexus that the band delivered a bonafide prog rock album. The album opens with a “celestial” suite of three instrumentals, all written by Argent and White. “The Coming Of Kohoutek” opens quite stately, before descending into a nice little vamp; “Once Around The Sun” goes majestic, with Argent’s keyboards paving the way; “Infinite Wanderer” winds up the suite playfully. Ballard’s “Love” features a tender and sympathetic vocal from Argent. “Music Of The Spheres” is the cornerstone of the album. The band descends into a killer jam, anchored the Rodford/Henrit rhythm section, then winding up with the long, hypnotic coda. The second side, written primarily by Ballard switches gears, providing a few earthier, funky numbers, like “Thunder & Lightning” and “Gonna Meet My Maker”. Despite the strong showing, the album did not chart.
While Peter Hammill was off busy with his solo career, the Long Hello offered a rare glimpse into VDGG sans their leader. The initial impetus for the project revolved around Guy Evans and what would become his Foel Studios. Along with David Jackson, he got together with some Italian friends in Wales to record the resulting album. Jackson wrote most of the material and graces the album on sax and flute, while Nic Potter lends his hands on bass. Hugh Banton's role was primarily technical in nature, although he does contribute one rather lackluster track in its entirety. The instrumental album trades the fury of VDGG for a melodic beauty that, no doubt, reflected the environment in which it was recorded. Highly original, the album defies categorization. It has jazz elements, but is most certainly not jazz. It rocks, but that too would also be cutting it short. "The O Flat Session" approaches the sonic lunacy of Henry Cow, but there's nothing that high brow here. "Morris to Cape Roth" captures the immediacy of VDGG, but avoids any chaotic digression. The acoustic guitar of Piero Messina is one of the album's charms, providing an understated rhythmic element on the second side. "Fairhazel Gardens" in particular is a highlight. The album was issued several times in small numbers, ranging from a near white label pressing in the UK to a full color Italian issue. Three other volumes under the Long Hello umbrella would see release in the early '80s, each under the direction of a former VDGG member.
When it came to original rock music, Germany posed a unique proposition. Some bands were off in kosmische territory, working under the ubiquitous umbrella of krautrock, Germany's answer to psychedelia. On the other hand, Germany was also producing scores of what I'll refer to as "bad Deep Purples". (Italy has the dubious distinction for "bad Jethro Tulls".) Grobschnitt then were one of just a handful of German groups in between, offering a highly original take on prog rock. Their debut album was released in early 1972 and was an infectious blend of heavy jamming and psychedelic weirdness (something I always like). The band was formed by drummer Joachim "Eroc" Ehrig, lead guitarist Gerd-Otto "Lupo" Kuhn, and Stefan "Wildschwein" Danielak on guitar and vocals. Bassist Bernhard Uhlemann rounded out the lineup, while Volker "Mist" Kahrs joined on keyboards before this, their second album, Ballerman. The double-album opens with "Sahara" but ignore it completely; that type of lunacy would dominate their next release. "Nickelodeon" then kicks off with a grinding Hammond and trebly bass; Grobschnitt don't quite have the arrangement skills of their British counterparts but they're all the more organic for it. The track has some similarities to what Yes were doing a few years earlier, and certainly it's as spirited and energetic. But the other thing that's immediately evident is the bane of most German rock groups: English-language vocals. Either you like Wildschwein's accented singing or you don't, and you're probably not anywhere in between. Yet the remainder of the first record is first-rate prog rock: both melodic and symphonic, it again some has British influence yet remains uniquely Grobschnitt. But hold onto your pants, the album's second record contains Grobschnitt's stunning instrumental achievement "Solar Music Suite". Although the analogy to Pink Floyd is bound to reverberate, Grobschnitt are just as original here. For nearly thirty minutes they hover around stasis, providing a very different take on space rock. Wolfgang "Pepe" Jaeger would replace Uhlemann for their next album, the zany Jumbo, released in 1975.
Appearing a little over a year after their re-debut, Starless and Bible Black was the second album from the new and improved King Crimson. However, the majority of the record was based on live improvisational recordings from a concert recorded the previous fall in Amsterdam. It's no wonder, as Crimson spent the better part of March through November 1973 on the road with only a few weeks in the summer to rest. The first side contains shorter snippets, as well as a few (more or less) songs. Both "The Great Deceiver" and "We'll Let You Know" rely on fury to get their point across (which they do), while the gentler "The Night Watch" is simply resplendent. The other tracks on the first side are more or less fragments, the drum-less "Trio" a throwback to the Islands era band. The second side houses the big improvisations, beginning with the title track. After a slow start, it gains significant mass, rising to a glorious climax. With the added studio overdubbing, "Fracture" though is far more structured but nonetheless exciting. The first half of the track hints at its potential, but we'll have to wait until the closing section for another full-blown finale. Again, the key is the rhythm section of John Wetton and Bill Bruford; as Fripp would later comment, they were "terrible to play over." Indeed. With only twelve minutes of studio recordings, the album's a little short on new material, but taken as a live record it's another matter. The album charted in both the UK and US, at No. 28 and No. 64 respectively. Crimson was back on the road after the album's release, and stayed there until their last concert on July 1st, 1974 in New York's Central Park.
Formed in 1969 by ex-Fairport Convention bassist Ashley Hutchings and the duo of guitarist Tim Hart and singer Maddy Prior, Steeleye Span’s first few albums were firmly rooted in an acoustic folk tradition. In 1972 Hutchings departed and after adding bassist Rick Kemp and Bob Johnson, the band signed to the Chrysalis label for 1972’s Below The Salt, scoring a hit single with the uncharacteristic “Gaudete”, an a cappella Christmas carol sung entirely in Latin. It rose to No. 14 in the UK, while the album was their first to enter the UK charts. Parcel Of Rouges followed next with similar results, but the arrival of ex- Spice and Gnidrolog drummer Nigel Pegrum on 1974’s Now We Are Six saw their music come preciously close to prog rock. Of course, having Ian Anderson in the producer’s chair certainly pushed things along: “Thomas The Rhymer” has that meter that is quite similar to Jethro Tull. Whether this is vindication of Steeleye Span’s progressiveness or proof positive that Anderson was a folkie at heart is another matter; soaked in harmony, Prior’s voice is unmistakable whatever the setting and despite a rather strange production the band presents first rate music here. “Drink Down The Moon” has a somber tone that shines in the electric setting, while “Two Magicians” remains more traditional. “Seven Hundred Elves” and “Edwin” both again turn up the prog quotient on their folksy tunes and throughout Steeleye Span offer a lively dose of electric folk, though the inclusion of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and a rather languid cover of Phil Spector’s “To Know Him Is To Love Him” (complete with David Bowie on saxophone) is dubious at best. Nonetheless, the album rose to No. 13 in the UK charts. Their second 1975 release All Around My Hat, the first in a series to be produced by ex-Womble Mike Batt, was a commercial peak, fueled by the title track which rose to No. 6 in the UK single charts. However their subsequent albums couldn’t sustain the momentum and after a live album in 1978, the band ostensibly broke-up, though throughout the ‘80s recordings would appear. Prior would join Mike Oldfield’s touring band in the late ‘70s.
Tempest recorded a follow-up album, Living In Fear, in late 1973. Ollie Halsall, fresh from a defunct Patto, brought a more immediate but similarly electric guitar (and lead vocal) to the band. The album was recorded with Gerry Bron producing and Geoff Emerick behind the desk. Halsall’s “Funeral Empire” opens, a solid rocker with a great break and some creative synthesizer, before a cover of the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer”, also featured in their live set. The album proves far more successful a heavy rock album than their debut, with Mark Clarke's compositions, including the excellent “Stargazer” and “Dance To My Tune”, the cream of a very good crop. The latter in particular features an extended solo over Hiseman and Clarke’s heavy, solid rhythm. The title track is another of Halsall’s tunes, with the guitarist adding piano. Written with Hiseman, the poppy “ Yeah Yeah Yeah” swings a little bit, while “Waiting for a Miracle” offers a nice acoustic touch and a fine vocal. Clarke’s “Turn Around” closes with power. Big riffing, it again showcases Halsall’s legato technique. Reduced to a power trio, live recordings from the period confirm that this was the band’s peak, and may have been Halsall’s peak as a guitar god. However, major success never found Halsall and Tempest and by the middle of 1974 the band was done. Hiseman put together a new band the following year, christening them Colosseum II. Mark Clarke left to join Natural Gas (with Humble Pie’s Jerry Shirley and Badfinger’s Joey Molland), then stints with Kensley and Rainbow. Ollie Halsall would split the next few years between a long and fruitful collaboration with Kevin Ayers (whom he met while recording the album at AIR Studios), and with Mike Patto in the more straight-forward Boxer.
Hailing from the most unlikely of places - Finland - Wigwam featured the talents of two songwriters, Jukka Gustavson and English expatriate Jim Pembroke. With drummer Ronnie Österberg, the band’s debut album attracted the services of producer Kim Fowley for their next record, Tombstone Valentine. The album saw the arrival of bassist Pekka Pohjola, and even managed to secure a US release on MGM/Verve (in addition to Finland’s Love Records). 1971’s double-album Fairyport saw the band’s music (roughly a cross between Traffic and The Band) mature into a more progressive sound. By all accounts the sprawling jam, “Rave-Up For The Roadies”, with guest Jukka Tolonen on guitar, was more indicative of their live set: nothing like their records! Both Pembroke and Pohjola then cut solo albums, leaving Gustavson to pen the epic 1974 release, Being. His “Proletarian” kicks off, rolling straight into the short “Inspired Machine”; immediately, it’s evident that the band has refined their music to the point of being immaculate and Gustavson’s grasp of the English language is second to none. The more playful melody of Pembroke’s “Petty-Bourgeois” follows; the contrast between the two composers is pronounced, but the band performs both with equal equanimity. “Pride Of The Biosphere” gets heavy into the album’s concept (life, death, religion and the meaning of it all), while the musicality of “Pedagogue”, including the wonderfully resplendent horn arrangement, reveals the enormous technical talent contained with the band. “Crisader” continues the story, with Pohjola’s brief “Planetist” swinging with abandon. Pembroke offers another of his lush melodies on “Maestro Mercy” and the following “Prophet” offers Gustavson a chance to show his considerable keyboard talents again. Finally, Pembroke’s transcendent “Marvelry Skimmer” concludes the story. All told, the album is one of the most unique and perfectly crafted albums in the timeline. Yet perfection pays a price, and the band would barely weather the tumultuous sessions recording the masterpiece. In 1974, they added guitarist Pekka Rechardt for a farewell tour and live album, however a contract from Virgin records may have enticed some of the band to reconsider. Now consisting of Pembroke, Österberg, and Rechardt, Wigwam added Tasavallan Presidentti’s bassist Måns Groundstroem and keyboardist Esa Kotilainen. Under Pembroke’s guidance, they released two albums: 1975’s Nuclear Nightclub and 1976’s The Lucky Golden Stripes And Starpose. Although moving to (more or less) mainstream rock, both albums still have much to offer. However, after one final album in 1978, the band would dissolve. Both Gustavson and Pohjola embarked on solo careers upon leaving the band, the latter releasing a couple of albums on Virgin before joining Mike Oldfield’s touring band late in the decade.
Despite being relative latecomers to the progressive scene, Camel eventually earned a considerable reputation with their take on prog rock. Their modest commercial success kept the band busy, but just out of the big league. Hailing from Surrey, guitarist Andy Latimer formed The Brew in the late '60s. Bassist Doug Ferguson brought in drummer Andy Ward and they eventually landed a gig backing singer-songwriter Phillip Goodhand-Tait in 1971. However, this proved unsatisfactory so in a bid to make it on their own, the band secured the services of Pete Bardens on organ from a Melody Maker advertisement. Bardens, of course, had a long history in the London rock scene, having already worked with Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood, Rod Stewart and Van Morrison. Their debut album was released by MCA in February 1973, but the band was quickly dropped from the label, despite successful tours with Barclay James Harvest and Stackridge. Live recordings from the period confirm that the band did have a jam- band feel; just check out the Santana-esque "God Of Light". Camel then signed on with Gamma management who secured the band a record deal with Decca. Produced by David Hitchcock, Mirage was the first offering. The straight up "Freefall" opens, revealing their unpretentious and dynamic sound. The instrumental "Supertwister" takes its inspiration from the Dutch group Supersister, whom Camel toured with throughout Europe. Camel then attempts their first stab at interpreting sci-fantasy literature; here Latimer offers "Nimrodel" (taken from J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord Of The Rings). The instrumental "Earthrise" has a bit of Caravan sound to it, but the similarity is merely coincidental. "Lady Fantasy Suite" lightens up with a Focus-like middle and reprise, and Bardens' overdriven organ solo winds down the suite. Despite significant touring, including almost six months in the US, the album failed to chart. And yes, the original album cover was initially proposed as a marketing campaign for the European branch of the tobacco company of the same name.
Although Hatfield And The North released their first album in 1974, their history goes back a year prior. In early 1973, keyboard player Dave Stewart joined the core of bassist Richard Sinclair, guitarist Phil Miller and drummer Pip Pyle, the latter two both ex-Carol Grimes' Delivery. Stewart had previously been in Egg and replaced original keyboard player Dave Sinclair, who went back to Caravan. They spent most of 1973 touring, including several visits to the continent. One of the first (and only) of the so-called Canterbury bands to sign with Virgin Records, their self-titled debut album was recorded at Manor Studios the previous winter. It's easy to see what the fuss is about. Hatfield's music is instantly recognizable - highly arranged, almost math-like in structure and definitely not in 4/4 time! Composition credits are fairly democratic, yet each track flows effortlessly into the next, surely another testament to the cerebral virtuosity in the band. Stewart's keyboards are central, but Miller's thick toned guitar is also distinct. The debut includes several classics, including Robert Wyatt's ethereal vocalizing on "Calyx" and the rolling instrumental "Son of There's No Place Like Homerton". Sinclair's "Licks For The Ladies" kicks off a small batch of vocal efforts on the second side, culminating with the angelic Northettes' on "Lobster in Cleavage Probe". A single, "Let's Eat (Real Soon)" b/w "Fitter Stoke Has A Bath", was released in November. Hatfield however stayed on the road.
PFM traveled to London and Advision Studio to record their third album, with Claudio Fabi producing both an English and Italian version of the same record (the latter released as Isola di Niente), and with Pete Sinfield again providing the English language lyrics. New to the band was bassist Patrick Djivas, previously with Italian fusion protagonists Area. The album presents a significantly harder edge than previous efforts, due in part to Franco Mussida stepping to the fore on electric guitar; the result is certainly one of PFM's finest. "The Mountain" opens the album with a foreboding choral section, followed quickly by a breakneck rhythm from Franz Di Cioccio and Djivas. Bold and intricate, it offers grandeur, in the finest of Italian progressive tradition. The gentle "Just Look Away" is a throwback to their previous album, while the title track (only on the English LP), chimes over a huge King Crimson-like chorus. The fanatical "Four Holes In The Ground" opens the second side; pacing through its several sections, Mussida adds some rather fine electric guitar to this new take on the tarantella of "Celebration", and "Is My Face Straight On" follows in similar tradition. Lyrically it's the strongest on the record, and features a sweet accordion solo from Flavio Premoli. The album closes with the powerful instrumental "Have Your Cake and Beat It". Shifting through several moods, it is one of PFM's most refined compositions, featuring virtuoso soloing from Mauro Pagani. The album was again commercially successful and afforded PFM the opportunity to tour North America for the first time, supporting the likes of Robin Trower, Poco and Dave Mason. Their self-professed highlight was playing before 250,000 fans at the Charlotte Speedway Festival in August. A live album from this period was issued on Manticore early the following year under the title Cook (a reference to their culinary abilities). Indeed, it was a capable showcase of their live performance.
After the breakup of the Nice in 1970, Brian Davison and Lee Jackson were quick to task with solo projects. Drummer Davison’s jazz-tinged eponymous band and album Every Which Way was short-lived however, releasing just one album in 1970. Jackson’s Jackson Heights fared better and folksier, releasing an excellent debut, King Progress in 1970 for Charisma, and a further three for Vertigo, with John McBurnie and Brian Chatton (Michael Giles guested on drums). Lee approached former Mainhorse and Swiss-born keyboardist Patrick Moraz to replace Chatton, but with success out of reach, they opted for a new band, Refugee, with Davison added to the fold. Moraz was a keyboardist of some distinction, so it’s no surprise that the band offered the style of progressive rock that Keith Emerson was having success with in Emerson Lake And Palmer. Signed by Charisma, they released their debut album, Refugee, in 1974. The fiery instrumental “Papillon” opens with all guns firing, especially Moraz, who plays through an armoury of keyboards. The ensuing “Someday” divides, as Jackson’s vocals can be an acquired taste. The lengthy “Grand Canyon” goes epic, traversing around musical various landscapes, while “Ritt Mickley” (accented for “rhythmically”) gets a little jazzy, very much in Moraz’s unique style. The closing “Credo” is another long form track, passing the eighteen minute mark. Davison and Jackson shine as the rhythm section and Moraz gives it his all, but whether this type of classically-inspired progressive rock is one's cup of tea or not will certainly guide one’s reception. Scuttled by Rick Wakeman’s sudden departure following the Tales tour, Yes put an end to Refugee by hiring Moraz away for a brief yet illustrious tenure with that band. Davison would briefly join Gong, while Jackson quit the music industry altogether.
Tangerine Dream had recorded five albums before signing to Richard Branson's fledgling Virgin Records label in 1973. Founded by Edgar Froese, their first lineup included Klaus Schulze and Conrad Schnitzler, who were later to become two of Germany's electronic music pioneers. The lineup only lasted for one album and while a few musicians came and went over the ensuing releases, Chris Franke, previously the drummer for Agitation Free, would remain for the balance of the decade. Arriving at the Manor recording studio, their line-up here was the classic triple keyboard one, with Froese and Franke now complimented by Peter Baumann. Using their sizable advance, the band purchased a Moog modular synthesizer and set out to record Phaedra. Over the course of their previous recordings for the Ohr label, Tangerine Dream created archetypical krautrock; but whereas those earlier works were (more or less) audio monoliths, the introduction of the arpeggio sequencer here, in what would become the classic "Berlin school" trademark, marks the beginning of a new era for the band. "Phaedra", comprising the first side of the album, gurgles and chugs over its sixteen and a half minutes, constantly propelled by Franke's sequenced rhythms. The second side offers three shorter tracks. On "Mysterious Semblance", the sinuous and romantic washes of melody rouse forward without rhythm. "Movements of a Visionary" starts otherworldly, but stands as the new archetypal Tangerine Dream composition. Finally, "Sequent C" closes the album with a lonely Mellotron line, proving that few were as accomplished on the instrument as Froese. He'd go on record claiming Tangerine Dream never played "electronic" music; whatever, it sure was something original and spectacular. Considering the band had yet to play in the UK, the album rose to a very respectable No. 15, selling a reputed 100,000 records in the UK. Certainly the band's profile had profited from both DJ John Peel's naming their previous release atem his import record of the year, as well as the influence Virgin Records was now beginning to exude.
Hailing from Torino, Arti e Mestieri (“Art and Crafts”) combined the talents of keyboardist Beppe Crovella and drummer Furio Chirico. The latter had spent time in the The Trip, an odd Anglo-Italian group that once featured Ritchie Blackmore. The remainder of the band were previously in a local Turin group, Dream Of Archimedes, and included guitarist (and main composer) Gigi Venegoni, bassist Marco Gallesi, violinist and vocalist Giovanni Vigliar, and Arturo Vitale on wind instruments and vibes. After a live debut, the band signed with the Cramps label and entered the studio, with Area’s Paolo Tofani producing. Tilt combines the soaring unison lines from fusion, the intensity of prog rock, and a palette straight from the analog era. “Gravita 9.81” opens, propelled by Chirico’s fervent drumming. The music is both complex and light, structured yet full of soloing. “Strips” continues, adding a gentle and very Italian vocal section, while “Corrosione” is just majestic. The band make great use of space, and each ensuing composition flows effortlessly into the next. Everything “joins” together for the 13 minute “Articolazioni”, including some nice King Crimson inspired passages, while “Tilt” is exactly that. The band supported the album with tours opening for PFM and Gentle Giant. Released in 1975, their second album, Giro di valzer per domani, added a new vocalist, Gianfranco Gaza, and is another solid effort. However, the band then splintered, with Venegoni going on to form his own group Venegoni & Co, also signed to the Cramps label. By the time their final effort Quinto Stato was released in 1979, the band was different beast altogether, with only Chirico and Gallesi from the original lineup. The early 80s saw a few live in the studio albums, but they were only distributed privately.
Following the New Trolls break up, guitarist Nico Di Palo, and former members Maurizio Salvi, Frank Laugelli, and drummer Gianni Belleno released Canti D’Innocenza, Canti D’Esperienca, with a big question mark and their names on the cover; for legal reasons they couldn’t release it as New Trolls. It’s very much a hard rock album, based on Di Palo’s hard-riffing guitar. A reader’s poll gave the group their name Ibis, and British drummer Ric Parnell, fresh from a defunct Atomic Rooster, replaced Bellano on their second album, Sun Supreme. Signed to Polydor, the album was completely sung in English, offering a song cycle on each side, and some Indian mysticism to boot. The acoustic guitar of Di Palo opens the first side but “Travelling The Spectrum Of The Soul” fires on all cylinders, offering some heady prog rock. “Valley Of Mists” is the highlight: after the acoustic intro, the band erupt on a classic riff and prove their metal. “Vision Fulfilled” resolves the cycle, reprise a few themes along the way. The second side offers the three part “Divinity”, mainly an instrumental number inching closer to fusion. “Part 2” shows off the dexterity of the band, but also includes a rather lengthy drum solo, while the final section gently fades away. A final self-titled album, Ibis, with Di Palo and Laugelli and a couple of new members, saw release in 1975. Back to singing mostly in Italian, the album didn’t have much of a chance as Di Palo was back to the New Trolls for another round of success.
At the end of 1973, Pierre van der Linden left Focus to form Trace with Rick van der Linden from Ekseption. British drummer Colin Allen, previously with John Mayall's Bluebreakers and Stone the Crows, was flown in as a replacement. Although it had been over two years since the band's last album, Hamburger Concerto again offers another installment of classic Focus music. The brief "Delitiae Musicae" opens, confirming both Thijs Van Leer and Jan Akkerman's love of early music, something they pursued in contemporaneous solo works. The rocking "Harem Scarem" follows, tongue firmly in cheek. After its protracted introduction, "La Cathederale De Strasbourg" swings beautifully with a Robert Wyatt-esque whistle solo from Van Leer. With its trademark Focus melody, "Birth" reprises itself for another round before ending the side. Allen is sure-footed throughout, providing a solid bottom to the music. Like Moving Waves, the title track spans the entire second side of the album. Despite the regal intro, Focus remains grounded throughout, delivering their finest composition and performance on record. The classical borrowings and instrumental acrobatics are certainly here, but so is a lot of restraint, and neither arrangement nor delivery gets tedious. Van Leer's use of vocalizing (instead of lyrics) on "Medium" is completely effective, and there's an absolute orgy of analog sounds, including a classic Leslie-driven guitar riff from Akkerman opening "Rare" and Van Leer's saw-toothed ARP lead on the finale "One For The Road". The album was the last charting album for the band, reaching No. 20 in the UK and No. 66 in the US. The Focus story pretty much ends here. Featuring much shorter tracks, the highly funky Mother Focus was recorded piecemeal in 1975, with minimal contribution from Akkerman. Worth seeking is the compilation Ship of Memories which contains some of the aborted recordings from 1973, and an early version of the track "Hamburger Concerto". Massive personal changes ensued before a final best-forgotten album with P.J. Proby was released in 1978.
Having fulfilled his contract with Harvest Records, Kevin Ayers switched labels and management for his next few records. The Confessions of Dr. Dream And Other Stories was his debut for Island Records, seeing release in May 1974. Ayers sounds fresh on the two numbers that open, “Day By Day” and “Didn’t Feel Lonely Till I thought Of You”. Brisk, tuneful, with the latter punctuated by Ollie Halsall’s amazing lead guitar for a first time, the female backing vocals give them real soul. “It Begins With A Blessing/Once I Awakened/But It Ends With A Curse” is a psychedelic throwback to the Softs era, here with a monstrously big production. The four-part title track spans the second side of the album, presenting something much deeper, darker and progressive than the first. Nico adds her teutonic “charm” to the first section, while the remainder of the suite is mostly instrumental. With its varied musical landscape, the suite offers the same challenge/reward of his previous records. Throughout the record, Rupert Hine’s production is Ayers’ clearest and in some way most accessible, anchored of course by Michael Giles and John Gustafson amazing rhythm playing. His next studio record wasn’t as fortunate. Sweet Deceiver saw release in March of 1975, but despite the backing of Elton John’s management and guest piano, and straight-up production from Ayers and Ollie “Haircut” Halsall, it fizzled both commercially and critically. Also released around this time on Island was the well-known live record June 1, 1974. A showcase gig boasting an impressive guest list (Eno, Nico, John Cale, Phil Manzanera, et al), it was musically unceremonious, containing just one side of Ayers’ music and a second of cover versions. That same year Ayers collaborated with Brian Eno and David Vorhaus on Lady June’s (aka June Campbell Cramer) Linguistic Leprosy. An album of her poetry set to music, it saw release on Caroline Records.
By this time Rick Wakeman had left Yes and written the even more ambitious Journey To The Center of The Earth with the London Symphony Orchestra. Recorded live at the Royal Festival Hall on January 18th, 1974, with full choir, narrator David Hemmings and Wakeman's own English Rock Ensemble, his interpretation of Jules Verne's classic tale had little to do with prog rock, let alone rock music. That mattered little: the album was a UK No. 1 and US No. 3, even earning Wakeman a Grammy Award nomination. This may have been the stuff that gave prog rock a bad rap, but the public's appetite for these grandiose works was certainly real. So real, that Wakeman wrote The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and The Knights of the Round Table in 1975 while recovering from a mild heart attack (incurred following the last performance of "Journey"). Obviously not heading doctor's advice, Wakeman had that live premier, complete with orchestra and ice-skating extravaganza, at Wembley's Empire Pool. Nonetheless the album rose to No. 2 in the UK and a top 20 in the US. Despite the success, Wakeman's finances took the nosedive and a rethink was in order. In the interim, he composed the soundtrack for Ken Russell's lisztomania, which featured Roger Daltrey as the 18th Century "pop" sensation. The next year saw Wakeman scaled back with a new English Rock Ensemble and world tour for 1976's sci-fi album, No Earthly Connection. Somewhat a return to form, it would make the UK Top 10, yet only rise to No. 67 in the US. But by the end of 1976, Wakeman's solo career was on hold, the world awaiting his next move.