Angel Romero has been writing about progressive music and world music for many years. Publications include Eurock (USA), Marquee (Japan), and Nuevas Músicas (Spain). He founded the websites progressiverockcentral.com and worldmusiccentral.org. Angel also produced Musica NA, a music show for TVE (Spain) featuring fusion, avant-garde, world music, new age and electronic artists.
Big Big Train – Grand Tour (English Electric Recordings, 2019)
On the album Grand Tour, British progressive rock band Big Big Train provides a musical representation of the grand tour. This was a European 17th and 18th century tradition carried out by young upper class men, and sometimes women. The idea was to travel throughout Europe to get exposed to other cultures.
Although Big Big Train present songs about ancient history, sailing ships and conventional journeys, they update the customary trip with space travel as well.
Big Big Train has become one of the finest progressive rock acts in the current scene, with outstanding musicians and some of the best male vocals well, including lead vocals and their signature, beautifully constructed choruses.
The album opens with a short song, Novum Organum” with a magical feel that sets the tone of the album. It’s followed by “Alive” the most commercial track on the album, destined to be a sing along song.
Track 3, “The Florentine” begins with a folk-style acoustic and electric guitars and harmony vocals that progresses into marvelous symphonic rock with fine guitar, exquisite violin by Rachel Hall, creative drumming and synths.
“Roman Stone” is a progressive rock gem, an epic showcasing fantastic lead and harmony vocals, the band’s signature classical brass ensemble sound, intricate guitar, more delightful violin, majestic mellotron, sections where Big Big Train intertwines classical, jazz and progressive rock elements masterfully and with ease. And of course, a grand finale with synthesizer goodness.
Next comes the virtuosic “Pantheon.” It starts with bewitching mellotron and violin stars followed by brass, synths and on to the full band, delivering state of the art symphonic progressive rock.
Track 6 contains the album’s second single “Theodora in Green and Gold.” Here, the piano, string synths and vocals take the lead. It’s a beautiful ballad with memorable vocals and guitar work.
“Ariel” highlights more of the band’s masterful intertwined lead and harmony vocals along with genuinely lovely violin. The song builds uptempo with superb guitar and harmony vocals that amusingly sound like a tribute to Queen’s harmonies.
Track 8 is dedicated to the “Voyager” spacecraft. It’s an instant classic, a superb set of first class vocal work, symphonic brass, dancing violin. It grows into full blown epic-form progressive rock. There is a section with mesmeric violin and guitar that is truly electrifying.
The album ends with an engaging song where the full band’s vocals, drums, guitar, electric organ, brass and violin stand out.
Big Big Train is a British progressive rock band formed in Bournemouth in 1990. Until 2009, Big Big Train was active primarily as a studio project led by multi-instrumentalists Greg Spawton and Andy Poole.
In recent years, Big Big Train has built a substantial and passionate following for their music. Noted for their story-telling songs and progressive rock influences, their 2017 album, Grimspound, reached number one in the UK Official Rock Album Chart. After selling out a three gig residency at London’s Cadogan Hall in 2017, the band headlined the Night of the Prog festival at Loreley, Germany in 2018.
Big Big Train released the “Swan Hunter” single on July 13th, 2018. The single set includes a remix of the studio album version and a live performance of “Swan Hunter,” together with two previously unreleased tracks. Swan Hunter is an elegy for the shipbuilding communities of England’s north-east.
Vocalist David Longdon said: “Imagine being a child who grew up within this community, seeing these huge vessels grow daily until their launch. Imagine the relentless sound of machinery and construction workers. Your father most likely would have worked there and probably his father before him. It must have been almost impossible back then to imagine a time when this way of life would come to an end. This is what you knew and it defined you.”
Andy Poole left the band in 2018.
Inspired by the 17th and 18th century custom of the Grand Tour, where young men and women traveled to broaden the mind, Big Big Train made an album of songs set in distant lands and beyond. Grand Tour features nine new tracks which take listeners on an epic journey over land and sea and through time and space.
The 2019 line-up includes band founder Greg Spawton on bass, guitars and keyboards; Nick D’Virgilio on drums; Dave Gregory on guitars; Rachel Hall on violin and vocals; David Longdon on vocals, flute, keyboards and guitars; Danny Manners on keyboards and bass; and Rikard Sjöblom on keyboards and guitars. Robin Armstrong (guitars and keyboards) joins the band for live performances.
Multifaceted musician and singer Todd Rundgren is known for crossing over into various musical genres. His acclaimed band Utopia was a formidable progressive rock act, although later it morphed into a power pop band. Rundgren brought back Utopia for a tour in 2018 and this double album was recorded live during one of the gigs.
The album contains a mix of progressive rock, classic rock and pop tracks. The most memorable are the progressive rock songs featuring recognizable melodies, fiery guitars and skilled keyboard solos: Utopia Theme, The Ikon, Overture, Communion with the Sun.
On this occasion the band featured Todd Rundgren on guitars and vocals, Kasim Sulton on bass, Willie Wilcox on drums and Gil Assayas on keyboards (Gil replaced Ralph Schuckett, who left due to health reasons).
Todd Rundgren was born June 22, 1948 in Philadelphia, USA. He began playing guitar as a teenager, going on to found and lead Nazz, a 1960’s psychedelic group. In 1969, he left the band to pursue a solo career, recording his debut album, Runt.
In 1972 he released a superb album titled Something/Anything? on which he played all the instruments, sang all the vocal parts, and acted as his own producer. This propelled Todd to superstar status. It was followed by essential LPs such as “A Wizard, A True Star” and “The Hermit of Mink Hollow,” as well as singles “I Saw The Light, “Hello It’s Me,” “Can We Still Be Friends,” and “Bang The Drum.”
Rundgren has performed a wide range of styles as a solo artist and as a member and leader of the band Utopia. With Utopia he released two progressive rock albums: Todd Rundgren’s Utopia (1974) and Ra (1977), and a solo progressive album as well, Initiation (1975).
He is known for his elaborate and often- unconventional music, extravagant stage outfits, and his later experiments with interactive entertainment. Rundgren also produced ground-breaking music videos, initiated forms of multimedia, and was an early adopter and promoter of various computer technologies.
After a thirty-year-plus pause, Todd Rundgren’s Utopia reformed to conduct a tour. Todd brought together Kasim Sulton (bass), Willie Wilcox (drums) and Gil Assayas (keyboards). A double live album titled Live At The Chicago Theatre was recorded in 2018.
Also in 2018, Rundgren’s long-awaited autobiography, The Individualist: digressions, dreams and dissertations, was released by Cleopatra Press. The book documents Rundgren’s life through his 50th birthday.
Runt (Ampex Records, 1970) Something/Anything? (Bearsville, 1972) A Wizard, a True Star (Bearsville, 1973) Todd (Bearsville, 1974) Initiation (Bearsville, 1975) Faithful (Bearsville, 1976) Hermit of Mink Hollow (Bearsville, 1978) Healing (Bearsville, 1981) The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect (Bearsville, 1982) A Cappella (Warner Bros. Records, 1985) Nearly Human (Warner Bros. Records, 1989) 2nd Wind (Warner Bros. Records, 1991) No World Order (1993) The Individualist (1995) With a Twist… (1997) One Long Year (Artemis Records, 2000) Liars (Sanctuary Records, 2004) Arena (Cooking Vinyl, 2008) Todd Rundgren’s Johnson (MPCA Records, 2011) (re)Production (Gigatone, 2011) State (Cherry Red, 2013) Global (Esoteric Antenna, 2015) White Knight (Cleopatra, 2017)
Todd Rundgren’s Utopia (Bearsville, 1974) Another Live (Bearsville, 1975) Ra (Bearsville, 1976) Oops! Wrong Planet (Bearsville, 1977) Adventures In Utopia (Bearsville, 1980) Deface The Music (Bearsville, 19800 Swing to the Right (1982) Utopia (Netword Records, 1982) Oblivion (Passport Records, 1984) P.O.V. (Passport Records, 1985) Redux ’92: Live in Japan (BMG, 1992) Live At Hammersmith Odeon ’75 (Shout! Factory, 2012) Todd Rundgren’s Utopia Live At The Chicago Theatre (Purple Pyramid, 2019)
American progressive rock band IZZ has released one of its finest
albums in recent years. Don’t Panic makes multiple references to science in its
lyrics and the album cover.
IZZ has the best female vocals in the American progressive scene. Don’t Panic contains superb choruses, hooks and interactions that skillfully bring together the female and male vocalists (4 in total). Undoubtedly, the best lead vocals on Don’t Panic are provided by Annmarie Byrnes and Laura Meade.
On the instrumental side, IZZ is a powerhouse as well, featuring outstanding guitar work, incredibly beautiful modern synths, propelling bass and the creative beats of two formidable drummers.
The lineup includes guitarist Paul Bremner on electric and acoustic guitars; Anmarie Byrnes on vocals; Brian Coralian on acoustic and electronic drums, percussion; Greg DiMiceli on acoustic drums and percussion; John Galgano on bass, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, ukulele, additional keyboards and vocals; Tom Galgano on keyboards and vocals; and Laura Meade on vocals.
Don’t Panic is first-rate progressive rock, masterfully-arranged
and performed. It’s modern in the sense of technology and draws inspiration
from progressive-era Yes, Genesis and ELP, and fusion as well.
IZZ will be performing in support of the new album at the New Jersey Proghouse the weekend of June 15-16.
Norwegian progressive rock band Jordsjø has released one of the finest albums so far this year. Nattfiolen is progressive symphonic rock at its best. Although there are Anglagard influences, the music is not as gloomy. Additionally, Jordsjø takes the music forward with electronic music influences.
Progressive Rock Central talked to multi-instrumentalist and band leader Håkon Oftung.
What are your fondest musical memories?
Probably when I played in a band for the first time, jamming
out, having fun, fighting and playing weird gigs.
Did you have any formal music studies?
Yes, both the drummer Kristian Frøland and I went on to
study jazz music in our early twenties.
What was the first tune you learned?
Easy piano pieces, my mother taught me piano from I was five
years old. When I got eight or nine, we started fighting and arguing too much,
so she sent me to the public music school instead!
Describe your first instrument.
J&D was the brand. It was a Stratocaster-type guitar
which worked fine. Sold it to a friend in school later when I got a real strat.
He gave me the opportunity to buy it back sometime, but I don’t know where it
is now. Probably no big loss.
What do you consider as the essential elements of your music?
Strong melodies, dynamics and never to put virtuosity before musicality.
Mainstream media ignores progressive music. How did you come into contact with progressive rock?
Through the articles in Pro/Gres/Siv from the Norwegian
metal magazine “Scream Magazine”. They wrote about well known and
some hidden gems of Prog rock in the 70s.
How did your musical ideas evolve throughout the years from your debut album to your new recording?
The first tapes was never intended to be released the way it was. I just had a lot of fun making demos and making 70s prog for the first time. So it has gotten a lot more serious the last two years. I’ve become better at recording and producing the songs. I also think we’ve found our sound on the latest album, at least the way I want it to go.
We’ll develop it even further on the next one. More acoustic elements and more fuzz when needed. I think it has more spiritual jazz in it as well, that’s definitely something I want to have more of.
Your first CD is listed as a compilation of various cassettes. Did you actually release physical cassettes? Why?
Yes, Jordsjø I, II, Songs from the Northern Wastelands and Jord was all released first on tape. I copied them in my living room, which took many hours of dubbing and drinking beer. I’m a devoted collector of music, mainly vinyl records and I couldn’t bear the thought that the music should only be available on the Internet, I wanted it to exist physically.
Where do you see yourself as a musician five years from now?
Definitely teaching and doing some freelance gigging, as I do now. Hopefully still doing some gigs here and there with my friends in Black Magic, Tusmørke and Wobbler. And Jordsjø gone completely crazy, writing Jazz Masses, ballets and poetry and playing gigs only in Finnmark, under Aurora B.
Judging by the number of promos we are receiving from Norway, there seems to be a progressive rock thriving scene. Do you play live at venues or festivals?
Not so much, usually we make some co-gigs with friends or
play at small venues. We did a gig in Rome last year, though, that was pretty
cool! So we want to do it, but at the same time we play best with our friends
in the audience and clubs where 14 people in the crowd feels like a success.
As mentioned earlier, mainstream media doesn’t provide an outlet for progressive music. In what ways are you promoting your music?
Karisma Records has done some work to promote us since we
signed a CD deal with them last year. In the end, I think good music will get
out to people. I didn’t do any particular promotion work for the tapes, but
somehow people got into it anyway. And I played a lot of gigs with Tusmørke the
last years which has helped a lot. I’ve met many new people who are into much
of the same music as us, so the word got spread.
What guitars, keyboards and other instruments do you use?
Fender Stratocaster, a cheap Mexican one with a nice surf
green finish, Gibson Les Paul, Danelectro 12-string, Gretsch 6120, all through
a Marshall 1974x or a Fender Princeton, Taylor, Alhambra and Levin acoustic
guitars, Yamaha marching band flute, Hammond M100 through a Leslie 145,
Clavinet D6, Mellotron m4000d, Arp pro soloist, Korg Ms-20, Eminent Solina
String Ensemble, my grandparents old piano, Steinway Grand Piano, Elka Rhapsody
490, Klemt Echolette NG51 and Roland Space Echo, Slingerland drum kit from the
60s with four toms, Bonham size!
And what effects do you use to develop your sounds?
Just some reverb and echo.
If you could gather any additional musicians or musical groups to collaborate with, whom would that be?
I love the voice of Andreas Prestmo from Wobbler, the guitar playing of Reine Fiske, the keyboards of Ståle Storløkken. If Lindsay Cooper was alive, I definitely would’ve wanted her to play Bassoon. Sinikka Langeland on kantele, Tone Hulbækmo on vocals and harp, Christian Meaas Svendsen of Nakama on acoustic bass. And a bunch of hippies on various percussion and flutes.
Aside from the new album Nattfiolen, do you have any additional upcoming projects to share with us?
Yes, the Black Magic album is finishing this year, I hope,
and a record from a new project called Elds Mark, mellow, dark, spiritual
folk/jazz/prog-stuff. And new Jordsjø material is always in the making.
Andalusian rock band Alameda was born in Seville. The group fused flamenco and progressive rock, featuring two keyboardists, the Marinelli brothers.
The lineup included Rafael Marinelli on keyboards, Manuel Marinelli on keyboards, Manuel Rosa on bass, José (Pepe) Roca on guitar and vocals, and Luis Moreno on percussion.
Alameda released 4 albums during its first phase: Alameda (1979), Misterioso manantial (1980), Aire cálido de abril (1981), and Noche andaluza (1983). The group disbanded after Noche andaluza and re-formed in 1992 for a concert that took place during the World Expo 92 in Sevilla. Three albums were released in the 1990s: “Dunas” (1994), “Ilusiones” (1995) and the two-CD live set Concierto – 20 Aniversario (1999).
Original founders Pepe Roca and Rafael Marinelli kept the band alive, supported by session musicians and released “Calle arriba” in 2008.
Russian act Lunar Cape band has released a beautifully-packaged album titled “Lunar Folk Tales.” The music defies boundaries. In some cases Lunar Cape is described as a progressive rock band even though this recording contains deep folk music influences. The group clarifies that it doesn’t associate its music with any style or subculture and identifies itself as “popular instrumental music”.
The album is a series of fairy tales inspired by the moon, Russian and English traditions. The LP-sized set contains three discs: a Russian language album, an English-language CD and the third disc features the instrumental version of the tracks. The package also includes beautiful artwork with illustrations and lyrics in Russian and English.
Band members include Olga Scotland on flute, recorders, tin whistle, mandolin, spring drum, sound effects, VSTi; Andrey Shashkov on bass, vocals; Roman Smirnov on guitars, washboard, vocals.
Guest musicians: Paul Bulak on keyboards; Grigory Shelehov on drums; Alexander Koval on drums; Shahid Rashid on vocals.
Storytellers in English: Ozma Nagatovna and Trey Gunn.
Guest storytellers in Russian: Nastya Postnikova and Maxim Kucherenko.
The seeds of Guadalquivir emerged from the idea of Seville guitarists Andrés Olaegui and Luis Cobo “Manglis.” The two musicians coincided while serving together in the Spanish military as conscripts in Cerro Muriano (Córdoba). While at basic camp in Cerro Muriano, they listened to Miles Davis, the Mahavishnu Orchestra and other cutting edge jazz fusion acts. In their spare time they started to exchange their ideas, experimenting with American blues and emergent jazz-rock.
Later, the two friends were transferred to the 14th
Artillery Regiment based in Seville, assigned to the unit’s military band.
Although they had known each other previously, a sincere friendship was born
and since then the two musicians became inseparable friends. They came up with
the idea of forming a powerful jazz-rock band with Andalusian roots.
In Seville, Andres and Luis formed a band called Manantial together
with Willie and Tony de Trujillo, two American musicians who were great
instrumentalists, had a studio and very good gear. These brothers had parents from
Seville but were born and grew up in New York. Manantial also featured Puerto
Rican David Rodríguez.
Manantial performed only two concerts and the most significant
was a live performance on TVE’s show Popgrama, directed by Gonzalo García
Pelayo, who was reporting about the Seville music scene in 1974.
After completing their military service, Manglis and Andrés Olaegui decided to relocate to Madrid with Manantial to try their luck, and after a month without achieving the objectives set for the group, Willie and Tony returned to Seville, and Manglis and Olaegui, decided to stay in Madrid to keep trying.
At that time, they frequented the Balboa Jazz Club, where they met and became friends with three highly influential musicians: flamenco jazz saxophonist Jorge Pardo, singer and drummer Pedro Ruy-Blas and percussionist José Antonio Galicia, who played at the club every day, and delved into what was the world of jazz in the capital of Spain.
One night in January 1978, José Valera, who was the first
manager of the band Triana, talked to Luis Cobo “Manglis” at Club Raíces, in
Madrid, where Manglis was playing. José proposed that Luis set up a group to
participate in a festival with Andalusian rock bands that he was organizing
with Triana as headliner. It was the opportunity Manglis and Andres had been
waiting for. They created the
long-awaited dream band with original compositions. The two guitarists
recruited Pedro Ontiveros (sax and flute), Larry Martín (drums) and Jaime
“I had just returned from playing in Ibiza and recently arrived from Munich where I had been invited to collaborate with German group Embryo and that’s how Guadalquivir was born,” said Manglis. “A month later we debuted in this festival before 7,000 people and from there everything was as fast as gunpowder.”
In February 1978, after twenty days of marathon ten-hour rehearsals,
Guadalquivir debuted before 7,000 people at the Festival of Andalusian groups at
the Móstoles Sports Center near Madrid, along with Triana, Iman – Caifato
Independiente and Storm.
That same year, Spanish rock star Miguel Rios organized a large tour that was called La Noche Roja (The Red Night), with Triana as a headliner and featuring Guadalquivir as well. The concerts attracted over 100,000 concertgoers and featured a state of the art PA system and laser show.
Guadalquivir signed with EMI Records and released its self-titled debut album “Guadalquivir” in 1978. The color of the vinyl was green and became known by collectors as the green album. Guadalquivir became an essential act in Andalusian rock. They appeared at numerous festivals.
In 1980 the band recorded its second LP, “Camino del Concierto.” (EMI, 1980). After finishing the tour to promote the second album, in 1981, Manglis left the group due to disagreements with some members of the band, and embarked on a solo career. He founded the band Manglis with which he recorded two albums; while at the same time Triana recruited him as guitarist, in 1981.
Guadalquivir, released a third LP Después del Silencio (After the Silence) in 1983) on the Caskabel label. By then, two of the founders, Manglis and Pedro Ontiveros had left. After various concerts and a tour of Poland, the group disbanded in 1984.
Nearly thirty years after Guadalquivir was founded, Manglis reorganized
the band again with Andrés Olaegui and Pedro Ontiveros and reappeared at
various festivals and tributes to Andalusian rock during 2006-2008.
Scavenger is the debut album of talented Indian
multi-instrumentalist Prateek Rajagopal under the name Hoia.
Although Prateek is known for his work for prog metal band Gutslit, Hoia is way more interesting than the tired metal riffs. It’s truly a forward thinking album, bringing together progressive rock, dreamy electronic atmospheres, spellbinding psychedelia, haunting vocals and remarkable guitar and keyboards experimentation.
‘Scavenger’ revolves around human feelings such as nostalgia, departure, anxiety and the need to ‘forage’ to survive.
Personnel: Prateek Rajagopal on guitars, vocals, synthesizers, electronics, piano, digital manipulation; Colin Edwin on bass; Wojtek Deregowski on drums; Neerav Nagumantri on vocal production; and Priya Panchwadkar on additional vocals.