Progressively older – and not ashamed of it

I feel I can finally admit that I am a long-term fan of progressive (prog) rock. You know, that music that tells peculiar, intense stories using synthesisers and unlikely music breaks. With songs that go on and on. And on.

I blame my older siblings for my weakness; as a teenager, I sat in my tiny bedroom week after week trying to enjoy my Top of the Pops soundalike albums (worth listening to now if just for the shock value), whilst in the room next door my brothers blasted out Yes, Rush, Led Zeppelin, Uriah Heep, Emerson Lake and Palmer, and Deep Purple. I couldn’t ignore it.

I had always been entranced by harmonies and was an aspiring poet (if somewhat lacking in talent). Add to this my conviction that I was ‘deep’ and it comes as no surprise when something in that progressive music spoke to me. I started to ‘borrow’ their albums, casting TOTP to one side. I remember they had the most amazing covers… those 70s LPs and the stories contained within simply blew me away.

Of course, it is totally uncool to admit to liking prog rock when many of my friends like dance, trance, garage, dustbin (?) music, but who from a certain era hasn’t got a tiny snippet of Dark Side of the Moon playing somewhere in their head? And don’t shout punk rock at me. There are some that declare punk was the death of prog, but did you know that Genesis and Pink Floyd were amongst the biggest selling artists in the 80s and 90s? Up yours, Sex Pistols.

In the 1990s, a bottle or two of wine with a certain group of friends was often followed by dramatic dancing to Ripples, from Trick of the Tail. You know who you are, dramatic dancers. I blame my dance teacher at King Alf’s, who taught us the Laban technique, which seemed to involve lots of expressive arm movements and flailing around on the floor. Perfect for an erstwhile prog rocker, perfect for a drunken Genesis moment.

This week I’ve rediscovered an album that I haven’t really listened to since my ‘angst’ era way back when in the 1970s. And guess what? It still evokes the same feelings now as it did then.

Wind and Wuthering was released by Genesis in 1976. Exactly the time when my hormones were hurling themselves around and sealing me into my bedroom to sing (hah!) lyrics that described how I felt. Listening to it this week, a hundred memories flooded into my head. When Afterglow, the final song started, a hundred sensations flowed round my limbs. I knew all the words, 30 years after I listened to it for the last time (when I moved on to Squeeze and Elvis Costello, for my sins). I read on Wikipedia earlier that the melody of Afterglow is similar to Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. I quite like that song too, in context.

Rather than dismissing my nostalgia for naff music, my talented musical teen is actually rather interested in the genre, which I’ve been playing to him in the car. He is very impressed that I can sing in harmony (still got it).

Maybe he’ll go on to revive prog rock, and bring it to a new audience. He might even make it cool again. However, maybe it still is? If you Google ‘prog rock bands’, after the usual suspects some unexpected more modern names appear; Supertramp, Radiohead – and Spock’s Beard. Must listen to them, after a bottle of wine and with a certain group of friends. Rock on!



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