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April 08 2020

April 04 2020

Swann's Way by Marcel Proust Ade is currently reading Swann's Way by Marcel Proust

April 03 2020

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles Ade gave 4 stars to Rules of Civility (Kindle Edition) by Amor Towles
bookshelves: partly-read

April 01 2020

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles Ade is currently reading Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

March 28 2020

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby Ade gave 3 stars to Juliet, Naked (Paperback) by Nick Hornby
bookshelves: partly-read

March 23 2020

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby Ade is currently reading Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

February 20 2020

February 18 2020

A New Day Yesterday by Mike Barnes Ade gave 4 stars to A New Day Yesterday: UK Progressive Rock The 1970s (Paperback) by Mike Barnes
I always think "Watcher of the Skies" by Genesis, or possibly "Return of the Giant Hogweed", is a good litmus test for whether someone is going to 'get' progressive rock or not. If you can't suspend your disbelief long enough to accept the grandiose mellotron chords, syncopated riffing and young men singing very earnestly about intergalactic travellers and giant carnivorous plants for seven minutes, baby you ain't ever gonna scale the heights of "Close to the Edge", "Karn Evil 9" or "Nine Feet Underground". Also, the first snare note played by Phil Collins in the verse of "Watcher" is The Most Perfect Drum Stroke Ever. (Yes, it is possible to have a favourite drum stroke.) You need to be prepared to go all in with this stuff; those who believe absolutely that rock (and/or roll) must be a concise three minute blast of pure energy delivered with maximum adrenaline, however imperfectly, are never going to swallow it. Prog rock, for me, has always been about providing you with the most bang for your buck musically, ideally over an extended period and in an odd time signature chosen as much for the sense of achievement the players obtained from mastering it as because it makes a change from the usual 4/4. You like tunes? Here, we got loads of 'em! All played in brief bursts one after another, if not simultaneously. As a callow 15 year old in a time of shiny jackets and indie cardigans, I bought "Foxtrot" on a budget cassette for £3 from Asda, slipped it into my Walkman with trepidation, and duly pledged my immortal soul to that crazy 9/8 rhythm.

Like much of the best of the genre, Mike Barnes's "A New Day Yesterday" is a grossly extended, convoluted, involved and squirrelly piecework where you never know what the next chapter may bring. It's neither a comprehensive, linear history of the time, nor a cohesive analysis of the progression of Progressive - how could it be, when even those on the scene admit they were beavering away in their own bubbles, mostly isolated from whatever their peers were doing (although initially, pretty much every thinking rock musician who heard what King Crimson were doing in 1969 put away childish things and immediately struck out for shores unknown). When Bill Bruford took a side gig playing with Genesis in 1976, it was assumed he must already be familiar with their catalogue having come up through the ranks of Yes and Crimson - in fact, he'd had no previous exposure to it and had to learn on the job. Unlike in jazz, leading prog musicians did not typically collaborate or swap places with other bands, meaning that any notion of a collective songbook or hierarchy of influence can be pretty much discarded. Faced with this, Barnes opts for a wide-ranging survey, an Observation if you will, tackling key bands and personnel in individual chapters and mixing straight biography with archive press reports and first hand interviews. It says much for his persistence at this that he even manages to uncover some fresh insights during well-worn tales of the early days of Yes, Genesis, Crimson, Floyd and the other usual suspects, as well as those with lower name recognition. There are several chapters devoted to the 'Canterbury Scene', which turns out to be less an overall philosophy or approach than a group of disparate individuals having briefly had some geographical, professional or even vaguely allusive connection to the town. Along the way, some sacred cows are slaughtered (no, it wasn't all about equalling Classical music - soul, R&B and jazz were at least as formative; no, it was never intentionally straight, white and male) and some biases are confirmed (yes, it was primarily an overachieving middle class thing - but so was punk in many cases).

That said, the more obscure bands of the era, those whose recordings have lately been rediscovered, remastered and acclaimed as "lost treasures", are mostly glossed over. Fans of the likes of Cressida, Affinity, Spring, Trees or Fields will be left somewhat bereft, as they feature here only in passing if at all. Some might justifiably say this is a shame, given that some of the most interesting and tentatively exploratory music dates from this early experimental period during which the field was wide open, and even more so when later art school poseurs Roxy Bloody Music get half a chapter. Never mind, there's always Flashback magazine, eh. As representation, the transcript of an interview with the former members of early 70s Vertigo signing Gracious will have to suffice, although perhaps the sheer bathos of this closing quote from their drummer stands as a suitable valedictory to all such abruptly truncated endeavours: "After we split up we did a Marquee reunion gig the next year, ... and it sold out in minutes. It almost broke my heart." ("After that, I signed on the dole," adds their guitarist.)

Perhaps in recognition that an endless succession of rock band stories would soon become repetitive, 'divertimento' chapters break up the latter part, looking at particular aspects of the period such as festivals, fashions, sex and politics. In truth, some of the material here arguably has little to do with prog itself ("What is this 'physical love' of which you speak?") but it helps to round out the overall picture of 1970s Britain as it emerged blinking from the psychedelic daydream.

More unfortunately, the task of proofreading this lengthy tome may have dismayed its editor almost as much as listening to one of the more challenging Third Ear Band pieces. There are numerous instances of literal repetition, often within the same paragraph, where a sentence was clearly moved without its original placement being excised. Occasionally a word is missing or a clause prematurely terminated, momentarily interrupting the flow. These flaws do not detract from the book, but they mar an otherwise impressive effort.

By 1977, a chill wind was blowing through the ranks of the progressive milieu as formerly indulged artists suddenly found their calls going unreturned (and their bills unpaid) by record companies diverted towards chasing a new generation and the hype of punk. In truth, the majority of the best work had already been produced in the first half of the decade, and bands that had reached their definitive expression (what Bruford memorably termed a statement of "This Is What We Do And This Is How We Do It") were often repeating the same tricks to diminishing effect. Barnes captures this period well too, gathering a fair spread of opinion on the great pretender, from the uncomprehending dodos surprised by their sudden ambush to the more indulgent (and commercially settled) wise beards who saw it simply as an exciting, if ultimately limiting, return to basics. Pete Brown's downbeat scepticism is likely most on the money here: "It was phoney... The punk thing destroyed the album market for ten years."

Where Paul Stump's The Music's All That Matters: A History of Progressive Rock is forthright and waspish but often overly didactic, Hegarty & Halliwell's Beyond and Before: Progressive Rock since the 1960s is heavily academic, and the numerous fan-written hagiographies are keen but usually inadequate to their task, Mike Barnes has pulled all this varied material together into an engaging kaleidoscope of impressions, accounts and facts that, if it fails to offer a holistic narrative of Progressive Rock, is never less than tremendously engaging throughout. Contrary to my initial hopes, I am left still feeling that the definitive book on prog remains to be written - but in light of what's here, I am less certain than ever of what it should contain or how it might be organised. That's fine; perhaps nobody who embarked on their first listen of some hairy maestro's side-long epic masterpiece ever found it quite how they expected, but that doesn't mean the journey wasn't ultimately rewarding. In the meantime, this will keep you happily preoccupied for at least a couple of plays of "Tales From Topographic Oceans".

February 17 2020

January 25 2020

January 19 2020

January 10 2020

Armchair Nation by Joe Moran Ade gave 5 stars to Armchair Nation: An intimate history of Britain in front of the TV (Paperback) by Joe Moran
I really enjoyed Moran's On Roads: A Hidden History. This was even better. The chapters covering the early days of television transmissions were a particular highlight. Incredible to look back on how much ground we've covered in barely a hundred years, both technologically and culturally. Moran's knack for finding a telling or otherwise delightful anecdote is unsurpassed.

January 07 2020

Armchair Nation by Joe Moran Ade is on page 319 of 320 of <a href="/book/show/25509949-armchair-nation">Armchair Nation</a>.
Ade wrote: Just remarkable to consider some of the everyday commonplaces now consigned to the past, and television is often a clearer indicator of these than most. The passing fads for cookery shows, makeover shows, docusoaps, reality TV, 'daytime telly', 'late nite telly', etc. - all now had their day and, insofar as they still exist as genres, mostly unnoticed.
Armchair Nation by Joe Moran Ade is finished with <a href="/book/show/25509949-armchair-nation">Armchair Nation</a>.
Ade wrote: Just remarkable to consider some of the everyday commonplaces now consigned to the past, and television is often a clearer indicator of these than most. The passing fads for cookery shows, makeover shows, docusoaps, reality TV, 'daytime telly', 'late nite telly', etc. - all now had their day and, insofar as they still exist as genres, mostly unnoticed.

January 04 2020

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