Prog in ’73? A rude state of health. The usual suspects and the more obscure come together in a new collection.
Release Date: 25th November 2022
Label: Cherry Red Records
Format: 4CD clamshell box
Having just tackled the Grapefruit/Cherry Red ‘Progressive Pop’ Sounds of the same year, we take on an accompanying volume as the points change to send us down a more experimental branch line. Some bands have crossed between – the accompanying Progressive Pop Sounds of 1973 finds Hawkwind, Caravan, Rare Bird, Greenslade, Kevin Ayers and Al Stewart were all represented in the ‘Pop’ collection, but now show their ‘Prog’ credentials, joined by some of the big names of the genre.
The wind of change was indeed creating quite some storm. Some may say the change was at its peak, not far off being blown slightly off course by the incoming wave of Punk looming on the horizon. As Mark Powell’s sleeve notes observe, 1973 was “another remarkable year for Rock music.” Where the ‘underground’ evolved into the ‘progressive’ and where, as he observes, the labels were starting to build their own Prog band rosters and where the music was being championed by Bob Harris and John Peel through the power of the wireless, the TV and their respected opinions.
It’s an interesting collection that manages to avoid the more obvious- there’s no Genesis (shock, horror) or anything on the heavier side of the rock spectrum that might class as progressive; any ‘heaviness’ coming from the intensity of some of the instrumental passages and excursions that litter the set. As expected, heading towards ten minute pieces of music is the norm. Some bands get a double hit – Al Stewart, Badger, Camel, Curved Air and Caravan all getting two bites of the Prog cherry. And it’s that lack of concession to the obvious that makes this set an enlightening experience. Plenty of familiar names but less familiar music.
Camel’s Slow Yourself Down as the opening gambit highlights the variety we could expect from Progressive artists. At times reaching into Latino Santana-ness, it highlights how the ‘progressive’ term would encompass elements of Space Rock, Hard Rock, Orchestral, folk and blues. Genuinely no boundaries or expectations. Accompanied by a spacey Kevin Ayers creation and ELP’s Jerusalem – yes, a classic hymn was even open to Prog subversion – some funky Family and some easy and bluesy Traffic, the set doesn’t hang around in one place for long.
Ten minutes from Budgie – Parents sees some improvised sounding excursions – and Hawkwind’s Orgone Accumulator cascades along in similar fashion, pounding out the repetitive riffs in time honoured fashion, sees weird sounds getting a good look-in. There are similar lengthy trips into the beyond with a Caravan medley that ebbs and flows with ease, skirting jazzy, symphonic and pastoral boundaries and possibly the most mind expanding of them all – Gong. Their signature Flying Teapot a psychedelically nuanced piece that adds fuel to the fire of what counts as progressive. Check out some of those basslines!
The grandeur of Procol Harum and Renaissance and the classical influences in Curved Air sit alongside the delicate Silver Song from Genesis founder Ant Phillips, accompanied by Collins and Rutherford, all very Trespass and very familiar to the fans. And landing in the box marked ‘new discoveries’ are Stray (a more straightforward rock approach on the familiar Move It single) and Help Yourself (aka The Helps) whose twelve minute It Has To Be shifts from funky and tribal into freeform electronic expression. In contrast, the brief Fool’s Gold (“it turns a young man old“) from Hemlock is a Neil Young-ish cameo.
The likes of Hawkwind, Edgar Broughton and Man remained resolutely tied to the underground whilst Yes and ELP showed how the album printed philosophy could yield huge rewards in terms of sales, concert draws and international appeal. Rounded off with a live version of Starship Trooper by Yes, an version from the electric and raw Yessongs album, although not quite as incendiary as the ’78 versions).
As someone once wrote – “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” More likely th e former, with some rose tinted nostalgia built in. They don’t do them like that anymore…
Here’s Badger (remember the pop-up badger on the gatefold of One Live Badger album?) doing Wind Of Change: