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MARCO ROSSI travels back to a time when prog rock bands roamed the earth and

grown men in floppy hats squabbled over mellotron settings while spotting connections between Bach and The Hobbit.

God, did I ever get excited when the GENESIS 1970-1975 (Virgin) box set turned up. Clapping my hands, jumping up and down, hugging myself round the waist. I didn’t

wee, but it was a close thing. Like a rather simple child, I was becoming dangerously over stimulated. “Try sitting down and putting your head between your legs,” my wife suggested. I did so, and it didn’t really work; but the view was extraordinary. 1970-1975 is a real thing of beauty,

tactile and substantial, before you even listen to any of it. It’s like a square Fabergé egg, its corners brightened with the prospect of copious extra tracks and scrummy archive footage over and above the main business of presenting crisp remasters of all the albums from Trespass through to The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. I can’t stress vehemently enough just

what a hero Phil Collins was back in the day. We’ve all become so habituated to the sight of him capering about in a baggy ’80s suit like the arse half of a pantomime camel that it has all but eradicated the memory of what a fucking titan he was – and presumably still is – behind a drum kit. Listening to this stuff again, it rapidly becomes apparent that it is Collins’ chronometric precision, thoughtful, jazzy dexterity and controlled detonations that lend logic, shape and authority to songs that routinely fire out lopsided time signatures like lottery balls. Amazingly, the early Genesis world of

proggy whimsy still exerts a hell of a strong pull. Even all these years later, the sound of Peter Gabriel’s Charterhouse bark on such touchstones as ‘Watcher Of The Skies’, ‘Carpet Crawlers’ and ‘Supper’s Ready’ still has the power to enthrall, to elevate and to engender an escape from the everyday. Those lofty, surreal pastorales remain a source of great comfort in a world which is rapidly coming to resemble once more the bleak, violent, roughcast redunderland of the early ’70s. Parenthetically, perhaps that’s why prog is undergoing such a resurgence at the moment? We need those wizards in their capes to reappear, cast a powerful enchantment and save us all over again.

In other news, this last month has been enhanced no end by email correspondence with my Shindig! colleague Rich Deakin, whose book Keep It Together about the cosmic boogie of THE PINK FAIRIES and THE DEVIANTS has recently been published by Headpress. I’m at something of a disadvantage because I haven’t yet read the book, so I do apologise if Rich’s research has uncovered the fact that the band members were all Tory councillors with a fondness for bottling quinces. I say this because I have in fact heard the CD which comes with the book, and it double-underlines everything I’ve ever suspected about both bands; which is to say that they sound like fantastically demented, squat-dwelling, system-smashing anarcho-reprobates whose music couldn’t help but


take second place to the primary objective of getting loaded and naked, preferably simultaneously. By way of example, we hear the Fairies

essaying a version of ‘The Snake’ live at the ’71 Country Comfort festival in Cambridge which becomes a percussion solo at the three-minute mark and stays that way, thanks, until the 10-minute mark. As solos go, if it wasn’t for the fact that it was recorded in the open air, you’d swear it was the neighbours banging on the pipe work to complain. My presumption is that the band were playing one-handed, and ripping their kecks off with the other hand. Did I mention that it’s also incredibly

entertaining? I mean this in the nicest possible way, but you can practically smell them. Dirty, primal, erratic and a bit dangerous, you wouldn’t let them anywhere near your fridge but you’d be straight round if you wanted a band capable of rousing the community by riding a riff at maximum intensity for 48 hours. Be sure you stick around also to hear head Deviant Mick Farren’s ‘Ladbroke Groove’ – band history as droll, deadpan beat poetry.

The cosmic boogie torch is being carried to this day by HAWKWIND, who have released one million albums since their formation in ’69. Well, perhaps I exaggerate slightly, but more fool me for letting them drop off my radar after Space Ritual. Two exhaustive new triple- CD anthologies, Spirit Of The Age and The Dream Goes On (both Atomhenge), follow their story during the

less well-documented years from ’76 to ’97, and bristle with valid and compelling contributions. At their least inspired, they sound like

Status Quo trapped in Delia Derbyshire’s shed – still pretty good, in other words – and when they’re firing on all orgone accumulators, they regularly achieve lumbering take-off. The quality inevitably takes a brief tumble in the mid-80s – a pox on those heinous gated drums – but even at that point, there’s some startlingly tasty guitar work spiralling through the mixes courtesy of Huw Lloyd-Langton. Lovely packaging as well, even if I didn’t want to lick the boxes quite as much as I did where the Genesis one was concerned.

Meanwhile across the pond, IRON BUTTERFLY in the mid-70s sounded like a straight fight between Rush, Sparks and Devo on the evidence of Scorching Beauty/Sun And Steel

(BGO), a twofer which proffers digital remasters of the albums in question. It’s heroically naff for the most

part, rammed with excitable yelping, mono-browed, Um Bongo chest-beating and weird but pleasant interludes of smooth AM pop (‘Beyond The Milky Way’). Alot of fun overall, but one pines for absent friends Doug Ingle and, in particular, white-hot bassist Lee Dorman.

Now, just mention German experimental rock music and “I’m on the scene”, to paraphrase Slim Gaillard. Berlin-based cultural Olympians AGITATION FREE provide the aural equivalent of holiday snaps on ’72’s Malesch (Revisited), largely inspired by a concert tour to the pyramids in Egypt. By the time of the following year’s 2nd,they have developed proper instrumental nift but have sacrificed something of the debut album’s wayward, proto- world music tendencies. Ajam band essentially, their fervid noodling passes the time most agreeably if never quite lighting upon the heady sense of otherness which made Can and Faust so spine- tingling.

Likewise, Vulcan (Esoteric), posthumously collected ’70s solo recordings from Traffic’s late and undeniably great saxist/flautist CHRIS WOOD, consists of

open-ended, meandering instrumentals low on memorable melodic motifs but high on warm, empathetic interplay. Not earth-shattering, but by the time I was nose-deep into a rather indifferent bottle of rosé, it all made perfect sense.

Some curios to round off today’s bumper bundle, then. What More Can I Say… (Reel) candidly presents sketchy works in progress by KEVIN AYERS, muttering to himself

in that irresistible cut-glass accent. More on the great man in the next Shindig!

The Butterfly Ball And The Grasshopper’s Feast (Wizard Presents), not to be confused with the Roger Glover-curated project of similar vintage, is an audio book version of the

enduring children’s fave with music from Piccadilly Line/Edwards Hand émigrés ROD EDWARDS and ROGER HAND, and narration from JUDI DENCH and lovely MICHAEL HORDERN. Beautiful it is too, languid, innocent and dreamy: If you haven’t already got kids, I’d get boffing right now and make some so that you can light up their lives with this little treasure.

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