Wednesday 16 February 2011

Proud to be Prog

Having made dozens of wonderful friends through Facebook, most of them due to a mutual love of prog, it struck me that like the average Rush concert - and Rush of course can never be described as average - the men outnumber the women by about 30 to one. And that accounts for my perennial joke about there never being a queue for the ladies' loo at a Rush gig!

However, it does make me wonder why so few sisters are progging it for themselves.

While my sisters were getting steamed up over David Cassidy and assorted Osmondpersons, my prog world became full of astonishingly beautiful men with long hair and languid features who played just as spectacularly as they looked. So I retreated to my bedroom for about three years to listen and learn from this extraordinary music, and tuned in every Saturday afternoon to Radio One for the weekly gospel of prog according to the Rev "Fluff" Freeman. He even wrote me a letter starting "Dear lovely Alison" after I sent him a missive about the virtues of Patrick Moraz joining Yes.

That is heavy stuff when you are 16, rather than deciding which member of the Bay City Rollers you fancy the most. Which reminds me: I had a male friend who was a bouncer for the BCRs so I went over to say hello when the Rollers roadshow came to Southampton. Somehow I managed to get myself into a newspaper photograph with a bunch of screaming tartan-clad fans while yours truly was wearing a fully visible Yes tee-shirt! What a result for sanity!

The very first prog band I embraced was Curved Air and bought their astonishing second album from the proceeds of six weeks babysitting money. I wanted to be Sonja Kristina and, if the truth be known, I still do as she has always beem surrounded by prodigiously talented music men, which must be the nearest thing to prog heaven.

From there, I suddenly plunged myself into some heavy Pink Floyd, which culminated in my writing a prose poem based on Echoes from Meddle involving a stricken submarine and astral projection. I so wish I had kept it.

Then along came Fragile and suddenly life made perfect sense. Here was the music which was to form the soundtrack of my life, along with Emerson Lake and Palmer 1 (though it has taken me over half a lifetime to get into Tarkus, but we finally got there)!

So the foundations were set in prog stone in an early age, crystallised by seeing Yes for the first time on the Relayer tour and the subsequent seven or eight times in the various permutations. They will always be my torch-bearers for prog because of the way they have fused so many styles and influences to produce something totally original and memorable.

There have been some long intermissions since because of matrimonial tensions but the prog ideology within was always there, albeit temporarily snuffed out by sadly more superficial tendencies.

Doing one such interlude, I do remember listening to The More We Live/Let Go from Yes's Union album and crying for the first few times I heard it because it reminded me of where I wanted to be rather than being in a doomed marriage.

And when my marriage broke up, Jon Anderson was there with In The City of Angels to tell me it was all going to be okay through Top of the World, For You and Hurry Home.

Prog has saved my life, restored my sanity and informed my reality every step of the way since.

So how do I explain it? Easy, really. Prog rock is a journey and an experience which is totally personal to the listener. It lets you decide what you want it to be and every definition you give is right, because there is no wrong. It is all down to perception and interpretation, and the wonderful musicians who provide it never tell you how you should think or feel while listening to it. That makes all prog fans free thinkers who find their own level in the music and then celebrate it with other aficianados. It is a totally unifying force of expression.

And there is much more. Without Sonja Kristina, I could never have had an early perception of what it means to be a liberated, independent and creative female. Without Jon Anderson, I could never have understood and interpreted the wonders of life then formulated them into a lifelong philosophy. In his words "I count my blessings, I can see what I mean". And without Keith Emerson, I could never have appreciated a man who attacks his organ with knives (and he did make some pretty good music too)!

Prog has been my backbone, my philosophy, my fun and my passion. It has been so influential in who I am and the way I think.

And so far as I am concerned, prog rock chicks will always like it over 20 minutes long with three tempo changes and an organ solo. My case rests!


  1. As always Alison, you talk a lot of good sense. Like many I once felt forced to apologise for my (excellent) taste in music; but now I understand that there is nothing to apologise for ... we are the proguli!

  2. I seem to have been walking with you on your journey - my first Yes concert was on the Relayer tour for example. I also had a few years when prog seemed to take a back seat - but it never left me, even though I was mocked and ridiculed at times for loving ELP. But I was always proud to stand up and say "Hello, my name is Jane, and I'm a Progger".

  3. Hi Alison

    Just read your post as quoted by Amy over at Progressive Ears.

    It was like a breath of fresh air - sounds like we may be of approx the same vintage (I was born in ’59), and the references to the Osmonds, David Cassidy and the Bay City Rollers give it the authentic feel of a fellow traveller through the glorious early 70’s.

    It resonated with my own life experiences in some very particular ways; that sense of completeness when I first heard Fragile as if everything else up to then had been trial runs; the sense that the structure of Yes music plus Jon Anderson’s spiritual view somehow combine to give us readymade templates for getting through difficult times and make sense of the constant changes and never ending stream of “stuff” that make up life.

    Writing wise, I used to construct epic six pages poems in Anderson style, and it was such a liberating experience to play with language that way.

    Spiritually – I was brought up a Christian, but if Christianity vanished in a puff of smoke overnight I would still have a wholly intact spiritual world to enter through Jon’s lyrics.

    I had better luck in my companions than you in that a few classmates introduced me to prog, and we had endless analytical chats about the music; but when the holocaust of punk arrived in 1976, the year I left school, I felt suddenly isolated and persecuted for my love of Yes, ELP et al.

    But still the flame is burning and I don’t think anything will ever really top Close to the Edge.

    You know what, it occurs to me that gender difference has made no difference whatsoever to our lives with prog!


    P.S. There is a particularly nice thread running on Progressive Ears at the moment titled “The Appeal of Yes” in which people are describing the impact their first hearing of Yes had on them.

  4. From a prog chick to another... Great post, Alison! I also found your post on ProgEars, which I visit occasionally. Prog has had such an important role in my life that I met my husband through our mutual love of the music. Now I spend a lot of time reviewing (mostly) prog albums, old and new, on my blog, and I'm proud to be one of the very few women reviewers on the Internet (and probably elsewhere). I'll be adding your blog to my Friends list ASAP!

    Raffaella (aka Progmistress)