July the fourth in the market town
Farmers have come for miles around
Bringing their wives and children.

I knew it would not take long to find a fourth of July reference in the world of prog rock. One of the wonderful aspects of the genre is just how accomplished the artists are musically. Many have had a classical music training, and that certainly shows through in the quality and innovation of the music.

Prog was defined to me recently in an interview I did with Shawn Gordon (owner of Progrock Records) as a style of music that did not (paraphrased) — fit the 4 minute song profile that radio stations love, is produced by highly skilled musicians, and tends to tell a story.

The quote I use at the top of the article is from a song written by Dave Cousins of the Strawbs, it is from the Witchwood album, and although From The Witchwood is rapidly approaching it’s 40th anniversary is still a classic to most prog rock fans.

In fact this one album is the starting point for an interesting family tree. One that has helped define prog rock even today.

I like to think of the 70’s as being Prog Rock 1.0, now in the 21st century we are on Prog Rock 2.0, yet there are many links, and continuity to Prog Rock. The Strawbs are still going strong, and the last time I spoke with Dave Cousins I walked away with the impression that it would take an act of God to make him stop his quest with The Strawbs. At the time From The Witchwood was recorded the keyboards were run by Rick Wakeman. Rick brought his unique style and love of synths to the band. Witchwood featured both the Meletron and the Modular Moog, and put them in center stage. Several bands had played with the Moog concept, including The Beatles, though the only notable adopter was Keith Emerson of ELP. In fact, against Bob Moog’s advice Keith took the unit on tour. That Modular Moog is still in Keith’s possession, and while he no longer tours with it, it has a permanent home in an LA recording studio.

It was shortly after the realease of Witchwood that Rick Wakeman decided to take the opportunity to join the then unknown band Yes, but he saw great potential. I have to admit that as a Strawbs fan I was not happy. The Strawbs were still a great band, but without Rick Wakeman, something was missing.

In the dieing days of the 70’s decade we also saw the demise of Prog Rock 1.0. What seemed like an overnight phenomenon Prog was dead, “Long live Punk”.

It was around this time that I lost my interest in the music world, and moved from England to North America. In fact for a couple of decades I did not listen to much ‘new’ music at all. Punk, Rap, Thrash, I avoided it like the plague!

Prog did not die, but it suffered some serious wounds. The advent of the 21st century though has seen a wonderful re-emergence of Prog. Maybe the most wonderful aspect is that the new generation are joining hands with the old generation.

A great example is Oliver Wakeman, he has followed in his fathers footsteps, he has mastered the keyboards, and also mastered the elusive art of composing. So good is he, that he has recently completed a tour with The Strawbs, and has been selected by Yes to tour with them as their Keyboard player. Like father like son?

Prog 2.0 has a great opportunity, one that I see as a positive move in the music world. I love the prog 2.0, check out bands like Neo and Pendragon. Sure the equipment has changed, but the sentiment and the compositions are still consistent with the mission. The mission, by the way, is to create great music.

Have a great 4th, and check out the wonderful world of Prog Rock.

Simon Barrett

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