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Saga returns to Europe
By Per-Helge

After the release of the much acclaimed back-to-form-album in "Trust" earlier this year, Canadian progrockers Saga launched a extensive tour in Europe in the spring.They played for sold out-venues in Germany, Scandinavia and England before returning to USA and Canada and playing a few gigs there for the first time in many years.

In November and December they are heading back to Europe which has always had a soft spot for their blend of melodic and symphonic music. Saga has paid their dues in Europe by their extensive touring there all through their career.

They never get tired of playing live, frontman Michael Sadler tells us. "To be on stage is what it's all about. That's the fun part of the job. To make money and sell a lot of records is of course important, but for me it's also about having a relationship and connecting to the fans. It's obvious that we wouldn't be here if it wasn't for our fans, he says. Sadler says that the whole band still loves to be on stage and perform, and that they always wants to do something special for the fans turning up to their concerts.

"I surely believe that it's no point in attending a gig if the band just play the songs as they sound on the record. It's all about establishing a connection between the band and the audience and that you feel that you are delivering something special to the fans. I still get nervous before a gig, I'll never know what I can expect, and that fact still makes it fun to be on stage. I still got that inner urge to deliver something special for the fans. If I ever loose that, it's time to call it a day, Sadler says.

Saga's newest studio album "Trust", was released in April this year; it is one of my personal favourites this year, and also one of the best Saga albums for a long time. The band seems very inspired and kind of "fresh" on the album, and the songs are stronger, which Sadler agrees on.

"I'm still sitting here and wonder what's happened. A lot of people have told us that this record is the best we've done since "Worlds Apart". And there are actually some similarities. Our three first records were recorded in Toronto, while "Worlds Apart" was recorded in London with a new producer (Rupert Hine) and completely new surroundings, Sadler remembers.

"Trust" was recorded back home in Canada while the band changed both management and record label. Michael Sadler describes the record process for "Trust" as much easier and faster than they expected.

"I think it had a positive impact on the creative process while doing this album. We used a very short time in recording the album, and we didn't get involved in every small detail in each song. If we felt that this was right we just continued on the next song. It's no use in trying to fix something which is not broken, he says.

Saga's German tour dates:
25.11. Essen, 27.11. Aschaffenburg, 28.11 Lübeck, 29.11 Hanover, 01.12.
Boppard,02.12 Herxheim, 03.12 Pratteln (Switzerland), 04.12 Augsburg.
 

Progressive Music Now versus Then
By Jeff Sherman of Glass

I am currently 54 years old and started playing music when I was eight on the accordion. We'll skip the early years except to say I had an array of mostly dull and unimaginative music teachers on a variety of instruments that included cello and saxophone. It wasn't until I was a teenager that I was bitten by the "electronic music bug" after hearing a local rock band performing the Ventures "Walk Don't Run". It was then my life underwent one of those religious experiences that only seem to happen a few times in the course of ones life. Something about the amplified sound really resonated with me and I knew then and there at age thirteen that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. (As an interesting side note, the drummer of that band was future Glass replacement drummer and mentor Paul Black).

It wasn't long afterwards I had pestered my parents into buying me my first electric guitar. Soon after that I had paired up with lifelong friend Mark Hawley (another later Glass member) to form our first electric duet "The Silvertones". We later added my brother Greg on Farfisa organ, moved Mark over to bass and enlisted the help of our childhood friend and neighbor Jerry Cook and "The Vaguest Notion" was born. This was around 1967. We learned the current faire of AM radio hits, which included The Beatles, The Byrds, The Who and a string of one-hit wonder groups (the '60's had so many, some of them very good). Pop and Rock Music were in a Renaissance of sorts and we were very fortunate to be starting our young musical lives at this time. The creative flux running through "Pop Culture" as it was called, was astonishing. 

During the late Sixties things started to change. You could feel it as a palpable thing. An actual force in the air. The Beatles release of "Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band" can arguably be called the start of this tsunami that was sweeping through popular music and culture. Artists like Jimi Hendrix started breaking new ground in Rock Music bringing his unlimited imagination to bear full force. And at the same time bringing with him other like-minded artists like – The Soft Machine.

I won't go into the long story about how Glass had a communal epiphany when we saw Jimi Hendrix and The Soft Machine play on Sept 6th 1968 because it's been noted elsewhere enough times. Suffice to say when Mike Ratledge started the thundering bass pedal beginning to "Why Are We Sleeping" that night in the Seattle Center Coliseum and Robert Wyatt climbed out over a stack of speakers and onto his drum throne clad only in a bathing suit and a brimmed hat, our lives changed forever. As Kevin picked up his Rickenbacker 4001 bass and plugged in to join his bandmates, we were electrified beyond words. Our very molecules changed at some fundamental level. We were thrown out onto the Progressive Path that night and the band that was "The Vaguest Notion" no longer fit their moniker. We now had a very good notion about what we wanted to become. And thusly, Glass was born. Glass has gone through some changes over the course of it's nearly forty year history but the core of the band, myself, my brother Greg,  and drummer Jerry Cook have remained.

I think it's noteworthy at this time to say a little something about "pigenholes", "genres" and all the little boxes that have been invented along the course of artistic endeavor. These little nametags are usually invented by people who are adjacent to the actual artists that create the works they seek to describe, such as record company marketing people or FM radio DJs. Or sometimes Reviewers are the culprits. These are usually the real creators of these cultural classifications. I call them the Makers of The Clothes Hampers. You know, it's treating art like a consumer product (which in reality it is the second you pay for that new CD you've been waiting to buy on Amazon.com). It's like we've allowed them to create different hampers for different colored clothing (one wouldn't want to mix the reds with the whites now would one?) because it makes decision making, i.e. thinking, easier.

When Greg Jerry and I started playing our own original music in 1969 there were fewer "hampers". Fewer nametags and fewer pigeonholes for music, especially "Progressive" music. I can remember the three of us sitting around trying to decide what to call Glass music for some promotional press kit we were putting together in 1971 or 72. Jerry came up with the term "Progressive Jazz Rock" to describe what Glass was attempting to do. It seemed to fit and wasn't too uncomfortable so we used it. We liked the "jazz" part especially. That seemed to say "hey, we are free to play exactly what we hear in our heads". No rules.

As popular music lurched forward through the '70s into the 80's and beyond that seemed to change. At least it did in the music for consumption by the average teenager in the Pacific Northwestern United States. Bands that were trying to so something truly original weren't getting the same kinds of breaks with the record companies here as they seem to in Europe. After all, our heroes The Soft Machine were somehow given an opportunity by no less a worldwide label as Columbia Records. Why couldn't we get them to listen to us? It would be decades before we learned the answer to that.  And that was everyone in Europe was trying to come to The States to make money. No one had any over there. And the size of the European Rock scene was so much more condensed that nearly everybody knew everyone. The United States was like a vast wasteland connected back then mainly by major radio and TV stations. All the power was in the hands of the few. Not the many. A theme that was to repeat itself several times over the course of our learning curve.

One must remember during these days the Major Record Companies - The Big Six – controlled everything. They were all-powerful. The moment they figured out the most profitable to way to make popular music (The Disco Era) they poured their energy and financial resources into that doing just that. Unfortunately being corporate accountant types they weren't concerned with creating meaningful art, so they neglected to nourish one of the most important aspects of music creation – up and coming songwriters. The art of song craftsmanship. In doing that they cut their own throats. People could only endure the outpouring of mundane, unoriginal crap spewed forth by corporate constructs like Debbie Boone or Nancy Sinatra for so long.  So The Big Six started losing their audience. Through their own greed and nearsightedness they fostered the seeds – the desire for something real – that fueled the upcoming tidal wave of change. Change that would turn their world upside-down. I'm talking about The Internet. The youth culture – their main "Consumer Demographic" started longing for something more. Some of those same seekers discovered their older brothers and sisters Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix and Soft Machine LPs in the attic and the seeds for the Rebirth of Progressive Music were sown.

So The Internet really started to happen. And as it grew (and along with it the technology of music file-sharing)  the power structure was turned on it's head and  The Big Six power was seriously challenged by a whole phalanx of up and coming Internet driven Indie Labels.  It was a true grassroots revolution in popular consumer art. The availability of music online and the ability to purchase (or steal) it for a new generation of music players called iPods has totally changed the dynamic of popular culture. Some of those changes are good – like the ability of the consumer to design his or her own playlists and not be restricted by some record company employee's idea of what you would like to hear and in what order – and some are not so good. Like the many artists who have spent their lives being taken advantage of by The Music Business once again getting screwed out of royalties for works they probably never got paid for in the first place.  But my point here was at least there has been change. A progression of some kind was happening and it was no longer just a stagnant corporate "marketplace". Bands that were long on talent but short on cash, now had an even playing field when it came to exposure of their art to the whole world.

Coinciding with these events were other technological developments in the field of digital music. Limitless possibilities in the area of digital sampling, sequencing and digital synthesizers was beginning. Why then do so few Newer Progressive Rock acts have synthesizer sounds that are even a fraction as interesting as what Tangerine Dream, Pink Floyd, Brian Eno and Greg Sherman were coming up with on the archaic analog synthesizers of the '70's? Think about that. Here's a perfect example of how "limitless possibilities" don't always lead to a better end result in music. In my opinion it's because all the technology in the world means nothing unless there is an original mind programming it. A mind with a new idea or three. It takes a mind that has educated itself by exposure to all types of books, art and music. Not one whose developing years were all spent planted in front of a television set or Nintendo game.  

Now what does all this have to do with Progressive Music Now vs. Then? I must first make the disclaimer that as a sort of "Elder Statesman" Progressive Rocker, I am not familiar with every single "Neo-Prog" band that is out there.  Though since coming out of 'retirement' with Glass in 2001, I have been exposed to quite a few via participation in the some of the larger Progressive Music Festivals like BajaProg. And I will say out front there are some really exciting things being done by younger Progressive musicians – bands like Akineton Retard and Hamster Theatre to name just two. But nothing that's really hit me like seeing The Soft Machine open up for Jimi Hendrix. And no, it's not because I have unrealistic expectations or that I'm remembering that event through some rose-colored childhood memory, it was a real catharsis. A monumental life-changing event. And obviously it has shaped my expectations of what true genius is in this art form.

What strikes me about a lot of the newer music that is called "Progressive" or "Neo-Progressive" nowadays is that it really isn't that progressive. At least not to my jaded ears. I hear lots of Peter Gabriel wannabe singers but where are the bands that can write like that classic lineup of Genesis? I see lots of stagecraft, lots of hair preparation and props but where are the great conceptual suites like Yes "Close To The Edge". For that matter of fact where are the next generation Peter Gabriels or Jon Andersons? Where are the young Mike Ratledges, Hugh Hoppers or Robert Wyatts? I haven't heard them yet, so   I'll stick with my old Soft Machine, Egg and Hatfield and The North albums.

Because it's my opinion that great Progressive Rock isn't just a guitar riff in 7/8 played blindingly fast through Marshall Stacks at volume 11. It must contain a memorable, well crafted melody somewhere in the piece. And it must have an idea behind it. A personal vision.  A great songwriter gave me this bit of wisdom when I was young "If you're song's going to have lyrics, have something original to say" And he followed that with "and for God sakes son, start reading!" I think that same advice could apply to many of the newer Progressive vocal bands I've heard.

In closing, great Progressive Rock is music that is above all inspired, well thought-out, well constructed and uniquely original in some way. The best of it has a quality that haunts you long after you've listened to it. An unnamable something that calls you back to re-listen again and again. Great Progressive Music also reveals its beauty to you over the course of time. Like a special gift that keeps on giving over the years. To this day I can still listen to Soft Machine recordings and discover new things that I haven't heard before in the 38 years I've been listening to this bands music. And when I bring something to Glass for consideration it had better have something of this quality and depth to it. After all it's gonna be competing with song ideas from one of Progressive Rocks best remaining "Golden Era" songwriters – my brother Greg Sherman. 

So what is my conclusion? What is the main difference I see between "Progressive Music Then versus Now"?

Too many Clothes Hampers. Not enough new clothing.

 

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