Prog and Pride
Jerry Lucky Commentary July 2014
Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2014 All Rights Reserved
JERRY : Given the nationalistic ferver we in Canada experience during the month of July, I thought it might be neat to reflect on Progressive Rock and it’s place in Canada. A little bit of history and a little bit of perspective. To help me I’ve enlisted my good buddy Jean, who lives all the way across the country in Quebec so you might say the views expressed here go from coast to coast…well, almost anyway.
JEAN : As July 1st is Canada Day and, since a week earlier, Québec celebrated its Fête nationale on June 24th, it seemed appropriate to broach the subject of cultural identity and pride… Prog-wise.
Canada is the second largest country in the world, but with a population of 35,3 million. Even though the provinces of Ontario and Québec gather more than 60 % of the population, Canadians are still scattered over a territory close to 10 million km2. Therefore, it’s easy to imagine how the Prog audiences and fans are even more scattered ! And, since Canada is part of North America, where the word « Prog » has been, at best, ignored or forgotten – at worst, it’s anathema or a dirty word – by mainstream medias and the music/entertainment business for decades, progressive music dwell in the twilight zone. Seen from this end of things, Canadian Prog-lovers don’t seem to have much to be proud of… but history and even the current state of affairs tell us otherwise.
When progressive rock saw the light of day in the late ‘60s, Canada wasn’t part of it. Then FM radio stations started to broadcast full albums on the air in 1969 and it seemed that Quebecers in particular were already attuned to the new musical venture taking shape mainly in the UK. And when the craze eventually spread to the rest of the country, bands from Québec were already emulating from the likes of ELP, Tull, Genesis, GG, KC, Supertramp, VDGG and Yes, creating their own brand of progressive music : CONTRACTION, CONVENTUM, DIONYSOS, HARMONIUM, KACZYNSKI, MANEIGE, MORSE CODE, OCTOBRE, POLLEN, ET CETERA, OPUS 5, etc.
JERRY : That said, Prog bands from other parts of Canada weren’t idle at the time, although some were certainly more obscure than bands such as RUSH, CANO, KLAATU, GAROLOU, TRUE MYTH, THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS and, later on, SAGA.
The ‘80s were hard on Prog bands in Canada. Many groups of the previous decade vanished or morphed into something that didn’t owe much to Prog. But they were some that carried the torch, such as RUSH, TERRACED GARDEN and SAGA, while others did their best to please both worlds such as EVEREST, FM, VISIBLE WIND, HEADS IN THE SKY, THE BOX and ZON.
Interestingly, as time marched on more Canadian bands took up the Prog banner. Bands and artists such as Mahogany Frog, Nathan Mahl, Ken Baird, Steve Cochran, Kaos Moon, A-J Charron, Irrgarten, WILTON SAID, Karcius, Slo Gin, Jelly Fiche, Daniel Gauthier, Druckfarben, Spaced Out, Ere G, Growing Dream, The Rebel Wheel, Shatters, Half Past Four, Hamadryad, Qwaarn, MYSTERY, HUNE, Huis, Mind Gallery, Neodyme, WE are the City, and I’m sure there are more yet to be discovered.
And like in many other parts of the world Canada can lay claim to some amazing tribute bands. Granted, we don’t have some Pink Floyd Show (with an inflatable pink beaver or polar bear), but we do have THE MUSICAL BOX, CLOSE TO THE EDGE and Vancouver based THE UNDOING.
JEAN : The World Wide Web luckily gave opportunities to Prog to reach and gather fans, to link them to bands, to broadcast musical contents that were almost never heard on mainstream medias and to set up forums were ideas and musical tastes and critics could be posted, and discussed. Among the various websites devoted to Prog, one does stand out, Prog Archives (PA), not only because it advertises itself as « the ultimate progressive rock resource », but also because it was founded in Montréal in 2004 and is still operated from there. Even if Jerry’s ambition was much more modest than PA, he has been operating his website non-stop since early 2007 and his 750+ reviews have earned him an enviable worldwide reputation.
JERRY : While the World Wide Web has been able to connect progressive rock fans from all corners of the globe, the sheer size of Canada has in some ways proved to be a challenge in the live performance arena. Unlike smaller countries like England where it’s possible to perform in most of the major centres over the course of a week or two, Canada is simply such a vast country with prog fans located over a wide area it’s proven difficult for prog bands to make inroads on the live circuit. Progressive Rock festivals have been slow to get established although it’s starting to happen. The largest and most succesful have been in Québec, most notably the Terra Incognita Convention held annually in Québec city and the Marillion Convention held every two years in Montréal. There was also the Festival des Musiques Progressives de Montréal (FMPM), its latest edition held in 2009 and it remains to be seen if that event will be revived.
JEAN : In print, Jerry’s The Progressive Rock Files (2 Editions) andThe Progressive Rock Handbook – along with more artist centric books like Genesis : Behind the Lines by Robin Platts – are contributions worthy of praise… if only because they helped me through my « come-back » to Prog, after a thrity years gap ! As for magazines devoted to Prog, there is still Terra Incognita, a beautiful magazine published in French in Québec city – 4 issues per year since 2005.
JEAN Conclusion – We have every reason to stand tall and proud : Canadian musicians have contributed decisevely to Prog since its coming of age in the ‘70s right up to now. But wouldn’t it be even better if Canadian Prog bands were shown how much we’re proud of them ?... To do so is simple. Buy their records. Attend their concerts or go to Prog events. Any way you look at it, it’s a win-win situation. So, in the end, it’s up to each of us to make Canada Day last the whole year… at least, Prog-wise !
JERRY Conclusion – I would simply add that traditionally over the years Canada has compared itself to our « big Brother » to the south by suggesting we are roughly 10% of what they are. For example we are 10% of the population so by extrapolation we should see the same percentage of prog bands, but in fact, if we look at the list above, I think we’re actually a little above the 10% mark and that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy…of course it could be the red wine, but it looks to me the future of progressive rock music in Canada is very bright…very bright indeed. Happy Post Canada Day !
Jean Roby & Jerry Lucky