“While my taste in music has developed somewhat over the past 40 years, my roots were prog – and always will be. I trace this back to when I was first introduced to Deep Purple. I was about 13 or 14, and living in Brussels. I saw the band live about the time of In Rock, and was so impressed with what they sounded like that I immediately went out and bought the album. Now, I know a lot of people are going to argue with this, but it is a great progressive record. Don’t believe me? Just listen to it – you’ll understand what I mean when I say it opened up the prog rock world for me.
I had a few friends at the time who were a couple of years older. And they were always telling me about hot new releases, stuff I would otherwise not have known about. Like a lot of male friends of that age who shared a passion for music, we had a lot of parties together, where we just played vinyl. Does that sound sad? I’m sure a lot of you did the same thing.
It was through my friends that I got into Emerson, Lake & Palmer. I saw them play live at The Oval cricket ground in 1972, and loved them so much that I had to go straight out and get a copy of the Tarkus album. That’s the way it worked a lot of the time for me. If I liked a band when I saw them live, then I had to have their records.
I also listened a lot to off-the-wall radio shows. DJs like John Peel. I always had a cassette recorder set up when he was on air. And if he played something I liked, then I’d tape it – not sure I should be saying that now. But it was all in innocence. I would always go and buy the record afterwards. For me it was all about the guitar. I also got into certain producers. I loved what I’d heard done by Martin Birch, so when I found out he’d produced a Swiss band called Toad, I went out and got their self-titled, debut album, just because he was involved.
Of course, I was a big fan of the great prog bands like Genesis and Yes as well. I saw the former with Peter Gabriel, and collected the records they made in that era. When Gabriel left, I lost interest, because I was never a Phil Collins fan. So my Genesis collection really stops once they changed singers.
Yes is a little different. I am a huge fan of the Fragile album, and let’s face it Close To The Edge isn’t at all bad either. But while it was seeing Genesis that turned me on to them, I never got to see the classic Yes line-up, the one with Rick Wakeman. I did have the chance once, but never took it, believing the opportunity would come up again. Sadly, it never did.
The same is true of Jethro Tull. I love the Aqualung, Thick As A Brick and Living In The Past albums – I’ve even got an original vinyl copy of Thick As A Brick with the newspaper; it’s one of the great records in my collection. But I’ve never seen them live. I’ll make up for that when they headline the Prog stage at High Voltage this year . Maybe I can finally meet Ian Anderson, and ask him what the concept behind Thick As A Brick was all about. It beats me!
One band I have to mention are Rush – among my real faves. I heard a song from their first album on the radio, and that did it. I was hooked. From then on, I bought everything they released. But beyond the records, I have a confession to make. When I was 21 or 22, my girlfriend at the time embroidered a denim jacket with lots of different Rush logos and motifs – including The Starman. It’s a bit faded now, but I still have it and might wear it one day again!
These days I rely a lot on my children to tell me about new progressive bands I should check out. My daughter played me The Mars Volta, and I immediately thought they reminded me of King Crimson – and yes, I do have the latter’s records. When I read that The Mars Volta cited Crimson as an influence, I felt I should have some of their music. So I bought Deloused In The Comatorium.
I also got into Tool as a result of seeing them in America at Ozzfest in 1998. I’d gone over with one of my children to see Ozzy, but they persuaded me to check out Tool, and what they were doing was putting progressive music into a modern era. I like that. While I love the past I’m not stuck there. I always look for new, young sounds to prove that music isn’t about nostalgia.
Like so many, I’ve been told that if I’d saved my money instead of spending it on records and also on gigs, then I would be wealthy. But what sort of life is that? Someone might look at my irreplaceable copy of Space Ritual by Hawkwind, which is from the first pressing, and wonder why I had to have that. It’s an obsession, what can I say? And one I reckon shared by lots of readers of this magazine.
Prog is an international language. As a politician I know I can go anywhere in the world and meet someone in a position of authority and power who shares my interest in music. I know, because I’ve done exactly that. You meet the head of a country, spend two minutes talking about the great issues of the day, and next two hours arguing about which is the best Genesis or Rush album. That just shows you how far this music has spread.”