Live: PFM In London

Italian prog ambassadors celebrate their back catalogue in Camden.

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Nearly 40 years have passed since Italy’s premier prog ambassadors PFM, originally and more formally styled Premiata Forneria Marconi, logged the last of their historic album chart entries in the US.

‘Historic’ because the series of releases that made considerable international inroads allowed them to claim the distinction of being the first and only Italian rock band to crack the American bestsellers. For one night in London, their current line-up revives that past while also declaring themselves fully fit, ready and relevant.

The collective’s rapid rise from humble early‑70s origins as a covers band, echoing the likes of Jethro Tull and King Crimson, attracted the spotlight for local support slots with Deep Purple and then ELP, who signed them to their Manticore label. Exhaustive European touring followed, as did that sequence of US chart appearances that began with 1973’s Photos Of Ghosts. The stakes may be somewhat more modest in 2015, but the latter-day line-up’s busy studio itinerary gives the lie to any suggestion of merely reinhabiting former glories.

The Camden bolthole of Dingwalls is turned almost entirely Italian for this evening – not that the absence of local accents should be read as a criticism. A diehard expat audience can still be exacting taskmasters, even if many of the older contingent are clearly delighted to see their old favourites in such intimate surroundings.

(Image credit: TINA KORHONEN)

Founder member, vocalist and drummer Franz Di Cioccio remains the lifeline to the band’s beginnings in 1970. He adds essential authenticity, not to mention boundless and amiable energy as he clambers repeatedly from drumkit to stage front. Bassist Patrick Djivas, practically a new boy with a mere 42 years of PFM history to his name, cuts a more earnest and workmanlike figure, and populating a busy stage are five younger cohorts, adding further exuberance to this evening’s show.

There’s no doubt that PFM are here to celebrate a substantial catalogue of favourites.

They open in time-honoured fashion with Four Holes In The Ground or, as it was known in the original Italian of their third album L’Isola di Niente in 1974, La Luna Nuova. It’s a warm bath in an immediately classic sound, with Alessandro Bonetti’s electric violin, Alessandro Scaglione’s keyboards and Marco Sfogli’s guitar all among the features in a fast-moving exhibition of virtuosity.

As they move back a year for the title piece from Photos Of Ghosts and on to Harlequin, from 1975’s Chocolate Kings, there’s already no doubt that PFM are here to celebrate a substantial catalogue of favourites. But later, there’s room to visit 2013’s PFM In Classic – Da Mozart A Celebration album – normally performed with a 70-piece orchestra, as Djivas explains – as well as a blast of the William Tell Overture. There’s even a drum duel between Di Cioccio and Roberto Gualdi. Still premiata after all these years.

(Image credit: TINA KORHONEN)
Paul Sexton

Prog Magazine contributor Paul Sexton is a London-based journalist, broadcaster and author who started writing for the national UK music press while still at school in 1977. He has written for all of the British quality press, most regularly for The Times and Sunday Times, as well as for Radio Times, Billboard, Music Week and many others. Sexton has made countless documentaries and shows for BBC Radio 2 and inflight programming for such airlines as Virgin Atlantic and Cathay Pacific. He contributes to Universal's uDiscoverMusic site and has compiled numerous sleeve notes for the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and other major artists. He is the author of Prince: A Portrait of the Artist in Memories & Memorabilia and, in rare moments away from music, supports his local Sutton United FC and, inexplicably, Crewe Alexandra FC.