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PFM: Paper Charms – The Complete BBC Recordings 1974-1976

Italian prog major players finally stake their claim.

Poor old Premiata Forneria Marconi. They may have been Italy’s top prog rock band but their chances of competing in Albion alongside ELP, ELO, Tull, Yes and all those bands that ‘Fluff’ Freeman used to relish reducing to initials or single syllables on his Saturday afternoon rock show were always going to be tough.

It wasn’t for lack of British sponsorship. They were spotted by Greg Lake, who got them signed to ELP’s Manticore label. King Crimson lyricist Pete Sinfield wrote English words for them. They recorded five albums in English. DJs like Pete Drummond extolled their virtues, leading to valuable exposure on Radio 1 and The Old Grey Whistle Test. But all to no avail.

It’s those BBC shows, packaged into a two-CD-plus-DVD set, that show why so many influential Brits stuck their necks out for PFM. The two In Concert shows and three Whistle Test spots reveal a distinctive style that comes across better live than their studio albums. They are tight, focused and unpretentious with undercurrents of jazz-rock and classical outbursts.

Such is their instrumental prowess that you scarcely notice their vocal deficiencies until they get a proper singer in 1976. Well worth checking out./o:p

Hugh Fielder has been writing about music for 47 years. Actually 58 if you include the essay he wrote about the Rolling Stones in exchange for taking time off school to see them at the Ipswich Gaumont in 1964. He was news editor of Sounds magazine from 1975 to 1992 and editor of Tower Records Top magazine from 1992 to 2001. Since then he has been freelance. He has interviewed the great, the good and the not so good and written books about some of them. His favourite possession is a piece of columnar basalt he brought back from Iceland.