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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