The perils of prog rock

I kept the gig programme from the 1980 Yes/Buggles tour

As punk simmered down from 1977 and the break up of the Sex Pistols – there was an explosion of youth cults for about six or seven years into early 1980s. Britain just threw up one 18 month musical movement after another.

So, being a bit of a cultural dilettante, I meandered into disco then New Wave then the whole 2Tone and ska wave and….unfortunately…was talked into a very brief regressive detour into prog rock.

Indeed dear reader, right at the end of the 70s, when I should have known better thanks to punk, I instead started listening to the likes of Yes, Genesis (early albums), Van der Graaf Generator, Hawkwind and Rush. These were the very “dinosaurs” that punk had excoriated. They’d been declared redundant and handed their cards by the Sex Pistols as Johnny Rotten declared year zero and a new start.

I’d seen nervous guys a few years older than me approaching the counter of Small Wonder records in Walthamstow, east London desperately trying to offload their Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer and Mahavishnu Orchestra LPs for a pittance. They begged to be free of their triple concept albums in return for a few pennies that would let them buy the latest punk offering from The Vibrators.

I’d seen Jon Anderson of Yes – soon to leave the band – on the front cover of Melody Maker asking – “why do they hate us?” He was referring to the punks. In the photo, Mr Anderson was clad in a kaftan and flared trousers. If he’d possessed a mirror – the answer was before him.

Yet despite all that – I was lured into the prog rock forest where the elves and wizards live. And worse – I went to some of the gigs.

Which is how I found myself at the Lyceum theatre in London – then a total dump – at a six or seven hour concert listening to a load of dodgy bands with Hawkwind as the final act around 1980. One of the music papers – think it was the Melody Maker again – ran an article at the time on Hawkind asking if there was “life after decomposition” as it seemed they’d been around forever.

Then I saw Rush at the Hammersmith Odeon on the Permanent Waves tour. Already moving leftwards politically, I struggled with their love affair with the libertarian right-wing ideologue Ayn Rand. As I listened to the anti-equality lyrics of The Trees, I began to wonder if I’d made a terrible mistake.

The final straw regarding my brief love affair with prog rock came with the news that Yes – the archetypal prog band – had merged with the New Wave popsters – The Buggles.

Truly this was a marriage performed in the lowest rungs of hell by Satan himself. Not that the resulting album, Drama, was terrible. It was good enough to convince me to buy a ticket for their gig at the Hammersmith Odeon where the tension was palpable all around me. Vocalist Jon Anderson (mentioned above) and keyboardist Rick Wakeman had been replaced by Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes.

According to Rolling Stone magazine, this happened because the two bands shared the same manager who thought it might be a good idea. I don’t know. But I never expected to hear a crowd chant: “Bring back Rick Wakeman!”

I left disillusioned. A broken man. And filed for divorce from prog rock. A year later I was at university and like the apostle Peter when asked if he knew Jesus Christ – I denied my prog dalliance vehemently and repeatedly.

It had never happened. It was all lies.

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