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January 18, 2013 1:49 AM   Subscribe

"Prog Rock Brittania" is a BBC documentary about the great (and/or pretentious) bands that made up the UK's contribution to a somewhat controversial musical genre. Direct link seems to be busted, but Youtube saves the day: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9]
posted by bardic (31 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yeah, that was a great documentary, part of a whole series of [foo] Brittania documentaries about music: Synth Brittania was another great one.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:00 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd love to watch the whole series, but is there anything like an index or content listing per episode?
posted by newdaddy at 3:48 AM on January 18, 2013


I'm no fan of prog rock.

As Mr Wisse says Synth Brittania was awesome. Also Comics Brittania and Punk Brittania. So as crazy as this seems, given the background, I will watch this. Not because I like prog, but because the other entries in this series have been uniformly awesome, and I can stand a bit of prog in my soup.
posted by Mezentian at 4:22 AM on January 18, 2013


People! It's 'Britannia' FFS!

Watched it when it aired, especially interesting to old fogeys like me that remember The Old Grey Whistle Test. The synth one was even better IMO, some great footage of the early scenesters in Sheffield.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 4:40 AM on January 18, 2013


This might be the full show instead of just ten minute segments. Prog on.
posted by Ber at 4:44 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ah I assumed they were separate episodes. Thanks!
posted by newdaddy at 5:11 AM on January 18, 2013


Metal Britannia & Reggae Britannia were also very good. They interview very entertaining people, they all seem to have a lot of self awareness about both how much fun it all was, and how absurd a lot of it looks now.
posted by DanCall at 5:33 AM on January 18, 2013


People! It's 'Britannia' FFS!

In my defense, I am drunk, and was copying and pasting.
posted by Mezentian at 5:59 AM on January 18, 2013


Another worthwhile and related radio documentary: BBC Radio 2's History of Psychedelia.
Youtube: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
posted by zamboni at 6:06 AM on January 18, 2013


The BBC video player's message states "This content doesn't seem to be working", which is exactly how I've felt about prog rock for years!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:12 AM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is pretty great. I like it how prog rock apparently came to be because the people just couldn't help it, either because of their schooling or because the damn synthesizer could not sustain a note.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 6:47 AM on January 18, 2013


ike it how prog rock apparently came to be because the people just couldn't help it, either because of their schooling or because the damn synthesizer

Prog pre-dated the synth, did it not?
That's why I fought in the Punk Wars.
posted by Mezentian at 7:10 AM on January 18, 2013


What song are they all on about at the start?

or is is just cuts to them talking about their favourite tunes.....
posted by Homemade Interossiter at 7:21 AM on January 18, 2013


Also, I loves me a bit of prog,
NO!
I loves me a LOT of prog!!!

I like how Mastodon have gone all prog (but they are not british).

For me, Thumpermonkey are the best British Prog at the moment.
posted by Homemade Interossiter at 7:25 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I little while ago I read Please Kill Me, Legs McNeil's oral history of (mostly UK) punk, and I was flabbergasted at how many of the early performers directly referenced prog as their inspiration. That and Ian Hunter's "Diary of a Rock and Roll Star." It seems like every single punk in the books started off with long hair listening to prog bands.

It's perplexing, in that punk seems like such a reaction against prog, with the latter featuring such un-punk elements as elaborate arrangements, use of studio effects, and portentous subject matter.

And, in a lot of ways, punk was a reaction to prog, but, looking closer, I can see how it is also part of prog's legacy, in that punk also rejected the romantic songs of pop music, and shared prog's literacy (while prog frequently drew from historical and fantastic literary sources, punk often drew from explicitly political and avant garde literary sources), frequent abandonment of pop's verse-chorus structure, use of tempo and time-signature changes, and its occasional forays into concept albums or one-side epics.

In some ways, it's possible to see punk as really angry prog that refuses to use more than three chords or go more than two minutes long.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:35 AM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's buried in a post about Yes, but: Double.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:43 AM on January 18, 2013


Prog pre-dated the synth, did it not?

Not by a long shot.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:46 AM on January 18, 2013


In some ways, it's possible to see punk as really angry prog that refuses to use more than three chords or go more than two minutes long.

Or, you know, just...prog.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:54 AM on January 18, 2013


Mezentian: Prog pre-dated the synth, did it not?

No I don't think so. There's a bit in the documentary that remarks on how some of the Bach-esque synth solos came to be because the synth could not sustain notes.

Bunny Ultramod: And, in a lot of ways, punk was a reaction to prog

I think it's sort of a general rule of life, not just music, that you do not overcome or get rid of something by simply being the precise diametrical opposite of the thing you dislike. For in such a case you are still dominated by that thing, even if just negatively. It's kind of that quote by Camus to the effect that "I cannot answer the question whether God exists, because even if I said "no" I would still be acknowledging the concept itself." Oppositions are not overcome by choosing one side over the other, but by going away in some other oblique angle.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 8:00 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


The whole Doc in one Piece ...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iyPnNsY_0Pc
posted by homodigitalis at 8:56 AM on January 18, 2013 [3 favorites]



It's buried in a post about Yes, but: Double.


As he who made that post, I approve of this double. Which it isn't really, as I did just throw in Prog Britannia as a "bonus track". Speaking of which, the Yes Years doc I link to there does a great job of telling their story in depth -- good, ugly and ultimately horribly bad.
posted by philip-random at 10:24 AM on January 18, 2013


to see punk as really angry prog that refuses to use more than three chords or go more than two minutes long.

Keith Levene who was instrumental in the early days of punk (Public Image Ltd.), is on the record for being a fan of Yes, the guitar playing of Steve Howe in particular. I believe he even worked for them at some point.
posted by philip-random at 10:30 AM on January 18, 2013


This sort of thing is what happens on BBC4 on a Friday evening (tonight is, rather differently, Glen Campbell night, for example). They've been repeated quite a lot though.

Not to be a downer (because I enjoy them a lot), but the n Britannia model is a bit simplistic, and tends to the NME Theory of Popular Music. Which is to say, everything revolves around a bit of footage of the Sex Pistols doing Anarchy in the UK. Which gives away the generation that the makers belong to as much as anything else. The NME model is far more interested in preserving the bullshit notion of Street Credibility over anything else.

The furthest they've gone from the safe Mojo Story of Rock is Krautrock - their documentary on the subject was made alongside Synth Britannia, and contains bits of the same interviews. The thing is, there's lots of interesting stuff that falls between the cracks - Prog doesn't, as I remember it, have anything on Gentle Giant or Van Der Graaf Generator, for example, but rather a lot on ELP. This tends to distort the image that's presented - when you throw Peter Hammill's tortured vocals or Gentle Giant's curious (but actually quite accessible) multi-instrumentalism into the mix, the picture changes. Similarly, the Britannia thing excises Magma and their followers.

Now, John Lydon was a fan of Hammill's histrionics, as well as Can and a number of other bands that McClaren tried to stop him mentioning in public.

Furthermore, there was a lot of crossover between the different bits of the underground - punk, hippy, prog, etc - as there could hardly not be. NME snootiness was an indulgence they couldn't afford. Famously (and possibly covered in one of these documentaries) there was the Here&Now / Alternative TV tour of (I think) 1978, Crass grew out of hippy anarchism, and both Hawkwind and The Clash emerged from the Notting Hill squats.

In addition to this, there's the spectre of Rock In Opposition, which is the missing link between Krautrock, progressive rock, punk and post-punk and revolved around the notoriously difficult and austere (and frankly more than a bit progressive) Henry Cow, who have the distinction of being the only of these bands to have three women in at the same time.

And of course, there's the glorious Cardiacs, which was born in a teenage Tim Smith's desire to play both punk and Zappa instrumentals at the same time.

So while it's nice to see all these people telling their anecdotes, it does strike me as a slightly dishonest - it's not as neat and tidy as they make out. I was as interested in Joy Division or Cabaret Voltaire as I was in Yes or King Crimson; friends were as fanatical about UFO as they were about Stiff Little Fingers.

It's only music journalists who make these strict divisions, because music journalists hate music and want to see it in pain.

(That was a joke. Sort of.)
posted by Grangousier at 11:12 AM on January 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


Or to put it another way, they're telling stories that appeal mainly to the people who already know the stories.
posted by Grangousier at 11:23 AM on January 18, 2013


The two new prog bands that I discovered in 2012 are The Pineapple Thief and Big Big Train. The two old prog bands that I got into in 2012 were Nektar and The Strawbs. It was a good year. And now I'm listening to Lo-Fi Resistance.
posted by Ber at 11:47 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's only music journalists who make these strict divisions, because music journalists hate music and want to see it in pain.

true, but ...

There was a profound sea change in western contemporary music roundabout 1976-77. Not as clean a cut as the Official Story would have it but profound nevertheless. I just saw the Joe Summer doc again recently and, it seems that for him, it really did happen about as fast as lightning strikes. The Sex Pistols were warming up for his up and coming band (the 101ers) and the Sex Pistols destroyed them. At least, they destroyed Strummer. He pretty much shut the 101ers down the next day. Suddenly, a tough sort of pub-rockabilly outfit just wasn't relevant enough.

Sure music is always changing but every now and then that change happens very fast, causes all manner whiplash. A similar thing happened in 1963-4 with what Beatlemania did to all kinds of regional across North America, and again in 1988-89 with hip-hop finally landing in white kids' record collections.

And I say all this as someone who loved prog, had no desire to see it displaced as it was very quickly between 1976-78 (certainly in my neck of the woods). It's only in looking back really that I can see how rotten (or at least complacent) it had all become -- even my favorite bands. Seriously, it's very difficult to find a relevant prog album post-1975 -- the year Robert Fripp shut King Crimson down, Yes toured Relayer for the first time (their last essential album), Jethro Tull released Minstrel in the Gallery (as eloquent a swan song to an era as you're going to get).
posted by philip-random at 12:43 PM on January 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


As an aside about Keith Levene: Wiki, by way of Simon Reynolds, seems to confirm that "Levene was an avid progressive rock fan who had served at age fifteen as a roadie for Yes on their Close to the Edge tour."

...and incidentally, Levene and Jah Wobble are back together again (for now) (NSW)
posted by dr. zoom at 4:24 PM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Seriously, it's very difficult to find a relevant prog album post-1975

Tool? They're pretty proggy and were (are) pretty relevant.

Rush's 2112 came out in 1976.

As did Genesis' A Trick Of The Tail.

There are others lingering in my brain, but those leap out at me when I read something like this.
posted by hippybear at 5:43 PM on January 18, 2013


Also The Mars Volta.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 3:25 AM on January 19, 2013


And it occurs to me... by this point, taken as a whole, Trapped In The Closet is probably the vanguard of a new form of prog, only coming from a non-rock background.
posted by hippybear at 7:42 AM on January 19, 2013


Something in what philip-random was saying that's been rattling around in my brain - we tend to look at music in terms of genre - what it sounds like - but the Prog Britannia programme was actually about a scene - a web of bands and individuals who knew each other and interacted (particularly thinking of Yes seeing Crimson at the Marquee and rushing off to practise furiously). Rush or Magma really aren't a part of that scene, Tool and more recent bands definitely not, whatever formal characteristics their music may share.

It's true what mr random says - out of that scene, the music did dwindle rather in the second half of the 70s (although I have a soft spot for the four-piece Genesis albums and Going For the One).

It depends whether you count Discipline or not - easily as powerful as ITCOTCK and possibly as influential - for years afterwards you could hear loads of echoes of that record turning up in other people's stuff.

The scene/genre dichotomy is even stronger in dance music - a lot of genres seem to start out as groups of friends making a particular kind of noise, then it goes overground and within six months it's an official genre and a self-appointed master of the genre from across the Atlantic is lecturing them on how they're doing it wrong.
posted by Grangousier at 3:33 PM on January 22, 2013


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