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Beyond and Before: Progressive Rock Since The 1960s written By Paul Hegarty and Martin Halliwell

Review by Alison Reijman

New insightful books about progressive rock come along as frequently as a Leap Year. We all would have read Edward Macan’s excellent “Rocking The Classics: English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture,” Bill Martin’s “Listening to the Future – The Time of Progressive Rock” and Paul Stump’s recently updated “The Music’s All That Matters” with his often controversial views on the whole genre.

But a whole new appraisal of prog was long overdue and “Beyond and Before” ticks all the boxes in moving the whole discussion forward and providing a 360 degree view on where it began and, more importantly, where its future lies.

The cast list in the book is particularly impressive. Just about every band in the prog canon gets a mention in relation to the contribution they have made to its development.

In keeping with its title (an early Yes song, for the record), the book is effectively divided up into two distinct halves. The first deals with the roots of prog and how an amalgam of styles such as avant-garde, psychedelic and folk brought it to life. Of course, the debate still continues about what was the first prog album and the three contenders still remain the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the Moody Blues’ Days of Future Passed and Pink Floyd’s The Piper At The Gates of Dawn.

There is an extensive chapter on the influence of folk on prog in particular bands like Pentangle, Fairport Convention and Jethro Tull, later bringing early Genesis, Mike Oldfield and Gentle Giant into the mix.

One of the most fascinating chapters deals solely with that staple of prog, the concept album, putting forward many fine examples but one of the most surprising contrasts is measuring the message of  “futility” expressed in ELP’s Tarkus alongside  Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” released in the same year, 1971.

“Myth and Modernity” again looks deep into the heart of prog to see where the recurring theme of mythology occurs. In one of the most interesting passages of the book, the authors choose two of the most important albums of 1977, Yes’s Going For The One and Rush’s A Farewell to Kings as their reference point.  “Wondrous Stories” goes head to head with “Closer to the Heart” with the conclusion being that they are both “immersive and contemplative, weaving old and new stories, inviting listeners to open their senses, but also prompting them to think about the interrelationships between past and present and between their real worlds and the alternative cosmologies projected on the two albums.” Amen to that!

Much is also made of the visual and performance dimension of prog, examining the some of the key films such as Pink Floyd’s “Live at Pompeii” and Led Zeppelin’s “The Song Remains The Same”, the latter with its hermit sequence, once dismissed as pretentious but now seen as an important link between several forms of media.

“Beyond, Part Two” carries on the momentum with a stunningly detailed and absorbing chapter on Social Critique, again bringing in Yes and Rush – and their dalliance with the philosophies of Ayn Rand with whom they did not share her complete vision.  The authors also look at the contribution of Hawkwind  and their numerous sci -fi influences such as Michael Moorcock and Philip K Dick. Even the Marxist dimension is explored through bands such as Kraftwerk and Henry Cow.

Of course, one of the key turning points in the history of prog was the advent of its nemesis punk rock.  Though the culture clash was very marked, there was a coming together of the two through bands like Hawkwind who were embraced by both camps along with the other old festival favourites here and now. The prog response was also some of the most creative periods of artists such as Peter Gabriel  and also the new direction found by King Crimson through Discipline, Beat and Three of a Perfect Pair which owed much to US new  wave band, Talking Heads.

The book then shifts to the contribution made by the 80s neo-progressive bands, the charge led by Marillion, Pallas, Pendragon, IQ and Twelfth Night,  all of whom the authors point out “wanted to play extended rock songs with prominent keyboards and dramatic soundscapes underpinning complex lyrical themes.” Marillion fans will be particularly entranced by the depth of detail given to the interpretation of their early albums.

Hegarty and Halliwell also make a detailed assessment of the female voice especially Sonja Kristina, Annie Haslam and latterly Kate Bush who took the whole view of women in prog into dramatic new territory, challenging “the large scale rock composition as the exclusive province of male musicians.”

A  chapter on post progressive introduces some surprising examples such as Talk Talk – but then moves on to Radiohead and the prog influences contained within their important body of work.

There is then an update on the re-emergence of folk as part of the mix , singling out The Flower Kings and Mostly Autumn as two essentially prog bands who use folk themes to tell their stories.

Before reaching its conclusion, the authors take time to examine the influence of metal on prog with Dream Theater being the prime exponents of bringing technical precision and completely reworked complex themes into the prog arena.

And so to the future of prog and of course, the current charge is led by Porcupine Tree along with The Mars Volta but also touches on the way the classic prog bands are still informing the work of others, in particular through the collaboration of Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd with the Orb on “Metallic Spheres.”

This is just a sample of the terrific  thought-provoking content of this hugely important book.  The depth of detail is mind-blowing and it will take several revisits to even begin to take in many of the key points it makes in its examinations and analyses. You will emerge from it feeling even more enriched and enthused about prog rock. This is highly recommended.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2011  Volume 5 at

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