What does it sound like?:
PFM were an Italian progressive rock group from the 1970s. I’ve generally found the best progressive rock to be from the UK, but as I tire of the familiar greats (surely fair enough after listening to them for 45 years), I find plenty of interesting bands from almost-were, never was, and unfamilar locales where they may have been regarded as big.
Europe had a lot of this; Germany’s Grobschnitt (2 bassists and looning!), Holland’s Exseption (a progressive “Flight of the BumbleBee”, not ‘arf!), France’s Ange… All of these bands were ‘second division’ to the degree they were not mega-stadium fillers, though they could be huge locally, and many played the UK supporting their better known contemporaries. Musically and compositionally they were the equal of their anglophone peers, but familiarity, luck and precedence is often what makes you a success, and the peak of progressive was actually quite short relative to the long tail it had/ has (a PhD could be written on the presence of mice in progressive rock, by the way). It is in this context that Greg Lake decided Italy’s PFM would be good signed to ELP’s own label “Manticore” (other Manticore residents including Banco (another Italian prog act), Pete Sinfield, lyricist extraordinaire, Keith Christmas, the perrenial singer-songwriter acoustic support act of those years, and, er, Little Richard).
The PFM Manticore box set comprises 4 albums; “Photos of Ghosts”, “The World became The World”, “Chocolate Kings”, and “Jet Lag”. Lyrics are in English, sometimes tracks having been re-recorded from the original Italian. The music is played with verve and invention, and there is lots of interesting melody and humour, even warmth. All four albums have their charms. Naturally one now seems to hear Gentle Giant, Gryphon, Zappa, Yes, bits of ELP, flashes of fusion and surges of mellotron, recorders and violins, and vocals can be a bit Gabriel. But what came first here – chicken or egg? This music was contemporaneous to those other acts, and they were all playing on festival bills together. I can’t but wonder if PFM’s elan and fizz was occasionally inspirational to other acts.
“Celebration” bounces along, a hit that never was, and there is never a dull moment in this busy but cheerful set of albums. By 1977’s “Jet Lag”, they were very jazz-rock, and I doubt would not have impressed the “Year Zero” revisionists of the British music press, or the blues and roots orthodoxy conservatism of America’s taste makers. But it sounds just fine to me.
What does it all *mean*?
If progressive rock was predicated on social approval, very little would have ever existed. Much like creativity generally, it is not giving a toss what others think that gets one through, and those that like it, get it. So much in the way of musical success is arbitrary and driven by being in the right place at the right time. Many world artists did not make it ‘big’ because they were not from the UK or the USA. These days music is more global, and it would never surprise me if progressive music returned – particularly if certain herbs and chemicals conducive to sitting and listening to music, rather than dancing to it, return to fashion or become legal.
Goes well with…
For me, marking and driving (not at the same time). For others, red wine, ‘erb, exotic fungi.
Might suit people who like…
Progressive rock but are wanting something a bit new relative to the familiar greats.