Progressive rock musicians loved both classical and cliff richard and the shadows, because the latter were a genuine British band playing rock n roll. Music began to move away from the northern working class towards southern English educated people, who'd been to college and university. Rick Wakeman's parents had forgone food to send the five year old Rick to a smart school. The week 'Sgt Peppers' announced the concept album as a commercial possibility, Procol Harum's 'A Whiter Shade Of Pale' was number one in the singles charts. Anything seemed possible. Musicians were already getting tired of 'the beat boom' that had ruled the airwaves for four, five years. So, a group of talented musicians wanted to create something new. With their classical music education and their love of rock n roll, they set about combining the two. Key players in the birth of progressive rock then included the hendrix of the organ Keith Emerson, Canterbury, Squeaky bum English free-jazz, girls with long blonde hair in flowing dresses that are now sixty years old, but still cool. Early electronics twisted normal sounds so a Piano became a guitar. Drums were a mix of jazz and rock n roll and a young Bill Bruford felt grateful to be 19 years old when 1968 announced a wealth of possibilities to him. Bruford of the birth of Yes is quite honest in the fact they started as a covers band playing Beatles tunes, as many bands did. At a certain point however, you wonder about doing your own thing. The theme to bonanza re-jigged with classical, jazz and pop? Why not?!?
Late sixties/early seventies rock festivals saw fifteen year old girls pretending to be seventeen and twisting in mud and cannabis, fully naked. It was allowed as the police were scared, and these things were totally outside of your parents or major company marketing. Imagine listening to King Crimson in 1969, Hyde Park. King Crimson supported The Rolling Stones and if I hadn't been minus 5 years old at the time, i'd have liked to have been there. I imagine, any intelligent sensible person would have gone home after seeing King Crimson. After all, what use would the Rolling Stones be after witnessing King Crimson playing '21st Century Schizoid Man'?
The Canterbury scene drew from the gorgeous English countryside, folk music and their ability to create melodies. Spike Milligan gave the scene some humour, the entire progressive-rock scene was so very English. That's one of the reason I am personally so proud of it when English people are rarely proud of anything they've done. I actually get Americans really down on me because I'm proud to be English. I mean, we're the scum of the earth because we ruled 90% of it as a small Island race one-hundred years ago? I wasn't there, it wasn't me!
Virtuosity became a focus of progressive rock. Why just keep time as a drummer, pretty boring thing to do, really. Bruford would play melodies with his drums, songs in themselves. Naturally, Emerson, Lake and Palmer – the first prog rock supergroup took this to ludicrous extremes, as later did Rick Wakeman once he'd gone solo. Concept albums on ice with skaters and horses and god knows what? Ah, ok then. I will talk about Yes, because these days, if I have to choose my favourite guitar player, bass player and drummer, ever, they'd all have been members of Yes in the early Seventies. There is no better music, says me. When I first heard 'Close To The Edge', I found myself switching from The Beach Boys to Yes as my favourite ever band, although Yes don't quite have the same emotional pull so i've switched back to Brian Wilson, because I've suffered depression for eighteen years. For the rest of you, please do investigate Yes, even if your best friend is so indie-cool he has all the Animal Collective albums. Progressive rock imagined that The Beatles never released 'The White Album' and instead continued to explore the possibilities of sound and different musical genres. Yes recording sessions became silly, Bruford says 'imagine five guys writing a book' – so progressive rock bands spent fortunes in terms of recording studios, then fortunes taking it out on the road. Of course, the opposite of all of this was punk and progressive rock has never recovered. Yet, it still plays a unique part in rock history, when musicians dreamt of what could be done, how far things could go and how far your imagination could take you.