Italian progressive rock – a beginner’s guide featuring PFM, Il Balletto Di Bronzo and Quella Vecchia Locanda

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PFM Albums

At the end of the 1960’s the Italian music scene was paused for a renaissance, Getintothis’ Jonathan Butters on the dawn of new inventive rock music.

As with much of Europe, a new view on the possible entered creative minds and the start of the 1970s, with more focus than the previous years of love and drop-out.

Italy swung to the Far Left in politics and the young became highly suspicious of the church, the influence of the USA and it’s tragic SE Asian exploits.

There were  violent terrorist outrages. Something new was required. It was delivered in sackfuls as a new musical genre was born.

Back in the surreal world of 1970s British secondary education, choosing O’Level subjects, cheap package holidays to Spain, hobbies, ultra-violent football fans, The Goodies and Top of the Pops; album-based rock music was the antidote for teenagers too young to have fully engaged with the Swinging Sixties.

The author engaged in a hobby in the mid-1970s (photo credit Jab!Film)

I’m at school, it’s Monday and our year is second in the queue for school dinners. Cheese and onion pie today… result! Even better, there’s a rumour of Manchester Tart.

Behind me is the start of the ultra-cool 4th years (Year 10 in new money). 4th years don’t talk to 2nd years unless there is going to be violence, a prank or something is for sale.

It’s 1975, so the goods for sale are records.

Before I get my pie and tart I have been relieved of some cash (from the paper round) and I’m the proud owner of American Hard Rock band Mountain’s Nantucket Sleighride (great sleeve) and PFM’s The World Became The World (great sleeve with a die-cut hole in it).

I know that one track on the Mountain record is used in the TV theme tune for Weekend World but I’ve never heard of PFM.

When I get home that afternoon, rather than listen to the music on the TV behind the test card (can you imagine that being all that was available), of course my new records go straight onto the radiogram.

I’m amazed at this band PFM. Totally amazed! Subsequently I find out that they are Italian and that there’s a huge rock scene in Italy – later named RPI… Rock Progressivo Italiano.

I’ve never heard Dark Side of the Moon – adventures of a Prog neophyte

Being a fan and collector of the then current UK prog output: King Crimson, Genesis, Soft Machine, ELP, Gentle Giant, Atomic Rooster, Pink Floyd, Barclay James Harvest, etc., I fell into the trap of assuming all the best stuff was British.

To some extent that was excusable as the music press concentrated on the home-grown and American bands. There were few places to hear this music at all. There was some snobbery as well.

“We wanted to put some improvisations between the singing parts and we had to make up our minds about the style to follow… After having been to the Isle of Wight festival, it was clear to all of us that we couldn’t keep on playing the usual songs with verses and refrains.

TONI PAGLIUCA, LE ORME (PROGARCHIVES.COM)

The breakthrough comes when PFM – full name Premiata Forneria Marconi – play the Old Grey Whistle Test in 1975.

To break through into the English-speaking markets, they re-record and re-release two of their Italian albums and go on tour to promote their latest one – Chocolate Kings.

The more open-minded music fans start asking their record shops to order Italian progressive rock and they go to the mail order catalogues to find what else is available.

They were rewarded with the discovery of earlier Italian Rock bands such as: Ill Mucchio, New Trolls, Le Orme, Fabio Celi E Gli Infermieri, Il Quelli and Panna Fredda; and the later progressive manifestations: PFM, Quella Vecchia Locanda, Il Balletto Di Bronzo and Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso.

If you mine this rich source you will find hundreds of bands.

Liverpool’s new jazz progression – a scene fuelled by innovation and social commentary

It’s stunning to think that much of this music is unknown outside of Italy. It was a huge movement in the early 1970s and dozens of these Italian bands were at least as good as their counterparts in other countries.

What made the RPI scene really interesting was the recent political and social history of the country and the way the musicians brought in so many wide influences to this creative explosion.

Musicianship was always a big aspect and I love the mystique of the Italian lyrics. With a few exceptions, most of the musicians were very left wing and were politically active.

Here are some suggestions so you too can be as cool as a fourth year school kid in 1975.

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