Prog Awards _______
It’s that time of the year again: when the great and good of the progressive music scene don their finery and come together to celebrate the music we all love, back in Shakespeare’s lavish Under globe. Here’s how it all went down…
The winners. The stories. The gossip. It’s prog’s biggest night of the year!
Sir Lenny Henry. Let’s just repeat that. Sir. Lenny. Henry. At the Progressive Music Awards. And no, this wasn’t just a gratuitous invitation sent to the great comedian in order to get cheap publicity. He’s there with King Crimson’s Jakko Jakszyk. And what’s more, Sir Lenny embraces the occasion with real vigour.
He’s very keen on the impressive Roger
Dean exhibition put together for the night by Trading Boundaries, and even makes a point of telling John Miles, recipient of the Outstanding Musical Achievement award, how much he loved one of Miles’ shows back in 1975! There’s no doubt Sir Lenny is charmed by the convivial atmosphere. But then, that’s what makes the Progressive Music Awards special.
“Everywhere I look in the room, it’s full of friends or blasts from the past,” says Mike Portnoy, a sentiment echoed by his Sons Of Apollo bandmate Derek Sherinian.
“This is my first time here,” Sherinian says. “It’s amazing. Just seeing so many legends, and they’re all approachable. It’s like a big family.”
Prog editor Jerry Ewing emphasises the special atmosphere here in his introductory speech, reflecting on the remarkably positive vibe. He also reads out part of a lengthy letter from the absent Rick Wakeman. This is the first Progressive Music Awards that Wakeman has missed, as he’s currently on tour with Yes featuring ARW, and he’s clearly very disappointed not to be here. Mind you, most of his missive is apparently, erm, too inappropriate, as only Wakeman can be!
Prior to the awards themselves, the Beatrix Players perform two songs. One is their new single All That Thinking, and they also play a highly stylised version of Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt, which seduces everyone with its texture and grace. The band also pick up the opening award of the night, Limelight, which proves to be a very popular choice.
Everyone is then left stunned by host Matthew Wright’s choice of attire as he takes to the stage. As Marillion’s Steve Hogarth later remarks: “It looks like something I scraped off the roof this morning!”
This is Wright’s fourth year as host, and he has never looked more in tune with the occasion. Short of donning a cape, he couldn’t have looked more elaborate in his patterned velvet suit. “This suit screams prog!” Wright exclaims as he gets into the groove.
The aforementioned Jakszyk makes the first of two appearances onstage, picking up the Video Of The Year Award on behalf of King Crimson for Heroes. But he has a little surprise up his sleeve, or rather in his jacket: he pulls out a letter, which has a short message from none other than Robert Fripp: “King Crimson were created for the video age. And now the public has finally acknowledged this.”
Well, it’s better than just saying, “Thanks!” The acclaimed festival Be Prog! My Friend wins the award for Event Of The Year, while Steve Hillage picks up the Reissue Of The
“Nobody ever says it, but Carl, thank you!”
Year award for Searching For The Spark, and Anathema’s Vinnie Cavanagh is delighted to be sitting next to Hillage tonight.
“I got to tell him I was one of his pothead pixies when I was 17 years old and working in a record shop. I’m not sure how pleased he was to hear that, but it was great for me to meet someone who meant so much when I was younger, and helped get me into this music.”
Anathema themselves pick up the Album Of The Year award for The Optimist, and Danny Cavanagh later promises that they won’t lose this one, as they did with a previous award.
Tim Bowness’ Lost In The Ghost Light is honoured with the Album Cover Of The Year award, handed over by prog art legend Roger Dean. Bowness and designer Jarrod Gosling pick it up, although they do little to enhance their self-styled reputation as the Morecambe And Wise of prog! They probably need Rick Wakeman to write their scripts.
Portnoy presents the International Band Of The Year award to Opeth, and Mikael Åkerfeldt, like many of the recipients, hasn’t prepared a speech. Instead, he grabs the chance to remark that the band still occasionally do a cover of Napalm Death’s You Suffer, which is an extraordinary two seconds long!
Will Smith hands over the UK Band Of
The Year award. The comedian and novelist is delighted that Marillion are the recipients, as he tells everyone, “As far as I’m concerned, they are the band of every year!” Well, he did once do an entire routine at the Edinburgh Festival based around them, so you can say he’s something of a fan. Hogarth takes the opportunity to introduce each band member to the assembled throng, just to prove he’s not yet drunk enough to have forgotten their names.
The peripatetic Jakszyk is back onstage to hand over the Outer Limits Award to Mark King, and relates how a call from the bassist 26 years ago saved him from bankruptcy!
“This is only the second award I’ve ever won,” says King. “The other one was for being the worst-dressed man of 1989!”
He glances knowingly over at Wright, who could be a contender in that category this year!
Steve Rothery is a massive fan of Steve Hackett, so it’s appropriate he gets the chance to hand over the Chris Squire Virtuoso award to the latter, who seems genuinely surprised by the honour. And does Hackett let out a secret when he tells us that he and Rothery are talking about working together?
“I didn’t write anything down because I wasn’t expecting this,” Hackett says later,
“so what I said was all off the top of my head.”
Voivod drummer Michel ‘Away’ Langevin, one of the nicest people you could ever wish to meet, is overcome to be in a room filled with such luminaries. “I’ve always loved
Steve Hackett and Steve Hillage. But for me, the biggest thrill is knowing that I’m so close to Peter Hammill. He’s such a big hero of mine. However, I don’t want to meet him. I honestly wouldn’t know what to say to him. How do you talk to a person who’s been such a massive influence on you?”
Accepting the Visionary Award on behalf of the band, Away inevitably cites
Van der Graaf Generator as being hugely important in Voivod’s development, as well as pointing out that this is the first award they’ve ever been given.
Towards the end of the night, Away is introduced to Hammill, and the pair amiably chat about music and their love for being ‘awkward buggers’, as the latter once dubbed those like himself who get the Visionary accolade.
A new category, the Industry VIP Award, is given to Max Hole and presented by Andrew Daw, one of his protégés at Universal Records. In a near 50-year career, Hole has done much to develop and nurture progressive music, as promoter, manager and record company executive. It’s incredible to think that the first gig he ever promoted was The Who at Canterbury University, supported by Genesis. The fee? A princely £1,000!
Sonja Kristina warms to her task of presenting the Lifetime Achievement award to Eddie Jobson. She relates how he was brought into Curved Air to replace Darryl
Way and Francis Monkman when he was just 18. Jobson disagrees, though, saying he was only just 17 at the time. For someone that young to be asked to take over two such crucial roles is staggering.
The man himself relates how he bought the debut albums from ELP and Curved Air in 1970, and assiduously learnt the keyboard and violin parts. He also pays homage to his former UK bandmates Allan Holdsworth and John Wetton, both of whom passed away recently.
These two are also acknowledged at the start of the awards, when images of those talents we’ve lost in the last year pass across the screen. It’s a sombre yet also warming reminder of these giants, and throughout the evening these people are also acknowledged by award recipients. Perhaps Mike Portnoy sums it up best when he says: “The music is timeless, but we are not.”
And so to the last award of the night, the most prestigious one of the lot: the Prog
God. This year it goes to Carl Palmer, and Danny Baker is given the job of presenting it. Widely recognised as a huge ELP fan, Baker’s
“Everywhere I look in the room, it’s full of friends or blasts from the past.”
impassioned speech stirs everyone. He relates how, at the age of just 14, he went to see the trio at the London Pavilion in Piccadilly. The date is forever embedded in his memory: December 15, 1971. “I’d never heard anything like it before,” he exclaims.
It remains the best gig Baker has ever seen, and it meant so much to him that he actually brought along vinyl copies of ELP’s albums tonight, plus a tour programme. And to introduce Palmer onstage, he pulls out the press release that was sent out with the band’s debut album, and he reads out the passage about the drummer!
We get a montage of footage spanning the iconic drummer’s lengthy career. It includes The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown (Brown himself is present tonight, in an outfit that rivals that of Wright’s), Atomic Rooster, ELP, Carl’s Palmer’s PM, Asia and Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy – a suitable reminder of how this man has spanned the whole prog era.
Palmer himself pays due homage to the important roles played by Keith Emerson and Greg Lake in his life. “We were never the greatest of friends,” he admits, “but there was definitely a magic between us.”
He also mentions the loss of John Wetton, who was part of the classic Asia line-up alongside the drummer. And amusingly he relates how it’s “Only taken me 50 years to become an overnight success!”
Palmer rightly highlights how ELP “Set the blueprint for this English art form” called prog, and it makes you realise that this man has been part of our lives for so long, it’s hard to imagine what music would be like without him.
“I owe so much to Keith and Greg for where I am today. Without them, I would have been somewhere, just not here.”
Baker interjects towards the end of Palmer’s speech to make a very apposite point. “Nobody ever says it, but Carl, thank you!” as he grabs the drummer’s hand in a sincere gesture that gets everyone applauding.
Palmer counters that with an equally heartfelt comment of his own: “On behalf of Keith, Greg and myself, thank you.”
It’s a fitting finale to what has been unquestionably the most memorable
Prog Awards so far.
“You know, when you walk into this room and see so many faces – some familiar, others not, then you feel like you’ve come home,” says Sonja Kristina afterwards. “It’s a family gathering once a year, and I love it.”
But the most oft-used phrase of the night is… “Where’s the bar?” Several musicians ask this vital question at various times in the night as they search for extra sustenance.
And who knows how many artistic plans have been hatched tonight? As Mikael Åkerfeldt says: “There are just so many amazing musicians here. I would love to do projects with even half of them.”
To watch Sir Lenny Henry and also Al Murray wandering around with permanent smiles on their faces is a fine representation of what makes this a unique occasion.
There are no egos, no attitudes. This is a community who come together from all parts of the globe and all areas of the prog world in a spirit of camaraderie.
“I cannot believe who’s here,” says Amy Birks, vocalist with the Beatrix Players.
“To get the chance to perform in front of these legends is something I could never have imagined happening to us. And we’ll never forget this night.”
Perhaps Peter Hammill best sums up the feeling on the night. “Every year, coming here is a pleasure. It’s déjà vu.”
Here’s to 2018, when we get to do déjà vu all over again.
For all the coverage on the Progressive Music Awards, see www.progmagazine.com.