I remember thinking around the mid-70s: ‘this Progressive rock is all well and good, but where are the new groups who aren’t made up of members of other bands, playing somewhere locally every now and then’ (I was too young for pub rock). Then, around 1977 there seemed to be hundreds of new groups competing for attention so I began to get into Siouxsie and the Banshees, Wire, XTC, Talking Heads, Television, The Fall and many more; the Progressive records gradually got banished further towards the back of the collection.
While punk didn’t immediately kill off prog as the mythology goes, it eventually rendered many of the mid-league groups redundant – by the early 80s the main players had either split or had decided to water down their music for the American FM market. Amongst the handful to retain any dignity were Peter Gabriel, Robert Fripp, Peter Hammill and Robert Wyatt. Stump justly lambastes the terrible decline of Genesis into ‘calculated music-by-focus-group tripe’ and the risible demise of ELP (the mere sight of the cover of Love Beach is enough to put you off listening) and the even more desperate Emerson, Lake and Powell. The shockingly feeble Sky also get a deserved drubbing - did John Williams' reputation ever recover? -I read fairly recently that he had just 'discovered' African guitar music.
The music press were obviously complicit in punk’s rise and prog’s demise, but many of the same writers had been fans previously. In the interests of ideological solidarity the fact that the Damned’s Captain Sensible and Rat Scabies were formerly huge fans of Soft Machine and PIL sonic sculptor Keith Levene had been Steve Howe’s guitar roadie were airbrushed out of the story at the time, although Johnny Rotten/Lydon famously played a track by Peter Hammill when asked to choose his favourite records on Capital Radio in 1977 (I was listening that evening and realised that maybe I should reconsider my opinion of punk). The fact of the matter is that the primary reason that prog largely disappeared by the early 80s is that the main surviving players were putting out crap records.
I knew that Steve Hillage played with Sham 69 and Robert Fripp with The Damned, but did Allan Holdsworth really get up on stage with Johnny Moped’s band in a Croydon pub?
Author of Subterranean City, Beneath the Streets of London, London's Coffee Houses, Decadent London, The Folklore of London, Subterranean City (Revised and Expanded Edition), Netherwood, Last Resort of Aleister Crowley, Lord of Strange Deaths, the Fiendish World of Sax Rohmer; Secret Tunnels in England, Folklore and Fact