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Guest column - Prog versus punk by Will Sergeant

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With a new project Poltergeist making him take stock of his musical roots, Echo And The Bunnymen‘s Will Sergeant has found himself caught between a quick blast and longer satisfaction. Head of the release of Poltergeist’s debut album Your Mind is a Box (Let Us Fill It With Wonder) (out 17 June), the guitarist pits punk against prog in an exclusive guest column.

After years of collecting music, I find myself heading backwards toward my Progressive Rock roots. My new project with Les Pattinson and Nick Kilroe, Poltergeist, unashamedly owes more to Prog and Kraut Rock than Punk.

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The first band that I fell for, really fell for, was Pink Floyd. Piper is of course my Syd album and Meddle is my post-Syd album. I also have a place in my heart for early Yes, Genesis, Jethro Tull and wait for it… ELP. Remember, Punk would not have existed without them. The two ton rotating drum kits packed into 20 articulated lorries full of gear, the lavish stage shows and not to mention Peter Gabriel‘s inflatable Slipper Man ball bags, Punk simply would not have been noticed if it was only up against Quo, Alice Cooper, Slade and T-Rex. Punk needed the pompous progressive rock backdrop to stand out in harsh relief.

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Punk Rock’s lifespan was very short. It was only about a year before it became tired. Quickly the old guard started to get more ‘complicated’ beginning with two of the Punk Rock kings, Rotten and Devoto. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of music could see that Johnny had wrapped his Public Image up in Kraut Rock clothes. And we all know that Kraut Rock is just Prog with a German accent. The Buzzcocks’ Howard Devoto soon became cheesed off with the sneer and the snot and started to slip back into the progressive realm. If Mr Formula had a Farfisa Organ strapped to a wah wah peddle, Magazine would have sat well in the Canterbury scene. After the full-on assault of Wire‘s Pink Flag they moved on pretty quickly. By the time they made Chairs Missing they were starting to drift back to Prog – and by 154 it was full steam ahead into a darkest Progland. Television could have been Robert Fripp’s illegitimate sons had they known how to rig up two Revox tape machines creating never ending loops of interplaying guitar wizardry.

During the short year that Punk existed, there were bands that masqueraded, or, by no fault of their own, were hailed as Punkish. The truth was they were as progressive as any of the early 70s bands. My favourites back then, The Residents and Pere Ubu, made some of the most Progressive records ever but they were all a bit odd – and Punk liked odd.

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Today like the tattered remnants of a Kings Road Punks’ flaccid Mohican, Punk is all but forgotten. The American Garage bands of the sixties, The Standells, the Elevators and of course The Stooges had had it all nailed years before. Now we get the odd BBC Four documentary about the Pistols or The Clash. When was the last time you played ‘Alternative Ulster’ or ‘New Rose’? ‘Teenage Kicks’ does get wheeled out every time the late great John Peel is mentioned.

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So what has it achieved really? A few kids wear CBGB’s or Ramones t-shirts without knowing the meaning of either. We are more screwed down by the Man than ever before. We are told what to buy from a TV or computer that we have all invited into our homes. Big stadium bands like Radiohead, The Flaming Lips and Sigur Rós tour with spectacular light shows. The double neck Gibson EDS-1275 SG is very much the hippest axe once again.

I loved Punk when it kicked in and being a Prog fan as a kid, my mind was opened up enough to be able to accept instantly the outsider aspects of Punk. Do not fear Prog. It’s only music that takes your mind to another place. Yes, it’s nuts, difficult and sometimes ridiculous, I love that about it. Say it loud and say it proud “Progs Not Dead and never has been.”

Will Sergeant

For more, including live dates, head to Daspoltergeist.com.


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