The First Festive Fifty Of Them All

In 1976, in those odd in-between days between Christmas and New Year when you’re not quite sure if the country is on holiday or at work, fourteen-year-old me listened avidly to John Peel broadcasting his Festive Fifty songs of the year on BBC Radio One.

Unlike subsequent years, this was an all-time listing, summed up here in twelve minutes.

I’m going to make a cup of tea while you watch and marvel at it.

Good, innit?

Still stands up to this day as a superb list, combining the obvious …

… with the idiosyncratic

… and the occasional complete curve ball

There’s even a couple of Genesis tracks. But we shall move swiftly past THOSE.

Oh, and this Prog Classic by Yes sneaked in at number 50,making it the first Festive Fifty record to be broadcast. Bet Peel LOVED that.

There was no chart the following year, but it resumed in 1978 and continued in its more familiar role as a chart of songs that came out in the current year, until the DJ’s untimely death in 2004.

Strictly speaking, of course, it wasn’t Peel’s Festive Fifty at all – it was, as he frequently stressed, his listeners’ Festive Fifty.

Quite a few fans have carried on the tradition to this day, selecting or voting for tracks they think would have made the chart, had Peel still been with us. Again, these are all well worth checking out.

Special mention to Dandelion Radio, an Internet radio station which plays Peelmusic. They do a Festive Fifty every year, voted for by listeners, and you can hear it every day from Xmas Day until the end of January. They’re fully PRS licensed too, btw, which I think Peel would have liked.

Prog Rock (and more) from Italy

Italy’s footballers have the daunting task of stopping the Spanish juggernaut this evening, against a backdrop of yet another match-fixing scandal engulfing the Italian domestic game.

However, last time such a scandal erupted was in 2006, and that was the year that a dishevelled, unfancied Italian team got off their collective backsides and actually won the World Cup, in a final match that was less famous for the result than for Zinedine Zidaine’s headbutt on Marco Materazzi.

Musically, Italy has a rich history dating back to medieval times. Most people know Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” – this is “Winter” by I Musici, which has an unexpectedly great video.

The first Italian band I remember being aware of was PFM (Premiata Forneria Marconi – which is apparently Italian for “Award-winning Marconi bakery”.

They were the first Italian band to use a Moog synth in the seventies and can be said to have invented Italian prog rock.

As you can hear from the videos embedded below, their music was very much influenced by their British contemporaries like Yes and especially Genesis. Two things set them apart – first, the vocals. The band never rated their vocals and later in their career took on a specialist lead vocalist, but I quite like the gentler, more pastoral feel to the vocals on their earler stuff. And the keyboard lines are so much more melodic than anything produced by Rick Wakeman or Tony Banks.

For every PFM fan on facebook there are 5.65 fans of Yes, which seems unfair to me.

Impressioni Di Settembre – this 1972 clip is a bit grainy and the sound quality is not great but you can hear what they’re about.

Greg Lake of the prog giants ELP signed them to Manticore records and they released a few English-language albums, notably “The World Became The World”.

River Of Life – a pastoral, folky feel to this one at the beginning. Definitely a bit like King Crimson. Lyrics by “Mr pretentious” Pete Sinfield (“a vale of tears for the virgin birth”. Right on, Pete!)

This album also included a re-recording of “Impressioni di settembre” as the title track. This was their last collaboration with Pete Sinfield, as the group were not entirely pleased with the content of his English lyrics. (I reckon that prior to 1975 their English was not good enough to recognise bad poetry)

Which brings me to an interesting point – I love PFM, but I like their Italian stuff far better. I suspect this may be because I don’t understand Italian, so I remain in blissful ignorance of the lyrics.

May do a Top Ten worst prog rock lyrics one day. Watch this space.

Moving more up to date, Koine are a good indie-rock band. The big beautiful Italian vocals work really well with the jangly guitars. This one hits a classic rock groove towards the end and is none the worse for it. (The song actually finishes around 3.23, I wouldn’t bother with the two minutes of credits after that)

And finally, “La Cacada” by Checcio Zalone is currently number one in the Italian dance charts. I like this, its got a good beat. And still with the lovely voice. He’d have been singing opera back in the days of Vivaldi. But with worse teeth.

Ukraine tomorrow, a country which, I think it is fair to say, has not made a huge splash on the international music scene for one reason or another. Is this justified? Find out tomorrow, unless you’re Ukranian in which case I guess you already know the answer.