Produced by Milan’s D&D Concerti, Prog Exhibition was a two-day event held in Rome in November to celebrate 40 years of Italian Progressive Rock, writes Mike Clark. Featuring five groups per night, the event was staged in a packed 2,400-seat Teatro Tendastrisce on the outskirts of the Eternal City, with fans arriving from as far afield as Japan, Mexico, Costa Rica and the US, as well as from all over Europe.
This was no surprise, as the headlining bands all have large foreign followings and each had a very special guest on stage: Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull), John Wetton (King Crimson and Asia), David Cross (King Crimson), Thijs Van Leer (Focus) and David Jackson (Van Der Graaf Generator). The first night’s opening bands (Sinestesia and Maschera di Cera) were followed by The Trip, Aldo Tagliapietra (one of the founders of Le Orme) with two more recent
but long-standing members (Tony Pagliuca and Tolo Marton) and PFM (Premiata Forneria Marconi). On the second evening, La Periferia del Mondo and Abash warmed up the enthusiastic crowd for Nuova Raccomandata con Ricevuta di Ritorno, Osanna and Banco del Mutuo Soccorso.
To facilitate logistics and avoid obstructing camera sightlines – the event was recorded for a DVD – it was decided to use the venue’s in-house Apogee PA. However, audio, lighting and video contractor Amandla Productions of Lucca brought in six S218 subs from the main Martin Audio rig it uses on tour with PFM, plus Martin near and down fill enclosures and monitors. Since five of the ’70s bands had a guest with whom they’d rehearsed only briefly, the members of one group were performing together after a considerable hiatus and another (The Trip) was playing together for the first time in public in 38 years, monitors were of vital importance.
The Yamaha PM5D-RH digital console chosen (identical to the one on FOH duty) was manned by Stefano Mariani for everyone except Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, who brought their own engineer. He used the desk almost to the max, with 48 inputs, 22 aux (20 for monitoring and two effects sends), and 48 direct digital outputs for the Tascam X-48 multi-track recording set-up backstage.
Mariani particularly appreciated the console’s selective EQ notches, which are of fundamental importance with high on-stage SPL. He explained: “I had 14 Martin LE12j at my disposal, plus two LE2100 for PFM bass player Patrick Djivas, and the majority of the other bassists, two systems with an F12 and an S18 sub each (one as a drumfill, the other for PFM keyboard player Vittorio Nocenzi) and, lastly, two sidefills made up of an S218 sub and an F215. The only two IEM systems were used by PFM’s drummer and front-man Franz Di Cioccio and Ian Anderson.
Alfonso La Verghetta, FOH engineer with Naples’ Osanna (famous for its theatrical shows, complete with masks and make-up), mixed and recorded the band’s recent Prog Family album in his Italy Sound Lab studio in Naples. He has used the PM5D-RH for years, finding it fast and precise and making considerable use of its on-board effects, as did Banco del Mutuo Soccorso’s Carlo Di Filippo, a die-hard analogue fan, who admitted the PM5D was a standard tool for this type of gig. On the other hand, Marco Posocco, FOH sound engineer with PFM for seven years, brought along an analogue outboard rack with a Summit Audio DCL-200 comp, Empirical Labs Distressor EL-8, two dbx 160A, PCM 80 reverb, TC Electronics M2000 and D-Two delay.
He added: “I used the PM5D-RH in quite an ‘analogue’ manner, but make intense use of the VCAs to control the volume of channels I didn’t have access to because they were on other layers. I also recalled stored effect presets from the internal memory, instead of changing scene.”
Although not storing a scene for each song, because PFM varies arrangements considerably at each performance, Posocco appreciated the total recall facilities for Gain, EQ, etc: “At shows where you don’t have your own production set-up, you can set the console exactly like your regular touring desk.”
Milestones in PFM’s long-lasting international success story include gigs at Reading Festival and London’s RAH, an album with lyrics by Pete Sinfield and a recording with Peter Hammill. The crowd literally erupted when the Milan band was joined on-stage by Ian Anderson for Bourrée, My God and La Carrozza di Hans (one of PFM’s post popular pieces), and what should have been a couple of songs became a high-power spontaneous session only seasoned pros can ensure – meeting with a standing ovation from a cross-section of die-hard fans from the ’60s and ’70s and new converts to the Prog cause.