Contrary to popular belief, progressive rock didn’t disappear with the advent of punk, and the lack of media support didn’t prevent new bands from forming and new music being created. It is hard to imagine these days, with everyone being permanently connected, but there was a time not long ago when communication was by word of mouth and letter. With no coverage by much of the media, it was down to fanzines and independent magazines to spread the word of what was happening within the progressive rock scene, what was being released, and who was worth going to see in concert. Most of these magazines survived for just a few issues, while others continued for many years, all having their part to play in spreading the word.
One of the most important during this period was ‘Feedback’. It initially started as the newsletter of Mensa’s Rock Music Special Interest Group in 1988, but when Kev Rowland became secretary in 1990, he determined to turn it into a magazine promoting music which often wasn’t being written about in the mainstream press. ‘Feedback’ soon became one of the key promoters of the underground progressive scene, and Rowland one of the most well-known and popular reviewers. He also became a contributor to ‘Rock ‘n’ Reel’, as well as writing for the Ghostland website in the early days of prog on the web.
Rowland collated all his progressive rock reviews and interviews written between 1991 and 2006 into three volumes which have been described by Record Collector and others as “The Bible” while one reviewer called it the “Encyclopaedia Progressivica”. It was originally intended to be just one book, but with the word count at more than half a million it was too big, so instead, it was decided to break it into easily digestible chunks and also include all the album artwork. The books have been widely acclaimed, and questions were asked of Rowland as to when the next one in the series would be available? Originally there was never any intention to produce any others as these had captured the time when he was running ‘Feedback’. However, even though he moved to the other side of the world and dropped out of the music scene, Rowland did begin writing again in 2008, and was soon as involved as he had previously been in the UK. Also, all his reviews were now saved digitally and did not have to be brought back to life from poorly photocopied fanzines, and he became convinced that it would be worthwhile to continue the series as the music had never stopped.
This brings us to Volume 4, which contains his writings from 2008 to 2013, with all album covers in full colour and cover art again by Martin Springett. Unlike the others in the series, this one-volume contains the complete alphabet, along with some book and DVD reviews, various artists, and a few interviews. The foreword is by the highly respected reviewer Olav M. Björnsen, while the comments on the rear cover are from Thierry Sportouche of the French progzine Acid Dragon (one of the longest-running progressive rock fanzines in the world) and Jerry van Kooten, founder of the highly influential Dutch Progressive Rock Pages (DPRP.Net). Together, these four stalwarts of the prog scene have more than 100 hundred years’ experience of writing about the music they love.
Along with the other three volumes in the series, this book shines a spotlight onto a scene time which is still critically ignored by many and provides information about the music in a constructive manner. It is again possible to discover some great music from wonderful bands, and this should be used as a guide to expand collections and understand that prog-rock really didn’t die, it just went underground.
About the author
Kev Rowland is a self-confessed music addict, who has never really been the same since he heard ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ in 1975. In the Eighties he spent quite a ridiculous amount of money on all things related to Jethro Tull and was asked by David Rees to write a piece on Carmen (the band including John Glascock, not the opera) for the Tull fanzine ‘A New Day’. This simple request was life-changing, although neither realised it at the time.
Kev discovered he enjoyed writing about music and submitted reviews for the inaugural Mensa RockSIG newsletter, before becoming secretary himself in 1990. Over the next 16 years, the newsletter gained a name, and he put out more than 80 issues, many of them doubles, more than 11,000 pages. When he moved to New Zealand in 2006, he retired from the music scene, but was pulled back in – initially kicking and screaming until he accepted his fate. These days he can be found contributing to many magazines and websites and is thoroughly enjoying the amazing music which can be found at the end of the world, saying the gigs remind him so much of what he used to attend 30 years ago.
When he isn’t listening to music, writing about music, or thinking about music, then he can be found on his lifestyle block with his wonderful wife Sara, and their 8 cats, 6 dogs, chickens, sheep, lambs, calves and cattle. Oh, apparently, he has a day job as well.
Containing all of Kev Rowland’s progressive rock reviews and interviews written between 1991 and 2006, the first four volumes of The Progressive Underground are essential for all lovers of the genre, but don’t just take our word for it.
A book that will be quickly referred to as “a bible”.
Daryl Easlea, Record Collector
Rowland is collecting his reviews in three volumes (in alphabetical order): their preservation for posterity is welcome. His writing is informative, intelligent, and generous. It certainly makes interesting reading… As Brian Appleton would put it, thank you Kev for your contribution.
Rychard Carrington, Rock n Reel
The third compilation of reviews from his Feedback fanzine is warm, honest and engaging. It is also, like the best underground writing, unvarnished and unencumbered by any expectations of PR; the reviews in The Progressive Underground Vol 3 are clearly done for no other reason than the love of the genre.
DE, Prog Magazine
This is best treated as a kind of guide to the neo-progressive genre. Thanks to this release, you can rediscover the wonderful albums of great bands and see that progressive rock has never really died, it just went from the mainstream to the underground.
Artur Chachlowski, MLWZ
All I can say is if you are a true proghead this book should be in your library of progressive rock literature. Because it’s a great work. A book to be considered of superior or lasting artistic merit.
Henri Strik, Background Magazine
Chronic well-crafted, short and mostly written in order to develop the subject with ease…Simply relevant information, the essential and useful. Personally, I believe that many current columnists should emulate the writing of Mr. Rowland.
Laying his fan card on the table, Rowland has brought all of these reviews together to create a veritable Encyclopaedia Progressivica in three volumes… the ultimate pan-progressive fanzine.
Peter-James Dries, Muzic.net.nz
Cover art and design for all four volumes is by Martin Springett, http://martinspringett.com/