After the Cruise to the Edge, aka the “Prog Cruise,” according to Yes drummer Alan White, sails around Cuba (Alan White of ‘Yes’ talks ‘Cruise to the Edge’ and early Yes; my profile in “New Times”), another of the nine bands sailing with Yes will perform in Miami: U.K. I spoke to that band’s leader, Eddie Jobson, and that interview is slated to be published by the “Miami New Times.” next week.
Jobson, who worked with Curved Air, Roxy Music, Frank Zappa and King Crimson before he took part in forming U.K. spoke with me over the phone during rehearsals in Los Angeles with his other band, UKZ. You can read the attempt to scrunch up his history in progressive rock, including the birth of U.K., which was to include (gasp) master guitarist and inventor Robert Fripp, by jumping through the logo of the paper’s music blog “Crossfade,” below (you’ll also find lots of cool retro images and videos):
Jobson recently took the initiative to reform U.K. for a few rare performances with veteran members John Wetton on bass and vocals and Terry Bozzio on drums. Guitarist Alex Machacek, from UKZ, stands in for Allan Holdsworth. They will only play a few scattered dates, including performances at music festivals in Panama and Mexico, besides the cruise. After touring to Jamaica on Yes’ “Cruise to the Edge,” U.K. will host its only U.S. show at Miami’s intimate Grand Central. “This is not only the first gig in Miami of this lineup, it’ll probably be the last,” says Jobson. “This is a one-off tour that we started last year with Bozzio, and this one gig is the only North American show we’re doing now.”
Despite the show being U.K.’s only show in the U.S., Jobson is not wholly surprised the show has yet to sell out and has no pretensions about the state of prog rock in the current popular music scene. “It’s really a nostalgia movement now,” he says. “I think there are two levels of prog rock now. There are the guys like us, who are sort of the originators of the genre, and I think our time is sort of on its last legs, to be honest,” he notes with a laugh before continuing, “The other side of progressive rock is a new wave of younger bands, especially out of England, you know, Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson and musicians like that who are kind of tapping into a young, fairly vibrant retro wave … We can’t really tap into that either because they’re younger and retro hip.”
Prog arrived on the music scene in the late ‘60s offering an alternative to pop music, blues, folk and psychedelic hippie rock. But also meddled all those genres and brought in classical music training, elements of jazz and unorthodox song constructs with heavy and obscure lyrical themes that also seemed to demonstrate a literary knack. It was sometimes deridingly called “art rock” (I’ll take it, tough!). It was surprising to think such complex music once led to sold out stadiums. But as the masses’ attention span so easily grows short, popular music has little room for intellectual music, especially now. Jobson touches on one of the distractions: “It strikes me that the focus has really shifted from people appreciating players and people appreciating music to kids just fantasizing about being stars, this whole ‘American Idol,’ ‘Guitar Hero’ game sort of idea.”
One of the ways Jobson currently makes a living, as do many other prog musicians, is by giving lessons. He says these clinics have helped give him a lot of perspective. As a 58-year-old musician with many years of experience in the music industry (he was a regular child prodigy who joined Curved Air at age 16), Jobson has had a lot of time to consider the mind of a popular music consumer. “A lot of our guitar clinics or drum clinics, more people will show up to that than will show up to the concert, even if the concert’s the same day or the next day,” he notes. “People are more interested in trying to learn the tricks of how to become a rock star then to actually get into the music and have the music actually mean something to them because most of the music they’ve been brought up with has been sold to them from the music industry is just so superficial. They never develop that rich context, that richer development of appreciation for more complex rhythms, more complex harmonic structures or anything like that. Everything’s been superficialized, and that’s all they know. That’s why progressive rock can’t really sustain with that audience. That’s why classical music can’t sustain with that audience. It requires too much attention, in a way, too much analysis … That connection only happens if you’ve been sort of brought up with it and you develop that connection between complex harmony and emotional responses. I think it has to be developed in early years, and none of our kids are having it developed unless they’ve been brought up with classical music; very few are these days.”
Let’s hope refined tastes and demands for something more complex never dies out (I must say I found that in bands like Grizzly Bear and Of Montreal, among others). As the Internet grows more niche-oriented and separate, I would hope there are younger people with tastes beyond hipsterdom and superficiality who will seek out blogs such as this. There will always, therefore be some room for more complex music— and film— somewhere in culture, if not at the top of the charts. Anyone reading that agrees, let your voice be heard below.
U.K. performs at Grand Central, 697 North Miami Ave Miami, FL 33136, Saturday, March 30. Doors open at 7 p.m. The show is all ages. For tickets, jump through this link.