Gavin Esler: 'Prog rock is eccentric British genius'

Bands such as the Von Hertzen Brothers, Gazpacho and Touchstone suggest the spirit of prog lives on. That's why I'm honoured to be hosting the first ever progressive music awards

It was all Murray Sim's fault. He lived near me on the outskirts of Edinburgh and when I was about 13 he told me he had bought an amazing LP. It was called The Piper at the Gates of Dawn by some people with a really weird name … Pink Floyd. One day after school he played it for me. My music tastes at the time were fairly wide (they still are) – everything from the Incredible String Band, Bert Jansch and Bob Dylan to Tamla Motown, John Mayall, Howlin' Wolf, Cream and the Rolling Stones. But this Pink Floyd thing was … different. I wasn't very enthusiastic at first.

"That's because you are not really listening to it," Murray said.

After a couple of plays and a more mugs of his execrable instant coffee, I was hooked. It was my entry into the world of King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Jon Hiseman's Colosseum, and many others.

It was years before this was called prog rock. I just loved the music; fresh, challenging, inventive. If we have to put music into baskets, then the progressive rock bands I fell in love with as a teenager made sounds that shaded into jazz, folk, metal, and in the case of the wonderful (and sadly missed) Jon Lord, modern classical music.

For me, prog rock has always been essentially British. It combines all our great and eccentric genius. We are not hung up on categories, rules and classification. We love people who break the mould, challenge us and make us think differently. We adored Syd Barrett and that strange fellow who stood on one leg and played the flute.

Years later when I met my partner, the violinist Anna Phoebe, she was touring with Jethro Tull (then coming up to 40 years together as a music phenomenon and now on yet another brilliant tour), and was later to tour and collaborate with Jon Lord.

The music sounds as fresh as ever. I have never been an expert, but I have been a fan since the last millennium, and still find new things to love. I saw the Von Hertzen Brothers in London a few months ago, and Tull in Germany and at Wefest – two bands from different countries, a generation apart, and very different sounds. Ian Anderson is as entertaining and humorous as ever. He's also become a good friend. Newish bands such as the Von Hertzen Brothers, Gazpacho and Touchstone suggest that the inventive spirit I first came across in Murray's front room way back more years ago than I care to think about is not dead. And not forgotten.

My music tastes remain wide – Anouar Brahem is a new favourite, Fela Kuti, plus Wynton Marsalis, the Black Keys, Anna's own music, and our friend Alex Skolnick's jazz trio plus his metal band Testament. But I am extremely honoured to be hosting the first ever progressive music awards. It's been a long time coming – and it's time our quiet little prog rock secret was shouted about a bit more. My taste in coffee has got better with age, and so has my taste in music. That's why I'm still a fan.

• Gavin Esler presents Newsnight on BBC One. He is hosting the first ever progressive music awards on 5 September, at Kew Gardens in London.


Gavin Esler

The GuardianTramp

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