DOWN IN HOLLYWOOD ... PROGFEST '94
copyright 1995 by Monte Nordstrom
from issue#24 - Cosmic Debris Musicians Magazine - Dec '95
It was the first weekend of
November 1994. Rainclouds
scudded in from the Strait of
Juan de Fuca & collided with
Mount Seymour, dumping an
oversize load on the Fraser River
delta. The fading light of the
afternoon leached the colour out
of the scenery at Vancouver
International Airport giving the
surroundings a dreary black &
white effect. As the deluge pelted
the runway I said my goodbyes to
Wayne Diggins, who was leaving
for Thailand. My destination was
Los Angeles. It would be six months til I'd see Digs again, and I
would see him off to Thailand again six months after that. But that's
The reason for my week in Los Angeles was business. I had been
contacted in September of 93 by a man named Greg Walker, who
told me he had gotten my phone number from Paul Horn. A little
bell rang in my head as I heard Greg
mention an album of mine that Paul had
produced in 1973 at Vancouver's
Mushroom Studio. The album was
Ptarmigan', a collection of acoustic
Westcoast musings I had co-written with
Glen Dias. The LP had originally been
released on Columbia of Canada & had
long since spiraled into oblivion.
Greg's L.A.-based "Synphonic Records"
was interested in re-releasing the project.
Yay! His company is one of the largest
Progressive rock labels in the world & specializes in re-releases of
obscure 70's material as well as offerings from current artists. You
can imagine my surprise. During the ensuing months I acquired the
master tapes from Sony Records for Paul Horn & he turned them
over to me. Negotiations with Synphonic Records were a
painstaking endeavor & I thought that a trip to L.A. would speed
things along. I chose to attend Greg Walker's 2nd annual "Progfest"
in order to meet the man. As a Progfest conventioneer I got a
corporate rate at the lavish, art deco, Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.
I arrived a couple days before the festival so I could get a feeling
for the city and collect some music business data. My hotel was
situated on Hollywood Boulevard, kitty-corner from the Chinese
Theatre in the heart of Tinsel Town. I could see the "Hollywood"
sign from the window of my immense room. I was there 2 days
before I discovered that I had a 2nd bathroom. A golf cart would
have been handy for trips to the hospitality bar. After a few hours of
acclimatization I made my first incursion into the wholyweird night.
My first sight was a broken window signed in spray paint, "Tell
them Bobby Fuller is back!". (Fuller, of I Fought the Law' fame,
was found dead in a car under suspicious circumstances. It is
rumoured that a rogue cop forced him to drink gasoline.)
During the next few days & nights I became a denizen on the
boulevard of broken dreams. I saw a couple of movies open,
Stargate' and Frankenstein', both stinkers. I ambled eastward
amongst the dispossessed & the possessed through urban decay on
dirty streets. Past tawdry sex shops & wig stores. In Frederick's of
Hollywood I saw Madonna's bra (so who hasn't?). I passed by the
Capitol Records Tower. Even this landmark has seen better days. A
battered awning swung loose in the dusty wind. Around the corner
I stopped into the Frolic Lounge' for a couple of well drinks served
by a genderly ambivilent bartender. I hummed a popular Sheryl
Crow melody to myself amidst the afternoon drinking set. Outside
I paused under the Pantages Theatre marquee denoting the next
evenings performance of Sandra Bernhardt & the Strap-ons before
heading back down the gauntlet to my room.
I spent a futile couple hours on the
phone @ $1 per call trying to get
through the computer & receptionist
screening walls of the major & minor
record companies. I had to do it, I was
there. Only A & M accept unsolicited
material so keep that in mind, folks.
The next day I headed west on Sunset
to check out the music shops. Acres,
nay hectares of vintage axes, amps &
state of the art goodies. Relatively
expensive as I recall. Carvin, Mesa
Boogie & The Music Store dominate one block. Bring plastic.
-Travel Tip #3.7: (Remember when travelling out of the country to
bring proof of ownership for any instruments or equipment that you
bring with you so you don't get hassled by Customs when returning.
Sign the green declaration slip before leaving Canada.)
I passed the Chateau Marmont with its Hollywood bungalows, the
infamous ending place of John Belushi. I walked by the Sunset
Grill, a roadside burger stand popular with the death set. Warily I
continued on to the massive Virgin Record Store & found a CD of
my favorite B.B. King album, "There Must Be a Better World
Somewhere", which features songs written by Doc Pomus & Dr.
John. I joyfully grabbed a brew at the Harley Davidson Cafe before
checking out "The House of the Blues". A consortium of owners
including Dan Ackroyd have put together a franchise of these
nightclubs & they are impressive indeed. I happened along during
the sound check for none other than Dr. John. The atmosphere
vibrated with voodoo indeed, as the band ran through a couple of
numbers while the good doctor conferred with Coco Robicheaux
about the evening's set list. My per diem had dwindled so I excused
myself from the surroundings & dragged my dogs back to my tinsel
town digs to rest up for the next day's event & my raison d'etre la,
The next morning I enjoyed a long, colourful city bus ride down
to the eastern end of Hollywood & Sunset Boulevards through the
predominantly Hispanic area of East L.A. eventually ending in the
war zone of Hill Street in the heart of Downtown. Not a great
neighbourhood. Off the main stem by 2 or 3 blocks of deserted
streets lay my destination. A short jog. Even shorter at a dead run.
PART 2 - PROGFEST
L.A. Variety Arts Theatre - Nov. 1994
Progressive Rock conjures
up a variety of images.
placed over a bombastic
percussive bed rife with
complex time signatures & riff
heavy liet motifs.
Vocalisations can be
menacing or soothing-or both.
Instrumentation tends to be
analogue sounds being highly
sought after. The Mellotron
rules. B3s, Arp & Moog
basses figure highly, because of their thick bright tones that
cut throught polyrhythmic passages. This is thinker's music,
a dreamscape's soundtrack, intellectual mind massage,
sci-fi with a gothic edge. Get it?
Prog gods include King Crimson,
Yes, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, ELP &
Genesis (their earlier incarnations in
particular). Scores of lesser known
bands are arrayed through the pantheon
of Prog. Hawkwind, Gentle Giant, Soft
Machine, the Strawbs, etc...
Don't assume that this is an entirely
retrospective genre however. There are
hundreds of new prog bands & an
underground culture surrounds them
quite delightfully. Just when I thought
grunge & rap were sounding the death
knell of musicality I became aware of the Prog movement.
There are several magazines devoted to Prog & an
international network is supportive of it. There are also
many slash/subdivisions to Prog: /hard rock, /metal,
/classical, /psychedelic, /ambient, /electronic, /trance, etc.
In Greg Walker's estimation as the head of Synphonic
Records, my 1974 album, "ptarmigan" represents a kind of
acoustic Prog & his eventual re-release of it on Cd will
prove helpful for yours truly. Apparently its production is due
to begin after Progfest 95.
Progfest 93 featured 4 bands: Citadel & Quill from the
U.S. and IQ & Anglagard from Europe. The first event was
successful enough to repeat & expand.
The 94 version had 2 bands from France, 2 from
Sweden, 4 from the U.S. & 1 from Australia. The venue for
the concert was the L.A. Variety Arts Theatre. The following
is a review of that event.
Day one kicked off with "Halloween", a group from
France with a foreboding sound reportedly influenced by
H.P.Lovecraft. The female singer, Geraldine LeCocq
cavorted foppishly providing a visual focus to their dark
tones which featured the violin of Jean Phillipe Brun. At one
point she punctuated her performance with handfuls of
dried leaves tossed high above the stage to swirl down
through the strobing lights. Spooky stuff. Must have really
impressed the stage hands. They have 5 releases on
Musea Records (France).
Up next were "Kalaban", a group from Utah with a
decidely turgid sci-fi predeliction. They prefaced their
performance with a libretto which may have helped decode
some of the lyric passages.. They could have benefited
from more dynamic sensitivity. If these guys weren't on
stage they'd be hitch-hiking UFOs. Successfully. If you are
interested in joining them acquire the Cds, "Don't Panic" or
"Resistance is Useless" on Synphonic.
They were followed by a highly professional unit from
Philadelphia named "Echolyn". This ensemble had a tough
tight rock sound with a very tasty guitarist, a powerful lead
vocalist & some well arranged harmony passages. They
wisely handed out promo Cd singles at the door. Look for
"As the World", on Sony/Epic Records.
Closing the first night were the only group who had been
at Progfest 93, "Anglagard" from Sweden. This ensemble
was truly mind boggling with 2 Mellotrons,
flute, 2 guitars, male/female harmonies and
a fabulous drummer named Mattias Olsson.
Lyrics mostly in Swedish. Ja, fer sure! They
have 2 releases, "Hybris" & "Prior to
Epilogue" on the Mellotronen/Colours label.
Evening #2 opened with a Bay Area
ensemble called "Episode" & marked the
first instance of cover material, including
Pink Floyd's "Echoes". Nicely performed with
2 keyboards, bass, guitar, drums, female
lead vocal, harmonies & cello. Unfortunately
I missed the original material at the start of
their set. They have an LP on Synphonic
entitled "Into the Epicenter" & a CD on Alabaster called
"Anekdoten" were next up & turned in a remarkable
performance with guitarist Nicklas Berg doubling on
Mellotron, bassist Jan Erik Liljestrom providing vocals
mostly in English, cello by Anna Sofi Dahlberg & percussion
by Peter Nordin. This Swedish ensemble made a deep
connection with with their music & received the largest
ovation of the weekend. At one point they were joined by a
trumpet player whose extended solo added a jazzy
inflection to the gnome like vocalisations of Jan Erik. Their
discography includes the Cd "Vemod", on Virta & "Eleven
on One-to-Ten" on Meantime Records.
Next a bit a theatre by a leather jacketed Kevin Gibert
who appeared with a boombox blasting out a recent
commercial hit by Prog turncoats Genesis. His mock horror
at the top ten tune was followed by the destruction of said
boombox & an ensuing set with "Giraffe" featured Genesis'
"Lamb Lays Down on Broadway" in its entirety.
A bit too much cabaret for me so I adjourned to the lobby
to schmooze. There I met Peter Thelen, editor of Expos
magazine from San Francisco. I was amazed when he told
me he had a copy of "ptarmigan". As Billy Winter says, "Its
a small world but I wouldn't want to paint it."
I also talked with "Anekdoten" who were embarking on a
15 date tour with a Detroit group, "Discipline". Their tour
would culminate with an appearance at "Progscape" in
Baltimore. They were very excited at the response to their
set & I wished them well. Nice folks. I browsed at the promo
table & returned to see "Minimum Vitale".
The French group "Minimum Vitale" features a female
lead vocalist, Sonia Nedelec who possesses a haunting
stage presence & a beautiful voice. Twin brothers Theirry &
Jean-Luc Payssan play keyboards & guitar with Charly
Berna drumming & a Will Cardinal look-alike, Eric Rebeyrol
on bass. Theirry used a beautiful accordian sample on his
keyboard & their music had a decidely 15th century
influence. Medieval rock. Mais oui ! They have several
releases on Musea including "La Source" from 1993.
Closing out the festival was the reunion performance of
an Australian Prog legend, a group called "Sebastian
Hardie". Their set included a perfect reading of Mike
Oldfield's "Tubular Bells" & a smattering of material from
their mid 70s releases: "Four Moments", "Windchase",
"Windchase-Symphinity" & Mario Milla's "Epic III". I don't
know whether it was a lack of prog perspective on their part
or just the MOR reading of one of their early hits but I found
the groups featuring current original music to be more
The last day of the Progfest "94 event was the
convention/party at the Hollywood Metropolitan. Prog
Labels, collectors, dealers & fans crammed a room that was
wall to wall with vinyl, Cds, cassettes, posters, T-shirts &
paraphenalia. A claustrophobic collectors paradise. Any
curious folks out there can investigate the following
-Expos Magazine: 43553 Ellsworth St. #B, Fremont, CA.
94539 (6 issues @ $16. CAN)
-Music Uncovered: 22833 Bothell-Everett Hwy. suite 1121
Bothell, WA.(Quarterly $4. US)
-Prognosis Magazine: 1415 Fulton Rd. Suite 205-A27,
Santa Rosa, CA. (Bi-mon. $20. US)
-Synphonic Records: P.O. box 2034, La Habra, CA. 90631
-Musea Records: 68 La Tinchotte- 57117 Retonfey, France.
Fax: 87366473 (catalogue)
-Aeon Music: P.O.Box 6185 Torrance, CA. 90504
Note: Monte Nordstrom has produced over 75 demos and has recorded 8 albums to
date (Nov '99). He performs regularly at numerous venues on Canada's West Coast.
Email Monte at:
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