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PFM, 'Storia di un Minuto'

Storia di un Minuto  (1972,  34.32)  *****/TTTT½

Introduzione
Impressioni di Settembre
E Festa

Dove...Quando...(Part I)
Dove...Quando...(Part II)
La Carrozza di Hans

Grazie Davvero
PFM, 'Per un Amico'

Per un Amico  (1972,  34.14)  *****/TTT½

Appena un Po
Generale!
Per un Amico
Il Banchetto
Geranio
PFM, 'Photos of Ghosts'

Photos of Ghosts  (1973,  40.18/71.08)  ****/TT½

River of Life (Appena un Po)
Celebration (E Festa)
Photos of Ghosts (Per un Amico)
Old Rain
Il Banchetto
Mr.9 'till 5 (Generale!)
Promenade the Puzzle (Geranio)
[Esoteric CD adds:
Photos of Ghosts (instr.mix)
River of Life (first mix)
Old Rain (first mix)
Il Banchetto (first mix)
Mr. 9 'Til 5 (instrumental)
Celebration (single edit)]
PFM, 'L'Isola di Niente'

L'Isola di Niente  (1974,  35.31)  ****/TTT

L'Isola di Niente
Is My Face on Straight
La Luna Nuova
Dolcissima Maria

Via Lumiere
PFM, 'The World Became the World'

The World Became the World  (1974,  39.21/51.18)  ***½/TTT½

The Mountain (L'Isola di Niente)
Just Look Away (Dolcissima Maria)
The World Became the World (Impressioni
  di Settembre)
Four Holes in the Ground (La Luna Nuova)
Is My Face on Straight
Have Your Cake and Beat it (Via Lumiere)
[Esoteric CD adds:
La Carrozza di Hans (UK single version)
Four Holes in the Ground (unreleased single edit)
Celebration (unreleased 1975 single version)]
PFM, 'Cook' PFM, 'Live in U.S.A.'

Cook  [a.k.a. Live in U.S.A.]  (1974,  49.52)  ****/TTT

Four Holes in the Ground
Dove...Quando...
Just Look Away
Celebration
Mr Nine Till Five
Alta Loma Five Till Nine
PFM, 'Chocolate Kings' PFM, 'Chocolate Kings'

Chocolate Kings  (1976,  36.12/99.06)  ****/½

From Under
Harlequin
Chocolate Kings
Out of the Roundabout
Paper Charms
[Esoteric CD adds:
Paper Charms (live)
Four Holes in the Ground (live)
Acoustic Guitar Solo (live)
Out of the Roundabout (live)
Chocolate Kings (live)
Mr. Nine 'Til Five (live)
Alta Loma Five 'Til Nine/William Tell Overture (live)]
PFM, 'Impressioni Vent'Anni Dopo'

Impressioni Vent'Anni Dopo  (1994, recorded 1972,  95.08)  ***½/TTT½

Appena un Po
Generale
Dove...Quando...(Parte I)
Dove...Quando...(Parte II)
Impressioni di Settembre

Per un Amico
Il Banchetto
E Festa

La Carrozza di Hans
Drum Solo
La Carrozza di Hans
Impressioni di Settembre
PFM, '10 Anni Live, 1971-1981'

10 Anni Live, 1971-1981  (1996,  263.33)  ***½/TTT

21st Century Schizoid Man
My God
Pictures of a City
Bollate Guitar Jam

Bollate Keyboard Jam
Bourée
Bourée Jam
La Carrozza di Hans
Dove...Quando...
Four Holes in the Ground
Is My Face on Straight
Cleveland Keyboard Jam
Mr.9 Till 5
Alta Loma 5 Till 9
JC Violin Jam
Classic Violin Solo
William Tell Overture
La Carrozza di Hans
Central Park Drum Solo
Impressioni di Settembre
Poseidon
Four Holes in the Ground
Spanish Jam
Pascolo Siderale Jam
Mediterranea Jam
Acoustic Guitar Solo
Paper Charms
La Grande Fuga
Chocolate Kings
WB Violin Jam
Violin Classic Solo
William Tell Overture
Celebration
Drum Solo
Impressioni di Settembre
Poseidon
Out of the Roundabout
Left Handed Theory
Dove...Quando...
Jet Lag
Greek Reflection
Traveller
Violin Suite
Violin Dance
Violin West Dance
Celebration
Passpartu
Suonare Suonare
Maestro Della Voce
Chi Ha Paura Della Notte

Current availability:

Mellotrons used:

PFM? PFM! Premiata Forneria Marconi aren't just the best-known Italian progressive outfit because they had albums released world-wide; they're also the best. Their first two Italian-language albums rank among the very best progressive albums ever, in my humble opinion, and that of many other people too. Outside Italy, most people's introduction to PFM was their first English-language release, Photos of Ghosts. Now, I may be treading on a few toes here, but I have to say that I find the album rather inferior to the Italian-language ones; although the tracks are the same basic recordings, the accented English vocals rather spoil them, as do the unnecessary string synth overdubs and the over-zealous editing. In fact, it sounds like the Mellotron is not only smothered by string synth, but actually pushed down in the mix in places, too. Very strange.

However, to go back to the beginning; PFM were music students who formed a 'beat group' in the late '60s (still a reasonable option in Italy, apparently), then turned progressive around 1971. Storia di un Minuto is an absolutely fantastic album; seven superb tracks, although their Genesis/King Crimson influences do show through in places. While not being the first Italian progressive band, PFM were the first to get it completely right; their symphonic compositional style (not to mention their chops) were obviously picked up at music school. Their experimentation, particularly with regard to their multi-overdubbed synth parts was first-rate, and their overall sound was just unbelievable.

Within the year, they managed a second album, every bit as good as their first, if not better. In fact the only thing that lets either of these albums down is their length, or lack of it. 34/35 minutes seems a little short even by '70s standards, so it's hardly surprising that their foreign releases were extended slightly. Per un Amico ('For a Friend') is completely classic; opener Appena Un Po is a gorgeous piece of music, starting with gentle classical guitar, then slowly building to the Mellotron surge of the chorus. There's another multi-synth part in Il Banchetto from keyboardist Flavio Premoli, and superb flute and violin from Mauro Pagani.

PFM were picked up by ELP's label, Manticore, the following year, and sometime King Crimson/ELP collaborator Pete Sinfield wrote new lyrics to most of the songs. Photos of Ghosts basically consists of the whole of Per un Amico, plus one track from Storia di un Minuto and a new instrumental, Old Rain. The original titles are marked alongside the new ones in the discography above, for those who wish to 'compare and contrast'. It's a great shame that the tracks were mangled so badly, but the album gained PFM a vast new audience outside their homeland, including America.

The following year saw PFM release another short Italian-language effort, L'Isola di Niente, with one notable change; one English-language song, Is My Face On Straight, with lyrics again by Sinfield. An English version was rushed out as quickly as possible; again, there's an extra track. This time the gorgeous Impressioni Di Settembre was rescued from the first album, becoming The World Became the World's title track. The Mellotron use on this album is actually very restrained; it turned out to be their last studio album to feature any great amount of 'Tron, although some found its way onto their live album, Cook (released in the US as the slightly erroneously-titled Live in USA) recorded in '74.

Chocolate Kings was PFM's last genuinely 'progressive' album, after which they 'progressed' right out of the genre, displaying a bewildering variety of styles over their next few releases, few of which interest the progressive fan. It's an excellent record, with tracks such as Harlequin and Out Of The Roundabout easily matching anything on its predecessor, although a certain jazziness in places gives warning of a stylistic shift which would become evident on the West Coast fusion-lite of the following year's Jet Lag. Now, I was under the impression that Flavio Premoli knocked his Mellotron use on the head after Cook, but after being pressed to listen to this again, it's evident that there are some background strings on opener From Under, at the typical PFM-ish crescendo near the end of the track, though that appears to be it.

After Jet Lag (***), PFM slowly slipped into mediocrity like so many of their contemporaries. However, a couple of archive releases surfaced in the '90s, round about the time most of the original band reformed. Impressioni Vent'Anni Dopo is probably only semi-official, but features a good (if not 100% sound quality) performance from late '72, just after the release of Per un Amico, with a couple of tracks from a TV broadcast tacked on the end. 10 Anni Live, 1971-1981 is a sprawling great 4-CD set which does exactly what it says on the box. The first two discs are excellent, and much of disc 3, with a few 'Tron tracks, mostly on the first disc, but the quality control slips a little by disc 4, with the last four tracks being horrible early-'80s travesties.

In 2010, the UK's wonderful Esoteric label reissued the three English-language studio albums with plenty of bonus tracks. Photos of Ghosts' six are either instrumental versions or early mixes, with the exception of the studio edit of Celebration. The early mixes are the most enlightening, giving us the chance to hear River Of Life in English, but without Sinfield's cheeso string synth additions, the Mellotron coming through loud and clear in the choruses, although it's nowhere to be found on the single edit of Celebration. The World Became the World's most notable addition is a bizarre 'UK single version' of Storia di un Minuto's La Carrozza di Hans, with fake arena-level applause added. Why? A slightly different version of Celebration adds nothing to the original, either. Finally, Chocolate Kings is now a two-disc set, disc two being an abbreviated version of a 1976 gig at Nottingham University, the rest of their set apparently (and irritatingly) spread over the reissues of two later albums. A great recording, if Mellotron-free. The Italian albums are still better, though...

So; The first three Italian-language albums: BUY. BUY NOW! The first two English-language and Chocolate Kings: buy when you've bought the first three. Cook and the archive releases: buy when you need to hear some more PFM. In the meantime, here's a YouTube clip from early '70s Italian TV.

...Or in better quality, without the Mellotron demo.

albums
Premiata Forneria Marconi, 'Piazza del Campo'

Piazza del Campo  [as PFM + Pagani]  (2005,  56.57)  ****

Rain Birth
River of Life
Photos of Ghosts
La Carrozza di Hans
La Luna Nuova
Un Giudice
Mr 9 Till 5
Siena Violin Jam
Rossini's William Tell Overture
È Festa
Se le Brescion
È Festa (reprise)

Current availability:

PFM's first concert with violinist Mauro Pagani in over twenty years was released in 2005 as Piazza del Campo, credited to PFM + Pagani. As you'd expect, it's a ripping set, covering their first three albums, although mostly favouring the English-language versions over the originals, sadly. We also get a traditional (or at least, traditional-style) piece, Un Giudice, which is neither here nor there to the average fan, I'd imagine. The band's instrumental interplay is as telepathic as ever; thinking about it, this lot really were some of the best musicians the genre ever threw up.

Now, it's a slightly moot point as to whether or not this should really be here at all. Are those Mellotron string samples making themselves apparent on La Carrozza Di Hans and La Luna Nuova, or merely generic string samples which, probably due to the chord voicings, sound a bit like a Mellotron? Hard to say, but shall we give 'em the benefit of the doubt? A great live album, anyway, the band as energetic and (dare I say it?) fun as ever. Ripping.

bootlegs

It seems that PFM only used a Mellotron live for a relatively brief period (c.1972-74), all of which has been fairly extensively covered on Cook, 10 Anni Live and Impressioni Vent'Anni Dopo, so I'm not sure there's a lot of point trying to track down other recordings from the era, as there seem to be quite a few of their relevant tracks that they never tackled live, anyway.

links

Official site

gaudela.net

photos of ghosts

pfmworld.com

See: I Quelli | Acqua Fragile


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