album list
Premiata Forneria Marconi, 'La Carrozza di Hans' 7"  (1971)  ****½/TTT

La Carrozza di Hans
Impressioni di Settembre
PFM, 'Storia di un Minuto'

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

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
Per un Amico
Il Banchetto
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,  49.52/137.08)  ****/TTT (TTT½)

Four Holes in the Ground
Just Look Away
Mr Nine Till Five
Alta Loma Five Till Nine
[3-disc ed. adds:
River of Life
Four Holes in the Ground
Is My Face on Straight
Guitar Solo
Just Look Away
Mr Nine Till Five
Alta Loma Five Till Nine
/Drum Solo/The World Became the World]
PFM, 'Chocolate Kings' PFM, 'Chocolate Kings'

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

From Under
Chocolate Kings
Out of the Roundabout
Paper Charms
PFM, 'Impressioni Vent'Anni Dopo'

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

Appena un Po
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  [Discs 1 & 2]  (1996,  263.33)  ***½/TTT

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

Bollate Keyboard Jam
Bourée Jam
La Carrozza di Hans
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

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. Major thanks to Jonathan for alerting me to the existence of a pre-first album single, La Carrozza Di Hans b/w Impressioni Di Settembre, both in radically different versions to the more familiar album takes, with a more aggressive, jazzier version of the 'A' and a slightly less full-on (and a little faster?) version of the 'B'. Mellotronically speaking, (presumably) keyboardist Flavio Premoli gives us a strings swell a couple of minutes into Carrozza that might be the left-hand manual 'moving strings', plus vibes and regular strings later on, while the flip gets the expected string part, but lower in the mix. Are these versions easily available? In short, I don't think so, although they've turned up as a bonus disc on a Japanese compilation. Surely obvious bonus tracks for Storia di un Minuto?

Speaking of which, said debut is a stunning 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. Mellotron (their MkII, pictured with its lid off inside the gatefold) on five tracks, chiefly strings, with the odd burst of vibes. 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 vanity 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 the machine, although some M400 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 Mellotron tracks, mostly on the first disc, but the quality control slips a little by disc 4, 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...

Cook got the three-disc Esoteric treatment at the same time; although disc one merely remasters the original, discs two and three give us the whole of one of the two sets from which the album was taken, New York's Central Park on 13st August 1974. Of course, this involves some doubling-up, but we get a whole set, in sequence, from what might just have been the band's peak, so who's complaining? Otherwise-unavailable tracks include a beautiful River Of Life and a ripping version of Is My Face On Straight, while excised sections, not least the drum solo in the Celebration medley (well, there's a downside to everything, I suppose) have been reinstated. A little extra Mellotron, with lush strings on River Of Life's chorus, the same strings on Four Holes In The Ground as on the Toronto version, a smattering of strings towards the end of the lengthy Is My Face On Straight jam and the same strings on (now in the correct order) Alta Loma/Celebration/The World Became The World. To be honest, I'm not sure I'll bother playing the original album again, as this ninety-minute set beats it into those four holes in the ground, hands down. Magnifico.


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

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.


Official site


See: I Quelli | Acqua Fragile

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