September 6th 1973

“Bort Photos of Ghosts – Premiata Forneria Marconi – SMART, spesh Celebration”

Two reasons why I was attracted to this album by relative unknowns Premiata Forneria Marconi … or to give them their easier name, PFM.

1• This Italian group were ‘discovered’ by Emerson, Lake & Palmer and signed to the trio’s own Manticore Records.

2• One Sunday afternoon whilst listening to DJ Kenny Everett’s irreverent radio show on BBC Radio 1 he played the track “Celebration” a half-dozen times over and over.

The mix of ELP-ish keyboard stylings with flutes and strong drum work (plus vague yodels) reminiscent of Focus sucked me in straight away. In my humble opinion, “Celebration” was – and still is – a GREAT prog-rock pop song, worthy of classic status.

The album itself is actually a set of (“English”) reworkings of the band’s second studio album “Per Un Amico”, with new lyrics courtesy of Pete Sinfield from King Crimson. I hasten to add that these were NOT translations of the original Italian lyrics, but brand new words.

Opener, “River of Life” kicks off proceedings gently with lute and flute to the fore, eventually accompanied by a harpsichord. At around the 1:30 mark the gentleness briefly gives way to heavy prog-rock drums and then reverts to lightweight meanderings, with guitar work VERY reminiscent of Focus’ Jan Akkerman.

Celebration” is next. And it IS!

The title track, “Photos of Ghosts, follows. Like “River of Life” it swaps light and dark all the way through, its dominant piano/violin theme almost mesmerising. Sinfield’s lyrics leave a little to be desired though…

Black roses laced with silver by a broken moon.
Ten million stars and the whispered harmonies of leaves.
We were these.
Beside a dried up fountain lie five dusty tomes
with faded pasted pictures of love’s reverie.
Across each cover is written,”Herein are Photos of Ghosts”
of ghosts, of ghosts,
of the days we ran and the days we sang.

It’s twaddle really, isn’t it?

To make up for it, “Old Rain” is a beautiful, lilting instrumental.

Il Banchetto” is the only track on the album performed by the band in their native Italian. I know not why. Maybe Pete Sinfield had lost his Encyclopedia of ProgRock lyrical clichés that day?

Mr 9 ’till 5” is my second favourite cut on the album after “Celebration”. Predates Dolly Parton and/or Sheena Easton by years. The wild drums and violin perfectly compliment one another, whilst vocalist Flavio Primoli displays a certain charm in trying to pronounce words entirely foreign to him.

The album’s closer “Promenade the Puzzle” is very, let’s say, Jethro Tull-esque, both in its composition and lyrical content.

I know that when I got this album, I pretty much played nothing else for a while. As a result, it’s one of the handful of albums that I know extremely intimately, each nuance, instrument and note are always anticipated and expected.

Perhaps weirdly, I have never, EVER got into any of PFM’s many other albums. “Chocolate Kings”, “Cook” and more have been sampled occasionally but rarely enjoyed.

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