Prog at the Priory

You wouldn’t normally associate prog rock and churches, would you? But that’s exactly what we were treated to in an unusual concert last night.

The venue was the medieval priory church in Lancaster, a lovely old stone building with soaring arches and pillars marching off into the distance. The musicians were three stalwarts of the prog rock scene: Italian organist, pianist and composer Marco Lo Muscio, flautist John Hackett, and John’s more famous older brother, the ex-Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett. And my goodness, what a combination they made.

I’ve long had a theory that prog rock in particular, and other kinds of well-written pop and rock music in general, is no different to classical music – it’s just a lot louder and played on more modern instruments. Take away some of the volume and use instruments that are a lot more ‘classical’ in nature – piano, organ, accoustic guitar and flute – and suddenly you could hear just how much this genre has in common with older, more traditional forms of music. One track Lo Muscio played, for instance, was Rick Wakeman’s ‘Jane Seymour’ from his The Six Wives of Henry VIII, and on a church organ it could hardly have sounded more like Bach if it had tried. And yet, this is rock, usually blasted out on eletronic keyboards and electric guitars, at some incredible rate of decibels!

The other thing that struck me was how much the folk inspiration and roots of a lot of prog rock showed through when you could hear it in a quieter, gentler format. Tracks by Keith Emerson, by King Crimson and by Steve Hackett and Genesis themselves, all sounded quintessentially English and wouldn’t have been out of place at a folk convention.

All in all it was an original and fascinating evening’s entertainment, livened up by occasional anedotes from the three musicians, and set against a very beautiful backdrop. The last time Prog at the Priory took place was a good few years ago now, but we’re hopeful it will be back sooner than that and will be keeping our eyes and ears open for its return. And if you like prog rock, or churches, and get the chance, then go for it. I can highly recommend it!



  1. A lovely and interesting review. We listen to/watch a lot of programmes about music and it is fairly obvious that most of the composers and performers who made or are making the ‘classics’ of rock etc. were trained in classical music. The techniques and basic themes are inevitably going to overlap. I recall a musician friend being blown away by the classical elements of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody when it first came out. A lot of my mother’s generation (she and my grandmother were musicians) simply didn’t accept the classical nature of modern music – but extended their condemnation to ‘serious’ composers like Philip Glass. I sometimes wonder if the loudness, and the unfamiliarity of the instruments were in part to blame for their inability to ‘listen’.

    1. Yes, this. So much this. My father loved classical music too but his definition was so narrow that vast areas of musical composition were left out. I remember him getting cross when Emerson Lake & Palmer’s Fanfare for the Common Man featured on Radio 3, for instance – and yet Aaron Copeland himself performed with them…

      1. I remember my mother even disliking San Saens Carnival of Animals as ‘modern rubbish’!! I think it’s sad that they missed so much, but then they didn’t have the same access to different forms that we have via the internet. They would perhaps hear one concert – like your father – and dislike it because of the unfamiliarity. You do, after all, need to train yourself to listen to unfamiliar music. The same applies to other arts – my father disliked modern poetry – all of it!! And I’m sure they would both have been shocked at the pleasure I have got from some modern art galleries.

      2. Ditto on parents and modern art. I can’t say I like (or even understand!) all of it, but I’ll at least give it a try. Abbot Hall in Kendal has some amazing exhibitions and we’ve thoroughly enjoyed wandering round and letting the art speak to us…

  2. We watch a lot of art programmes too and have visited countless galleries here and abroad. Even so, I think being able to research something that has caught your interest online and learn more definitely helps. I like some modern art pieces and not others. But really, I can say the same about classical music. I usually have Classic FM on in the car but occasionally switch it off if a piece is what I regard as boring!

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