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Greatest Capes: Prog Rock Style

09/04/2014 17:58 BST | Updated 09/06/2014 10:59 BST

First off, a huge thanks to the thousands of you who read, liked and shared my blog post on a potential prog rock revival. There are clearly a lot of proggers out there!

For those who asked about new prog bands, have a look at great sites like ProgRockMag.com, ProgArchives.com, or one of the specialist prog groups on Facebook. But for those who asked about the visual style of the genre - something I barely touched on in the article, and something all too rarely discussed - I thought it was worth a few words here.

In contrast to pop acts of the time like David Cassidy or The Bay City Rollers, prog rockers' popularity had little to do with their looks. Often quite the opposite, as some photos of the time can attest... A straightforward photo of the band was unlikely to make an attractive cover image, and gig goers weren't going to be ogling the musicians, so they needed something more.

Meanwhile, many viewed their music as art not pop, so wanted a sleeve or stage set to support that idea. The result? The birth of prog style.

Prog style was a visual reflection of the music. An eclectic, over-the-top, mind-expanding mix of historical and future influences, it blended science fiction/fantasy, surrealist art and the penetrative psychiatry of R D Laing. In the sci fi corner: Roger Dean's fantastical eco-landscapes for Yes (he actually sued the makers of Avatar for plagiarism) and future Alien set-designer H R Geiger's nightmare erotica for Emerson Lake & Palmer. In the art corner, Hipgnosis' mind-bending Escher-like photos for Pink Floyd, and Paul Whitehead's Hieronymus-Bosch-meets-Alice-In-Wonderland images for Genesis. All were designed to look great when stoned ... and terrifying when spiked.

Prog fashions trod similarly eclectic paths. At one end were bands that, for musical or political reasons, thought they should dress down onstage. This was a precursor of grunge: jeans, plaid work shirts, motorcycle boots, long un-styled - and often unwashed - hair (a caustic reference to the latter causing Pink Floyd to boycott the NME in 1974). It was all about the music, man.

At the other extreme was the glam theatricality of artists like Peter Gabriel of Genesis and Brian Eno of Roxy Music (Roxy Mk1 were absolutely a prog band). They were among the first musicians ever to wear make-up, chose clothes as an art statement or visual prop live, and grabbed the headlines from their muso dressed-down bandmates, much to the latter's dismay. Indeed, with Gabriel and Eno this was actually a factor in them leaving their bands.

Most prog groups and fans, though, dressed somewhere between these extremes: mixing downplayed-denim with some theatrical glamour and a little Sword and Sorcery chic. On the High Street, that meant:

"outrageously billowing loon pants, afghan coats, scoop neck shirts, platform shoes and... tie dye combat jackets." (Prog magazine, Issue 37)

Many - though not all - punks laughed at prog style, but some prog fashions proved influential. Jethro Tull, ELP and Curved Air were medieval-meets-dandy decades before steam punk and the goth end of emo. Daevid Allen and Steve Hillage of Gong created the colourful crusty template well before raves and '90s eco warriors.

So, what might a prog revival bring us now, looks-wise? On a literal level, perhaps a growth in Game Of Thrones-style medieval fantasy, geek girl/boffin boy, and steam punk styles. Batik shirts and afghan coats for day to day wear: capes, glitter and knee high boots for nights out. Maybe a revival - and technological extension - of fantasy graphics and surrealist photo-montage? On a broader level, could the past and future become a giant dressing-up box, inspiring even more eclectic styles and unusual genre combinations across fashion and graphic design?

Who knows just how it will develop? After all, the folk revival gave us Movember, knitting and vegetable gardens: not exactly obvious consequences. And restrictions fly in the face of what prog is all about: proggers see themselves as pioneers and explorers.

Wherever prog revival style goes, it will be - like the music - intriguing, unusual, unexpected and, yes perhaps a little pretentious. But it certainly won't be dull. Prog On.

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