PFM - Premiata Forneria Marconi

P.F.M. (Premiata Forneria Marconi)

U.L.U., London
Saturday, 2nd March 2019

Italian Progressive Rock legends P.F.M. recently played to a sold out and very enthusiastic crowd at the U.L.U. in London. I have to confess to only being recently more fully aware of P.F.M., having recently acquired their early albums Storia di un minuto (1972) and L’isola di niente (1974) last year on a trip to Florence… so I am clearly a novice to their ornate musical world. To be honest, I was unsure what to expect, but that was nothing compared to the fear and trepidation felt by my 26 year old son, Sean, whom I dragged along rather unwillingly to (horror of horrors) a ‘Prog Gig’. However, I felt ‘payback’ was in order having accompanied him to the rather bizarre world of the London Comicon earlier that day. Although to be honest as a Prog Rock fan, spending a day wandering around Olympia amidst hordes of people dressed as Wookies, Dr. Who’s, Elves, Dwarves, Aliens and Superheroes, it’s not really such a bizarre experience, as seasoned proggers will attest!

P.F.M. walked on to great applause and commenced with two drummers, two keyboardists and a thunderous bass line from legendary Patrick Djivas, who joined P.F.M. in 1974. They launched into a fine piece of orchestral rock with multi-instrumentalist Alberto Bravin on vocals and a flowing guitar solo from Marco Sflogi, topped off with a lovely violin from Lucio Fabbri on La luna nuova (dating from L’isola di niente… one song I DID know!). This song confidently set down P.F.M.’s marker as purveyors of beautiful and dramatic pieces with impressive musicality. Djivas’s bass was prominent again in Photos of Ghosts with English vocals, although the majority of songs were sung in Italian. P.F.M. went right back in time for their next song, Dove… quando… (parts 1 & 2) from their debut album Storia di un minuto, marked by acoustic guitars in an uplifting piece. P.F.M continued with classics from their first four albums as they floated in to a delightful La carozza di hans, which began delicately but developed with dashes of jazz and even blues, beautifully embellished by the extraordinary sounds from Lucio Fabbri’ electronically treated violin.

As P.F.M. regally entertained the crowd with a selection of classics from the early ’70s, what clearly came over from this gig was a sense of real joy from these musicians who clearly love performing this music. The U.L.U. crowd (with a healthy smattering of Italians) responded with delight. Founding member Franz di Ciocci emerged from behind the drums to sing with great emotion and power. He proudly announced that they were going to play some songs from their Prog magazine International Prog award winning 2017 album Emotional Tattoos, commencing with the anthemic and captivating Il Regno. The rocking instrumental Freedom Square followed with Roberto Gualdi particularly impressive alongside Franz di Cioccio on drums. Di Cioccio returned centre stage to introduce La danza degli specchi, which he translated to ‘Dance of the Mirrors’, explaining that it was inspired by Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and was a homage to Blues legend B.B.King (!!), which became evident with the unmistakable B.B. King riff threaded through this vibrant track. Franz embroidered this fantasy song with playful and funny mimes, and then proceeded to ‘orchestrate’ the crowd with an imaginary conductor’s baton. He explained that he was going to sing mainly in Italian because… “well, it’s easier”, he admitted with his warm charm – and no-one could blame him as he sang so well in his native language. Frankly, I had little idea what he was singing about, but it still swept me along… music is a language all of its own. These sparkling introductions to tracks from Emotional Tattoos ensured brisk trade at the merch stall after the gig, including Yours Truly – it’s an outstanding and joyous album.

After showcasing their impressive recent album they returned to their earlier classic material with Promenade the Puzzle from 1973’s Photos of Ghosts, before launching into a rousing version of Harlequin from 1975’s Chocolate Kings, which really took off with power and precision. This was a band which could really rock. Long time bassist Patrick Djivas then introduced the next piece, taken from their album of classical reinterpretations, as they embarked on a fascinating version of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. P.F.M. finished spectacularly, apparently in their usual way, with another classical flourish as they segued from Mr. 9 ’til 5/Alta Loma 5 til 9 into Rossini’s famous and unmistakable William Tell Overture, featuring the talented Alessandro Scaglione on keyboards. The U.L.U. crowd absolutely loved it and clamoured for more, so they returned for a suitably celebratory È Festa from their debut album.

By the end of this wonderful gig I had been transformed from a relative P.F.M. novice into a fully confirmed fan, with a world of discovery of their many albums ahead of me. This was a band with consummate skill but also a warmth and charm which could not fail to win over the relatively unfamiliar. Such was the undoubted high standard of their musicianship and the obvious quality of their music that it captures your heart – corny, I know – but true…

… and what about the 26 year old son dragged along rather reluctantly to a dreaded ‘Prog Gig’? He loved it, and literally bought a t-Shirt – well done, P.F.M., let me tell you, that was quite an achievement!!!

(kindly provided by Sam Emblay from the Southampton gig the previous evening, no setlist available for U.L.U. gig but it’s probably identical)
La luna nuova
Photos of Ghosts
Dove… quando… (parts 1 & 2)
La carozza di hans
Il banchetto
Impressioni di settembre
Il Regno
Freedom Square
La danza degli specchi (‘Dance of the Mirrors’)
Promenade the Puzzle
Romeo e guilietta danze dei cavelieri (Romeo & Juliet)
Mr. 9 ’til 5 / Alta Loma 5 til 9 (including Rossini’s William Tell Overture)
~ Encore:
È Festa

(Thanks to Ciaran Trimming for translating instruments, taken from P.F.M. website)
Franz di Cioccio – Drums, Lead Vocals
Patrick Djivas – Bass
~ With:
Lucio Fabbri – Violin, Additional Keyboards, Piano, Additional Guitar, Backing Vocals
Alessandro Scaglione – Keyboards & Piano
Roberto Gualdi – Drums
Marco Sflogi – Guitars
Alberto Bravin – Additional Keyboards, Acoustic Guitar, Vocals

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